Retrospecting in COVID-19

Last week I hit a milestone. I realized that, like many Americans, I was beginning my fourth week of general social isolation. While the past two weeks have been have included more extreme measures, I’ve been working from home since March 16th, 2020.

Drawing upon my old days as a scrum master (read: agile team facilitator), I realized that it was time for me to a conduct a good old-fashioned retrospective. During a retrospective, we ask three questions: (1) What worked well this past cycle? (2) What didn’t work? And finally, (3) What needs to change? For those who are unfamiliar, retrospectives systemize learning in a way that we don’t often take the time to do in business, at least not at regular intervals. Unsurprisingly, this is even more rare in our personal lives.

To conduct an effective retrospective, we need to identify a specific period of time, or cycle, to reflect upon. Ideally, we’ve started a cycle with clear objectives. But, since none of us entered this time willfully, we get to select our own timebox. For me, I decided to reflect on my past month as one “COVID cycle.” With the previous three weeks in mind, I started to mentally sort through what’s been working for me, and what hasn’t. I’ll share a few examples:

  • What worked: Setting professional goals, breaking big goals down into smaller tasks, getting outside, video chats with friends, phone calls with family, creating routine, using professional groups to stay motivated (shout out to my CTI cohort), contributing to my workplace in innovative ways, dedicating hour blocks for reading, keeping my spaces clean and tidy, exercise, exercise, exercise
  • What didn’t: Unstructured days, being inside too much, getting overwhelmed by big goals, thinking too far ahead into the future, seeing certain emotions as permanent versus temporary, having too many calls in one day, not taking time for me, de-prioritizing fun time, ruminating on news articles

Like a good scrum master, I created this list in free-flowing form. No areas of life were off the table – this didn’t have to be just a “professional” or “social” or “environmental” reflection, although those are all good prompts to consider if you want to be holistic. As I made my list, it helped to step away from it several times – for an hour, a few – and return to it with fresh eyes. As I would encourage for any brainstorm, I chose to be exhaustive. That said, I also didn’t let this go on for too long; in the professional world, I would conduct this entire exercise in one hour. But, as this was my first COVID retrospective, I felt more time and reflection was suitable. 

After two days, it was time to put my analysis hat on. I took a long look at my lists to identify what needed to change. While I had many specific ideas, for me, they all boiled down to one key learning: I genuinely needed a daily schedule. More, I realized that my scheduled needed to be fully holistic (read: not 100% career focused). I started looking into scheduling frameworks, which I will share in my next post.

For now, I challenge YOU to conduct your own personal retrospective. Block off an hour to get into a quiet, uninterrupted space. Ask your spouse to watch your kids or your housemates to give you some privacy (extra challenge: create that much-needed “Privacy Please” sign for your door). Bring some sticky notes, or just a pad of paper, and make two columns. Ask yourself: What’s been working for me in this time of crisis? What isn’t working? Use sticky notes with words, or even drawings, for visualization. Take a break and come back to it (no more than 24-48 hours).

When you return and take in your lists, gently ask yourself: “What needs to change?” Be open to all the possibilities.

If you do this exercise, I would love to hear from you. What came up? What did you learn? How will you make your next COVID cycle better? And very important – when will you reflect again? Send me your thoughts at marisaschulercoaching@gmail.com.

Of note, this exercise is also extremely useful for teams and organizations. That said, I would encourage you, as leaders, to start by looking at your internal system before moving outward. As always, I’m here to help you in this journey in any way I can.