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Agile at home: improve your personal efficiency in 6 steps

Today, we're going to explore an unusual yet captivating topic: how to benefit from Agile best practices outside of team work. As an Agile coach, a common question I encounter from students in my Agile basics course is about the applicability of Agile beyond the professional realm. Can Agile principles enhance our personal lives as well? It certainly can.
You may be surprised to hear this. "Can Agile really make a difference in my personal life?" The answer is, undoubtedly, yes. Agile is not merely a set of guidelines to boost productivity in a team or business environment. It's a way of thinking, a philosophy offering a host of valuable practices that can enrich our daily lives.
In this blog post, I'm eager to share a few Agile practices that have positively influenced both my professional and personal journeys. I believe that applying these methods to your lifestyle can bring about remarkable improvements, just as they did for me. So, let's embark on this journey into the world of Agile, exploring its potential in and outside the work sphere.

#1 Ditch Schedules for a Prioritized Task List

In the past, I was obsessed with time management, setting strict schedules for each task, planning deadlines, and making endless to-do lists. But the harsh reality is, this approach often backfired. I found myself under self-inflicted stress, causing me to procrastinate more than actually getting things done.
I found a game-changing solution in Agile: adopting a list of prioritized tasks. Nowadays, rather than binding myself to rigid schedules and deadlines, I maintain a dynamic list of priorities, which I regularly review and update.
This approach allows me to always know what's most important at any given moment. So, when I have time to work, I can immediately identify the most significant task. If it feels too daunting or uninspiring at the moment, I have the flexibility to choose the second priority task. This way, I'm still making progress instead of falling into the trap of procrastination.
Deadlines have a tendency to instill stress and pressure, and ironically, many of us respond to such pressure by freezing in our tracks. But with a priority list, I replace the dread of deadlines with the anticipation of accomplishment. Crossing out that Big Task Priority #1 brings a wave of satisfaction and encouragement, making this approach significantly more effective.

#2 Prioritize Tasks that Deliver Maximum Value

So, how do we decide what to prioritize? A straightforward way is to focus on tasks that bring the most value. This value could be personal satisfaction, advancement in your project, or benefits to anyone or anything important to you.
To organize this, consider creating a matrix. On the vertical axis, indicate the value each task brings. On the horizontal axis, place the effort each task requires. This way, you get a visual representation of your tasks which helps in making informed decisions. High value, low effort tasks naturally float to the top of your list. High value, high effort tasks are those that you can break down into smaller, manageable tasks, tackling them bit by bit.
Low value, low effort tasks are ideal for those times when you need a mental break but still want to be productive - maybe while binge-watching your favorite Netflix series. This could be something like copy-pasting data or organizing your workspace, tasks that don't require intense focus.
Lastly, low value, high effort tasks - those are the ones you might want to consider dropping from your list altogether. Their return on investment, considering the effort you put into them, may not justify their existence on your priority list.
Remember, prioritizing is not just about ranking tasks in terms of urgency or due dates. It's about aligning your tasks with the value they provide, ensuring you're focusing on what's truly meaningful and productive.

#3 Plan One Short Iteration at a Time

We've all experienced that surge of motivation at the start of a new year, the launch of a big project, or the moment we decide to make significant life changes. We dream about long-term success, envisioning better versions of ourselves and seeing our projects earn accolades or feature in reputed publications.
While having a vision is important and forms the cornerstone of success, thinking big without breaking it down can sometimes lead us astray, cause poor decision-making, or simply overwhelm us. Instead, I suggest breaking down your large-scale goals into manageable steps and focusing on the concept of MVA - Minimum Viable Accomplishment.
Like the idea of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in Agile, the MVA is the first meaningful step you need to take towards your larger goal. What's the smallest unit of success that would make you feel you're making progress? If your dream is winning a Grammy, maybe it's writing your first song or booking your first paid gig. It's certainly not producing a full album or signing a contract with a major record label at the outset!
Once you've achieved your MVA, take a moment to gauge your feelings about your progress. Are you still excited about pursuing your goal? What would you like to adjust or change? Focus then on planning and executing the next iteration, gradually building towards your ultimate vision one step at a time. This incremental approach not only makes the journey manageable but also allows you to learn and adjust as you go, maximizing your chances of success.

#4 Limit Work in Progress

I confess, this was one of the hardest changes for me to make. Even though I understand that multitasking is largely a myth and that having too much work in progress can hamper productivity, I often found myself juggling several tasks simultaneously. This usually left me feeling incredibly busy, but not necessarily productive.
I have since made a conscious effort to limit my work in progress and focus on one thing at a time. Being someone who finds it challenging to stay focused on a single task for extended periods, I've adjusted my approach to suit my needs. I typically have 2-3 tasks in progress and spend a few hours on each at a time. Once I start to feel bored or tired, I allow myself to switch tasks.
This might not work for everyone, and that's perfectly okay. If you're the type who can focus on a single task until it's completed, I applaud you! The key is to figure out what works best for you and adapt your approach accordingly.
Reducing work in progress is all about maximizing your focus and efficiency. It's not about moving slower, but about working smarter and achieving more with less stress and fewer distractions. Being busy is not the same as being productive. True productivity lies in meaningful progress, and often, less is more in this context.

#5 Embrace Continuous Improvement through Regular Check-ins

Agile is all about continuous improvement, and as individuals striving to grow, shouldn't we seek the same? The parallel in personal life to Agile's retrospective, for me, is the feedback I receive from my peers, friends, clients, and students.
I make it a point to check in regularly with those around me, both in a professional and personal context, to understand what's working and what could be improved. This proactive approach helps me identify areas where I can better myself and the things I do.
However, it's crucial to bear a few things in mind while seeking feedback. Firstly, not all feedback merits attention. Unsolicited advice from strangers, especially those hidden behind screens, often doesn't contribute to your growth. For example, if someone online decides that it's okay to tell you that your socks are ugly, you have all the rights to ignore them. Also, your socks are just fine!
Secondly, you are the ultimate decision-maker. While it's beneficial to be receptive to what people think about you, the choice to change or stay the same always lies with you. Feedback can shine a light on potential areas of improvement, but it's up to you to decide what to do with that information.
Lastly, striving for continuous improvement doesn't mean you have to please everyone. You are not obligated to change to make yourself more convenient for others. Be true to yourself and only make changes that align with your values and personal growth objectives. The aim is to become a better version of yourself, not someone else's version of you.

#6 Embrace Failures as Opportunities to Learn

If there's one thing I would advise you to do, it's to rethink the notion of "failure". The concept of failure is something many of us learn at a young age - succeed and you're praised; fail, and you're criticized. This black-and-white thinking can lead to an overwhelming fear of failure and a damaging pursuit of perfection. I've always loved learning new things, but this love of learning often clashed with the rigid grading systems at school, leading to a long struggle with perfectionism.
However, here's a reality check: we can't learn new things without facing setbacks. Failing is a part of the learning process. It teaches us what doesn't work and prompts our brain to generate new ideas, solutions, and approaches. That is, unless we give up.
Imagine a toddler trying to walk for the first time. They stand, wobble a bit, and then fall. Now imagine if they decided after that first fall, "I guess walking isn't for me." Absurd, right? But that's often how we, as adults, react to failure.
I won't lie and say it's been an easy process, but I've been working diligently to embrace my failures, not as the end of the road, but as opportunities for learning and growth. Every time I stumble, I celebrate the chance to learn something new and use that knowledge to keep moving forward. It's not about never failing; it's about never letting failure stop you from progressing. After all, the only real failure is the one from which we learn nothing.
In conclusion, Agile practices aren't just for managing software development projects or improving team productivity; they can also provide profound benefits when applied to our personal lives. By focusing on a prioritized list of tasks, concentrating on those tasks that deliver maximum value, planning one short iteration at a time, reducing work in progress, seeking continuous improvement, and treating setbacks as opportunities for learning, we can enhance our personal productivity and foster growth.
But remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. The Agile mindset is all about iteration, learning, and adjustment. So, embrace this spirit of experimentation and continuous improvement in your personal life as well. And most importantly, don't forget to celebrate your progress, no matter how small it might seem. Because the journey of personal growth, like Agile, is all about incremental progress and building on success, one step at a time.
Agile techniques Productivity Goal setting