Being agile is a big issue. When discussing project management it seems like agility is the top priority. In software development, agile approaches like scrum or kanban or are much superior to to classic waterfall methods. They are more efficient and produce less waste than more long-term planning methods.
Today, a clear vision, i.e. a picture of the desired future, gives you the direction of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. It provides you with purpose. Devoloping a detailed plan of every single step to get there on the other hand all too often is not worth the paper written uppon.
Agile approaches answer this dilemma with working in sprints. Sprints are at the core of all agile management systems. Why is that so?
How does working in sprints work?
A sprint is a short and foreseeable time frame in which a set of actions is supposed to take place. At the end of the sprint a review takes place to evaluate what has been achieved and what to do next. An important aim is to produce real tangible results in each sprint and get feedback from the customer on this result quickly.
In most teams these sprints take one to four weeks. Two week sprints seems to be the most common from my experience (with no empirical validation). The sprint can can also be much shorter and only encompass a single day. There is no strict rule.
Another aim of many agile management approaches is to produce a shippable product every day. This allows to get feedback even quicker and ensures everybody stays focused on their tasks.
How can sprints and daily delivery enhance your personal productivity system?
To some degree it often is already. For example, “Getting Things Done” places a big emphasis on the weekly review. It is used to realign projects and next actions to the greater goals and vision and to keep on overall track. Even though there is no goal setting or weekly planning, the weeks in between the weekly reviews could be considered some sort of a sprint.
If you want to profit more from agile sprints on a personal and daily level you could try out the following:
Do a weekly sprint planning with yourself or with your accountability partner.
Start your week with a sprint planning. You can do it by yourself or – even better – with an accountibility partner. Review the last week honestly and increase your commitment by clarity about what you want to achieve in the next week. Make sure not to overburden yourself with too many tasks but stay ambitious. Honest estimations of time and effort needed can be helpful.
Aim for daily delivery of results in-full
Try to deliver complete solutions to task at the end of the day. It is often better to get one thing done completely than five partially. Unfinished products, reports, blogposts or whatever you are working on rarely have any value. In addition, the wasted time from switching costs can be tremendous whent jump between tasks the whole day.
Use micro sprints as productivity boosters
Micro sprints can be a powerful productivity booster. Having a focused time with no distraction for one single task for 60, 30 or even ten minutes can kick in motivation to get you started. The time pressure also creates a sense of urgency which helps many people. At the same time, working on something challenging for only a short period of time can be much less daunting and helps chronic procrastinators to get going.
Use a tickler file to organize daily sprints
A tickler file is a very effective a follow-up system. Probably the best I know. But you can also use it to organize daily sprints and tasks. As it gives you an overview of everything relevant for the current day, you can use it as the starting point for a daily sprint. If you organize your tasks in a tickler file, the daily folder shows you everything to do for the day. You can just sprint through all items on this daily list and are done for the day when you’ve reached the botton. You might need to prioritize at the beginning of the day to have a realistic aganda at hand.
Avoid over-planning things
Make sure not to overplan. The short time frame of a sprint already reduces the risk of overly detailed and fruitless planning. However, it is not gone entirely. Make sure not replace real work with making plans. Your sprint reviews should make you more productive. So if they take up more time than you seem to get value from, the amount of planning is not balanced anymore.