How to use iterations to improve personal productivty (even beyond programming)

Using iterations can improve your personal productivity. Iterative work improves your efficacy and efficiency. Follow these principles to get started.
iterate to learn from failure

Developing in iterations is key to successfull product development. You want to make sure to develop something valuable for your customers. You want to keep moving into the right direction. So, you want to have a minimum viable product as soon as possible and get the feedback from your customers flow in. This not only holds true for complete products but als for individual features. Can this principe be applied to improve your personal productivity as well?

The core of iterating is to produce something working which provides direct value as quickly as possible. Then, you refine it based on the feedback. Iterating also helps to simplify software as it reduces the risk of overloaded products. It helps you to maximize the work not done. Thus, incresaing efficiency.

Iterations are very applicable to most work-related tasks beyond programming. Iterations can improve personal productivty significantly. In design for example, you start with scribbles. From there, you move to more detailed drawings and elaborate the details later. When writing an article, you can quickly outline a first draft with your core message. Then, you add details like examples and illustrations. Finally you sprinkle in some quotes or graphics to make it more accessible. Even if you develop a corporate strategy, you should better start with rought candidates for the strategic dircation. Only after evaluating them against each other, you dig into more detailed analysis as you move into the particulars of business units and functional strategies.

There are few occupations where iterations are not applicable. Iteratively constructing a highway bridge comes to my mind. Still, even in these areas, iterations can be applied at least to some parts of the process.

How does your personal productivity benefit from iterations?

You get earlier and more feedback

If you can show something to your customer (who could also be your boss, your significant other, or whoever you are doing this for) early on, you will always get some feedback. This helps to figure out if you are on the right track. Make sure to have an open conversation about this. You do not have to incorporate every single feedback and idea. The feedback just gives you directions and orientation on what to prioritize. Also pay attention to what they do not need or value.

You increase your speed of learning

Customers will also ask you questions you haven’t even thought about. This again triggers thinking processes of your own. It can lead to completely new insights which might have come up much later or not at all otherwise.

You reduce waste by decreasing unnecessary work

From a productivity point of view this is a very important aspect. As early feedback and customer interaction help you to prioritize your next steps, you make sure that you work on the right parts of your product. You might even find out that you are working on something nobody needs. Obviously, your time is better invested elsewhere in this case. The most important aspect here is realizing when your product is good enough. Do not add features or details that do not add significant value. Adding details can even deteriorate the experience through more complexity. Your perosnal productivity will benefit from iterations because you waste less time.

You can celebrate more often

This aspect is often neglected. As you ship more regularly, you can be proud more often. You can celebrate your success more frequently. This will not only increase your short-term motivation but also increase your long-term self-esteem.

You increase your chances of success

No matter what you are doing, the above points lead to an overall increased probability to be successful. Working in iterations, you can produce more value with less effort. And you will work on topics that are relevant to your customers.

How can you implement iterations in your individual work?

Using iterations to increase your personal productivity can be very attractive. Iterative work improves your efficacy and efficiency. Follow these principles to get started.

Break up large task in a way that each individual part has value in itself

If you have big tasks on your agenda, you need to break them up into smaller chunks. Whenever you do this, try to make sure that every sub-tasks will produce something that is of value in itself. Of course, this is not always possible. Yet, it is doable in more cases than you might initially think. Sometimes this leads to a slightly higher initial effort on the first sub-tasks. But the advantage in learning about the true value of what you do, will save you a lot of uneccessary work down the line.

Make sure your iterations produce a “complete product”

If you timebox your iterations in daily or weekly sprints, make sure to produce a “complete product” at the end of the sprint. This “product” should be something that you would be proud to show your customers (or yourself) as it is. Your goal should be to realize this product at the end of the sprint. The goal is not to have completed a predefined set of tasks. Why? Because you learn on the way and some initially planned steps might not be needed in the end.

Show it to your customers

When you are done with something show it! Deliver it to your customers. Get feedback from peers. The large adavantage of iterative work is the increased learning. To seize this, set aside some time at the end of each iteration to systematically collect feedback on what you produced. Start your next iteration with a review of this feedback. Base the goal and next steps for this iteration on thi review.

Use iteration goals to increase short-term accountability

Set the goals for your iterations in an ambitious yet realsitic manner. To increase accountibiliy, you can communicate them to your customers. If you yourself (or your future self) is the customer, write them down. If you have an accountibility partner, you should also discuss the goals with her.