Nonprofit Summer Exercise 1: Reflection


Welcome to Day 1!

If you’ve stumbled here and aren’t too sure what’s going on, you can read all about Nonprofit Summer here.

I’m really glad you’re here, and I hope that the next ten weeks of activities will be helpful. As I developed this list of things to do for myself, I realized that I should really share them with the hope that others could benefit as well. Consider this the “beta version” — as we move through the next couple of months together, please do let me know what you find useful, not so useful, or what I might do to help you more.

There won’t be activities everyday, and not every exercise is mandatory… pick and choose what is going to be helpful and productive for you!

Exercise 1: Reflection

I have always been a huge advocate for reflection. But it often gets a bad rap. It’s often viewed as a fluffy and navel gazing practice. In many organisations, it is all too often a “that would be nice if we had the time” kind of thing. But I truly think that regular reflection is critical in ensuring positive forward momentum. And much like exercising, reflection is an activity that becomes easier the more often we do it.

At first it can feel like a marathon. Or, even worse, a waste of time.

But the trick is to find a simple reflection routine that works for you, and stick with it.

A huge part of all our activities this summer is not only the exercise itself, but creating space for these exercises to become part of our routines.

So let’s begin to look forward by looking back.


It’s much easier to reflect on shorter periods of time. The goal is to eventually work this into your routine to complete on a monthly basis. For now, we’ll start with the past six months, or the first half of the year.

In your notebook, or however you wish to record, consider the following questions:

  1. What went well
  2. What sucked

The lists can be as long and expansive, or short and sweet as you’d like. When I do this activity, I think about projects, milestones, people, and peripheries. For example, having a really great first meeting with someone could be something that went well, or having your computer crash might be something that sucks. These things don’t need to be just work related. Personal moments shouldn’t take a back seat to work stuff here.

The point here is to really let loose. If something comes to mind, write it down. There are no wrong answers.

Once you feel like you’ve completed your two lists, take the time to review them. Are there more good things than bad? Or maybe more bad than good?

Now choose your top three best moments and bottom three crappiest moments.

Do a bit of mapping around each one. What makes it the best or worst? What kinds of things led to this happening? Was it preventable, or repeatable? What kinds of other items on your list are connected to these things and how? Are these things something you did, or something that happened to you?

Take the time to check your point of view. Celebrate that list of wonderful stuff. Take a moment to bask in the warmth you feel – whether it is pride, gratitude, humbleness, joy… feel those moments again deeply and really take note of how they came to be.

Take a moment to grieve a bit for the crappy stuff. Disappointment. Sadness. Frustration. Embarrassment. It’ll sting a bit, but feel it. Now, think about how you might have been able to make things go differently. Was any of this your own doing? Was it caused by a bad habit you want to break? Is the locus of control within you, or somewhere else? Try to write these ideas and explanations out. Sometimes it is incredibly powerful to own a moment by simply writing “the event was not as successful as it could have been because I forgot to xyz” or maybe “the event didn’t go well because the power went out across the city and we were forced to shut it down early.”

Finally, are there any lessons to be learned from these two lists? Are there things you need to do (or stop doing) in the future that would change what your future lists might look like? Make note of these things.

When I complete this exercise, my list of accomplishments always astounds me, and as time passes I find less things to add to my crappy list. Doing this once a month helps me recognize how much I actually achieved, and that sometimes feeling stuck in a rut is really all in my head. Other times, I recognize deeply where I’ve been making mistakes or needing to rejig how I perform my job.

All of it is incredibly valuable, and the routine of reflecting in this way is very rewarding.

Do you have activities you use for reflection? I’d love to hear about them!


Make a list of people you met, had meetings with, or impactful conversations with. Get out your calendar and, if you can, make a list of every single one. It’s hard to do, but worth it to ask the following questions:

  1. Is there someone that you met that you’ve been meaning to follow up with?
  2. Is there someone who continually takes (and wastes) your time?
  3. How does this long list make you feel? Exhausted? Energized?

If you have questions about this exercise or anything else, please don’t hesitate to connect with me! And if you’re game, tweet your progress and insights as you go along!