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Productivity System Overview: “Getting Results the Agile Way”

Productivity System Overview: “Getting Results the Agile Way”

    If you have read anything that I have written on Lifehack.org, you probably already know that I am a complete Getting Things Done junky. But, like any good lover of productivity pr0n, I tend to look online for the “next best thing” when it comes to productivity systems and implementations.

    Recently I listened to Scott Hanselman’s software development podcast, Hanselminutes, on his own personal productivity system. This guy is a telecommuting, programming animal, so I was intrigued to see what he had to say.

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    Besides the normal use of GTD, Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, and the infamous Pomodoro Technique, Mr. Hanselman mentioned a book by another programmer, J.D. Meier, called Getting Results the Agile Way. This system takes some cues from the Agile software development methodology (more here at Wikipedia) and is a system based on producing results rather than activities, having boundaries and set tasks and goals you want to accomplish, and making time your best friend.

    This system seems pretty interesting and effective once you read into it. Let’s take a look at the key points of the Agile Way productivity system.

    What’s so different about this system?

    If you are a GTDer you may sometimes feel that you are bogged down in the minutiae of everyday task management, blindly checking off tasks as you finish them. If you are a 7 Habits kind of person then you may get caught up in the question, “What’s my life purpose?”.

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    The Agile Way offers a slightly different approach . It concentrates on the outcomes of your actions rather than the activities of checking things off your list. This approach has more of a directive off the bat, whereas GTD says that you need to clear the runway level before you get to defining what you want to do with your life.

    The Agile way also is all about reflection and making sure that you are producing some sort of results in your days, weeks, months, and years. The system takes the idea that projects and tasks are always changing, and because of that it is important to make sure that your plans of action are still valid and still producing results.

    Something else that Meier’s stresses is the power of “3”, and the first he lays out is the idea of using your Time, Energy, and Technique to continuously produce results. He says that if you manage your energy effectively by living with passion regarding your work, you can use your time, energy and passion, to produce better and more quality results.

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    The system explained

    You are probably thinking, “OK, enough with the na-na-nu-nu, energy equals results stuff. How do I use this system?”

    Meier’s has a really great “getting started” guide on the book’s site. Basically the system revolves around the power of “3”. Here are the basic steps:

    • Define 3 outcomes for your day
    • Define 3 outcomes for your week
    • Define 3 outcomes for your month
    • and define 3 outcomes for your year

    Basically, you want to identify the 3 things you want to accomplish for your day, week, month, and year and then at the end of each respective period review your results, find where you can grow and improve your technique, and plan again.

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      The Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, and Friday Reflection pattern is a simple habit for daily and weekly results. source: http://gettingresults.com/wiki/Getting_Started_with_Agile_Results

      Another nice idea is the “Weekly Results” paradigm where you first identify your “Monday Vision”, review your “Daily Outcomes, and then follow up the week with your “Friday Reflection”. This reminds me of the GTD weekly review, but allows you to be even more active with reviewing your actions and results.

      There are a ton of extra subtleties to the system, like creating time boundaries for certain portions of your life (Meier calls them “hotspots”) like, work, family, fun, creativity, spirituality, etc. By setting minimum and maximum times for these areas of your life, you are creating some sort work/life balance.

      First impressions

      Overall, I am extremely impressed with Meier’s system. So, impressed that I couldn’t believe that I haven’t heard of it before. What I like about it most is that it gives you some sort of direction for your days, weeks, months, and years. GTD is awesome at helping you identify and organize what needs to get done, but sometimes falls short in the actual “doing” part of the process. I could totally see a hybrid approach with GTD and the Agile Way to take stock of your current workload and then define what needs done during your weeks.

      Another nice thing about the Agile Way is that it is instantly implementable. You can sit down with a pen and paper (or a spreadsheet, Evernote, OneNote, text file, etc. for you geeky types) and start to define your day and week. This allows you to start concentrating immediately and isn’t filled with the initial overhead of GTD.

      So, I highly suggest that you take a look at Getting Results the Agile Way. You can pick up the dead tree edition at Amazon or read the entire book at the book’s site.

      More by this author

      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on April 23, 2019

      How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

      How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

      Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

      While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

      For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

      While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

      I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

      Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

      Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

      Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

      The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

      Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

      What Is a Stretch Goal?

      A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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      In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

      For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

      This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

      It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

      The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

      The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

      I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

      Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

      1. Get Outside of Your Head

      If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

      If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

      I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

      Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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      2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

      When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

      I see this in so many areas of life:

      When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

      In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

      “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

      Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

      3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

      When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

      The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

      For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

      We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

      From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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      When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

      Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

      4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

      S.M.A.R.T.

      is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

      While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

      Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

      For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

      By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

      5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

      I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

      The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

      When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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      One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

      Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

      I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

      A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

      As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

      From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

      The Bottom Line

      These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

      For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

      Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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