Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
This past January, more than 20,000 people got the book that’s changing lives, and changing the workplace:
Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and life
You’re going to want to read this if you want to level up in work and life, or share it with a friend you know that you want to help give the edge.
I’m going to walk through how I use Agile Results to show you how YOU can seriously and significantly amplify your impact, get better performance reviews, and spend more time doing what YOU enjoy. (So, while this post might seem all about me, it’s really about you.)
I’m not going to make it look easy. I’m going to make it real. I care way more that you get the full power of the system in your hands so you can do amazing things and get exponential results. Agile Results is not a fly-by-night. It was more than ten years in the making.
Keep in mind, it’s an ultra-competitive world, and what you don’t know can hurt you. On the flip side, what you do know can instantly boost your creativity, productivity, and impact in unfair ways.
Use Agile Results as your unfair advantage.
Now then, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it. But first, some context …
I use Agile Results as a personal productivity and time management system.
In one line, it's my "personal results system for work and life."
I also use it to lead distributed teams around the world. I use it to drive high-impact projects, and for projects at home.
This post is a detailed walkthrough of how I use Agile Results as a time management and productivity system for making things happen.
Before we dive into the details, I want to make an important point ...
The simplest way I use Agile Results is as follows:
I write down Three Wins that I want to accomplish for the day on paper.
Yes, that’s it, and it is that simple (to at least, that’s how simple it is to start using Agile Results.)
If ever I get off track (and I do), the simple way I get back on track with Agile Results, is I simply write down my three wins for the day, down on a piece of paper. Agile Results is both forgiving and instantly useful.
The main goal of Agile Results is to help me spend more time where it counts. I needed a light-weight and flexible system that I could use for myself or for others. For several years, I had to build up a new team every six months. I needed to build high-performance teams under the gun, as quickly as possible. And, at the same time, I wanted work to be a place of self-expression, where you live your values, give your best where you have your best to give, and experience flow and continuous learning on a regular basis.
I needed to get "Special Forces" results, from individuals, and from the larger team. So I needed a system that could stretch to fit ... either scale up for a team, or simply help an individual get exponential results. I wanted it to be based on timeless and self-evident principles, rather than tools or fads. And I wanted it to "play well with others" ... where if somebody already had an existing system, or favorite tools, Agile Results could just ride on top and help them get more of what they already use.
Above all, it had to be as simple as possible.
Having a system that’s as simple as possible, helps support you while you do the impossible.
With that in mind, let's dive in. So here is how I use Agile Results ...
My favorite startup routine is:
It's a simple routine. I've learned that one of the keys is carving out time for what's important, first thing in the morning. What I like about this routine is that it's not chaotic. It's serene by design. I've had chaotic startup patterns. This is the one that I purposefully made the morning about exercising, eating, and setting the stage for a great day. I don't turn on the TV. I don't watch the news. I don't check my computer. All of that can wait until I'm in the office.
It's how I charge up.
Monday is all about vision for the week.
For example, if the week were over, and you were looking back, what would be the three big things you want under your belt?
It's such a simple thing, but I make the most of the week, by starting with what I want out of the week. On Monday mornings, my main starting point is Three Wins for the Week. I identify the top Three Wins that would make this week great. To do so, I jump ahead and imagine that if this was Friday, what would I want to rattle off as my three wins under my belt. I do this on my way to work, while listening to my favorite songs. I play around with possibilities. I think of what big wins would look like. I also think about the big, hairy problems need attention. I try to balance between addressing pain, and acting on opportunities.
If I really get stuck, I try to think of the top three things that are top of mind that really need my attention. If I'm going to invest the next week of my life, I want to make sure that I'm nailing the things that matter.
The key is that I use very simple words. I'm effectively choosing labels for my wins. For example, "Vision is draft complete" is simple enough to say, and simple enough to remember. If I can't say it, it's not sticky.
When I get to work, I scan my mail. I think of my inbox as a stream of *potential* action. I walk the halls to beat the street. I absorb what I learn against what I set out to do for the week. If necessary, I readjust. If I catch my manager, I do a quick sanity check to find out his Three Wins for the Week, and how I'm mapping to what's on the radar.
For each project on my plate, I have a simple list of work items. This gives me "One Place to Look." This also helps me identify the "Next Best Thing" to do. It's this balance of the lists with what's top of mind, that keeps me grounded. I try to support my mind, with just enough scaffolding, but let it do what it does best. If I can identify the big outcomes for the week, I don't have to get caught up in the overhead of tracking minutia.
On my computer, I keep notepad open so that I can list my three wins at the top for the week, list my three wins for the day, any tasks or things on my mind below that. It's important that I keep my mind fresh and ready for anything. It's also where I do my brain dump at the end of the day ("Dump Your State"), which is simply a dump of anything on my mind or pending issues, so that I don't take work home with me, and I can pick up from where I left off, or start fresh the next day.
Each day of the week, the most important thing I do at the start of the day, is identify Three Wins that I want for that day. I write them down. I cross-check them against the Three Wins that I want for the week.
First I brainstorm on what I want or need to achieve for the day. This is just a rapid brain dump. If I'm at my desk, I write it down on paper. When I hone in on what seems to be my three key wins for the day, I say them out loud. Verbalizing them is important, because it's how I simplify and internalize them. Being able to say them, keeps them at my mental finger tips. It's like having the scoreboard right in plain view. I want them front and center so that I can use them to help me prioritize and focus throughout the day.
I try to put my "Worst Things First", either in the start of the week, or the start of the day. The worst thing is to have something looming over me all day or all week. The other way I look at this is, if I jump my worst hurdle, then the rest of the day or the week is a glide-path.
If my worst thing is time consuming, then I might need to "Timebox" it, such as spend no more than an hour max on it. If the work is intensive, I might tend to split it up, and work through it in 20 minute batches, and take 10 minute breaks. If I'm on a roll, I might go straight for an hour. If this is regular work that I need to do, that I really don't enjoy doing, then I try to either get it off my plate, or find a way to make it fun, or "Pair Up" with somebody. I find somebody who loves to do what I hate doing, and see if they might like to show me, either why they love it, or how to do it better, faster, and easier. This practice has taught me so many new tricks, and it's also helped me appreciate some of the deep skills that others are good at.
I know my peak times and my down times during the day. For example, at around 11:00 AM, I have lunch on my mind, and 3:00 PM is effectively siesta time.
My best hours tend to be 8:00, 10:00, 2:00, and 4:00.
They are the hours where I am in the zone and firing on all cylinders. I’m generally more “productive” earlier in the day, and more “creative” later in the day. I don’t know all the reasons why, but what I do know is it’s a pattern. And by knowing that pattern, I can leverage it.
What I do is I push my heaving lifting into those hours as best as I can. I use my best horse-power to plow through my work and turn mountains into mole-hills. When I don’t use those peak hours, somehow mole-hills turn into mountains, and it’s slow going. It’s the difference in feeling between riding a wave, and pushing rocks uphill.
To get to this point, I simply had to notice during the week, when my best hours really are, not just when I want them to be. Now that I know my best times for peak performance, I have to defend those hours as best I can, or at least know what I am trading off.
When it comes to defending your calendar, you need to know what’s worth it. Once you know your best Power Hours, you know what’s worth it.
Aside from spending more time in my high ROI activities, and playing to my strengths, my Power Hours amplify my productivity more than any other way.
This is the space of creative breakthroughs and innovation. It’s not that I’m not creative throughout the day, but I generally have a pattern where I’m more creative at night, or in the quiet hours of the morning. I’m also more creative on Fridays and Saturdays.
I can try to change the pattern, but I can also first notice the pattern and leverage what already exists. If I know the times when I’m most creative, I can start to use this time to think and brainstorm more freely.
And, I do.
That’s how I come up with ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper. It’s how I figure out ways to change the business, or ways to change my approach, and ways to take things to the next level.
When I’m in my creative zone, I do more exploration. I follow my thoughts and play out “what if” scenarios. I value the fact that my Creative Hours lead the ideas that help me learn and improve whatever I do.
A simple check, if I’m not flowing enough ideas or if I’m feeling too much nose-to-the grindstone, is I ask myself, “How many Creative Hours did I spend this week?” If it’s not at least 2, I try to up the count.
Create Hours are my best way to decompress, absorb and synthesize, which ultimately leads to my greatest breakthroughs.
Day is done, gone the Sun. From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.
But how do you put it to rest?
I like a deliberate switch from work-mode to home-mode. I don’t want to bring my work home with me, and have it seep into everything I do. When I’m at work, I work hard (and play hard, too … especially because I treat work like play, and drive it with a passion.)
But when I shut down my work day, I need a way to unwind.
I found the best way to free my mind, is dump it down. So I simply dump it to notepad, or my little yellow sticky pad. Any open issues or challenges or things on my mind. I can always pick them back up. Or, I can let them go.
But the last thing I want is for a bunch of problems to be swirling around in my head.
Besides, if you stop swirling problems around in your head, you make space for creative insights, and the answers start to pop out of the woodwork.
Another pattern I’ve adopted is to use a metaphorical tree in my mind to hang my hat of problems on. Again, I can always pick them up again tomorrow, but for now, I’ll stuff my problems in this hat, hang them on the tree, and free my mind.
What if every Friday you could get smarter about your productivity and effectiveness?
I know it sounds simple, and it is, but remember that one of the big keys in life is not just knowing what to do, but doing what you know.
Friday Reflection is a perfect chance to ask myself two simple questions:
That’s how it starts.
I keep a simple recurring 20-minute appointment with myself for each Friday morning. It’s often the most valuable 20 minutes I spend each week. It’s where I actually reflect on my performance. Not in a critical way, but a constructive way. I explore with simple questions:
Friday Reflection is how I learn to master my capacity and be more realistic about my own expectations. I tend to over-estimate what’s possible in a week (and underestimate what’s possible in a month.) This little feedback loop, helps me see the good, the bad, and the downright fugly.
The most important outcome of my Friday Reflection is, three things to try out next week to do a little better.
The little better adds up.
The main thing to keep in mind is that Friday Reflection gives you deeper insight into your strengths and weaknesses in a way that you instantly benefit from. The key is to carry the good forward, and let the rest go, and to treat it as a continuous learning loop.
You only fail when you give up or stop learning or stop trying.
To make my month more meaningful and to add a dash of focus to it, I identify my Three Wins for the Month. At the month level, I can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Asking myself, “What do I want under my belt when the month is over?” is a powerful and swift way to create clarity, and identify compelling outcomes.
Since I'm leading a team, I go a step further. I think of Three Wins for the team. Based on everything that's on our plate, I try to identify what the Three Wins for the team should be. I try to figure out things that would be easy to share with my manager. This makes it easy to check alignment, and it makes it easy for them to sell our impact up the management chain. (Read – It helps you get better performance reviews.)
When I get to work, I send out a short mail to the team, with the subject line: WEEKLY WINS: 2012-07-23. It's simply WEEKLY WINS, plus the current date. I briefly summarize the drivers, the threats, and hot issues on our plate, then list the Three Wins identified. I follow this by asking the team for their input, and whether we need to recalibrate. At the bottom, I simply do an A-Z list of bulleted items to dump the full working set of work in flight. It both helps people see what the full scope is, as well as help us rationalize whether we bit off the right things, and it helps people stay on top of all the work. It's like a team To-Do list. Sometimes it's a crazy list, but the three wins at the top, help keep our sanity and focus at all times.
It's a simple approach, but it works great for distributed teams, and it gives us something to go back and check at the end of the week, or throughout the week to remind ourselves of what we set out to do.
Since my manager adopted Agile Results too, he shares his three wins for the week to the team in a simple mail. Folks across the team, simply add their wins for the week. It's nothing formal ... it's more like a simple assertion of our intended victories.
During our team meeting, our manager goes around the team, and we share our three wins from last week, and our three wins we plan for this week. This helps everybody across the team stay connected to what's going on.
I need to throw in this tip, because it’s the single most effective way I’ve found to get a team on the same page, and avoid a bunch of email. And, it’s a simple way to create clarity, and avoid confusion.
It also builds the discipline of execution.
All you do is meet for ten minutes each day, Monday through Thursday. I call it, Ten at Ten.
I found ten at ten to be one of the most effective times in the day to do a sync. That said, because I always have distributed teams, I’ve had to vary this. But for the most part, I like Ten at Ten as a reminder to have a quick sync up with the team, focused on creating clarity, debottlenecking any issues, and taking note of small wins and progress.
The way it works is this:
You’d be surprised at how quickly people start to pay attention to what they’re working on and on what’s worth working on. It also helps team members very quickly see each other’s impact and results. It also helps people raise their bar, especially when they get to hear and experience what good looks like from their peers.
Most importantly, it shines the light on little, incremental progress. Progress is the key to happiness in work and life.
One thing I’ll point out is that the Monday meeting is actually 30 minutes, not 10 minutes, since it’s more of a level set for the week, and it’s a chance to figure out the Three Wins for the Week.
Well, there it is.
It might not look like a simple system for meaningful results, but when you think of all the synthesis it is effective.
The way to keep it simple is to always start simple. Whenever you forget what to do, go back to the basics. Simply ask yourself,
“What are Three Wins I want for today?”
- OR -
“What are Three Wins I want for this week?”
- OR -
“What are Three Wins I want for this month?”
… if you’re feeling really bold, and want to go for the gold, “What are Three Wins I want for this year?”
Hopefully, this little walkthrough helps you easily see how you can apply Agile Results to your workflow, and get more out of the time you already spend. If nothing else, remember this:
Value is the ultimate short-cut.
When you know what’s valued, you can target your effort. When you know the high value activities, you can focus on those.
What Agile Results does is streamline your ability to flow value, for yourself and others.
Pure and simple.
And that’s how getting results should be … elegance in action.
Love your system, which I've been using for several months now. I have a question though: do you do Three Wins for work and Three Wins for personal stuff? Or do your daily Three Wins combine work and personal stuff?
I have the same question for the weekly outcomes and monthly outcomes. Thanks!
@ Caitlin -- Thank you.
Great question. I used to combine them, but over the years, I found it better to partition it out, to have Three Wins for personal, and Three Wins for work. But, I use one system so it's integrated.
Because I just use simple lists, it keeps things easy.
At the start of the week, I write my Three Wins that I want for work and Three Wins for personal. Then, each day, I typically only write my Three Wins for work. I only write down something personal if I really want to call it out. (Because I already wrote out my Three Wins for the week, I already have some guidance in place.)
The key reason for calling things out and writing them down is to drive a change. It helps give them focus and remind us what we're trying to accomplish.
I don't track all the little things I already know to do.
It's an important distinction because this is the key to keeping planning simple, traveling light, and putting more time and energy into actually getting results.