Agile Results is a different way of getting things done. It is an organizational and productivity system designed by JD Meier (a program manager at Microsoft), that has a completely different perspective to the standard GTD “make a list, prioritize then do” set of principles. In this 4-part series on Agile Results, Asian Efficiency is going to introduce you to the system (part 1), show you how to set up your own Agile Results setup (parts 2 and 3), and then show you some modifications that we’ve made, to tie in other important productivity concepts, tools and practices (part 4). Edit: Part 2 is live.
Introducing Agile Results
At time of writing, I’ve personally been using Agile Results for about 6 months. I like it over GTD and GTD variations in a lot of ways, the main one being that it really focuses your time on your goals, which if you remember, is the basic definition of productivity. It also compensates for a lot of GTD’s weaknesses, like linking goal hierarchies and giving a bird’s-eye view of your life.
I highly recommend that you read the book when you have the opportunity. It is well-written and goes into a lot of detail.
What we’re going to go over in this series on Agile are the core concepts of the system, and how we’ve implemented it at Asian Efficiency. We’re also going to tie in other “mainstream” productivity concepts, and give you some systems to implement the more theoretical concepts that come out of Agile.
I want to emphasize just how revolutionary the concepts of Agile Results really are. The productivity space (at time of writing), is really dominated by GTD, and everyone is more-or-less “stuck” with one way of thinking about how things should be organized and done. Agile breaks outside that box, and can really help produce results and help you get goals faster than anything else I’ve ever seen. After the first couple of months of using Agile, my first thoughts were “wow, how did I ever get the right things done before I structured things this way”.
Let’s jump into it.
The Agile System
Agile Results has a lot of different core components. The first thing you want to look at is this nifty diagram that we’ve created:
It gives you an overview of just what makes up Agile Results.
We’ll be going over these different components, but I want you to keep in mind that we’ll only be covering the parts that we consider important or that are different from the standard productivity mainstream. The Agile Results Book goes into much more detail about each part, and there will be links out to the exact chapters as we go along for anyone who wants to read up on them.
Keep in mind that some of the terminology that we’ll be using will be different from the standard Agile terminology – this is because we’ve really taken the system and modified it to our needs. I’ll include alternate terminology when possible, but it’s really the concepts that matter.
The Rule of 3. We’ve talked about the idea of setting your 3 most important tasks on a daily basis and Agile has the same concept. It also extends the idea beyond just daily outcomes, to weekly outcomes, monthly outcomes and yearly outcomes. Everything works by 3 – you set 3 outcomes at each timeframe, and they become your focus (goals) for that timeframe.
Cycles and Iterations. Agile is all about adaptation and moving in cycles. Using cycles and iterations lets you try something, see if it works, and then quickly adapt and the following day or week as you need to course-correct.
Scannable Outcomes. One of the major gaps in GTD is the idea of scannable outcomes – it’s an absolute pain to see the big picture when using GTD lists. Agile fixes this through the implementation of the Rule of 3. By having only 3 outcomes to focus on, you can quickly see what you should be working on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
Heavy Loading. Also known as “strong weeks”, heavy loading is the concept that you should weigh your weeks (or days/months) to skew towards having the hard work come first. This is similar to the concept of Frog Eating. You do all the unpleasant or hard or time-consuming tasks early in the week, freeing up the latter part of the week for things that you enjoy, and that energize you.
Timebox. We’ve all heard about timeboxing – set aside a specific amount of time by making an appointment with yourself. Work on a specific outcome during that time. This is essentially the Pomodoro Technique.
Triage. Triage is Agile’s way of tackling GTD’s processing function. Each item that comes across you is either-
Monthly Sprints. One of the core mindsets behind Agile is the idea of continual growth and development. The implementation of this is called the Monthly Sprint (I mentioned this in the January 2012 Newsletter). You pick one thing every month, and improve on it. Agile encourages you to pick something different from your everyday focus, in order to provide variety in learning, and promote cross-disciplinary thinking.
Action Lists. All productivity systems have lists. Agile calls its to-do lists, “action lists”.
Reference Collections. Just like you need somewhere to store your action items, you need somewhere store information. Agile calls this a reference collection. You’ll recognize it as your personal wiki.
Agility. Agility is another way of phrasing Cycles and Iterations. Every time you do something, you have the opportunity to test it, and to tweak it to deliver the results that you want. Agility is the idea that you can do this again and again – and fast.
Fresh Starts. Every day, week, month and year is a fresh start. If you made a mistake one day, you have the opportunity to correct it the next day.
Systems Thinking. Agile heavily promotes the use of systems and structures to maximize your productivity. After all, Agile Results itself is a set of interconnected systems. If the idea is foreign to you or you’re not a systems geek (like me), then check out our primer on Systems Thinking.
Agile Results sees motivation as a skill related to self-discipline. The more you exercise self-discipline, the stronger it becomes. If you intersect motivation, will and self-discipline, you get why you do what it is you do.
Agile also provides different frameworks and strategies for motivation. The most important one, is the idea that self-discipline is a decision: once you do decide to do something, you just do it – there’s no need to reassess or revisit the decision. The second most important, is that both immediate and delayed gratification are important. You need both to function productivity now and in the future.
There are different ways to implement these concepts, and in part 4 of this series, you’ll find out how we implemented it at Asian Efficiency.
Agile has an idea known as productivity personas. These are essentially different ways to do things.
Agile offers different “personality types” or “hats” that you can wear, to tackle different problems. These essentially intersect different ways of thinking, with your own natural strengths.
Agile has the concept of “hot spots” which are related to two things:
- The different areas in your life, like health, wealth and relationships.
- The different ways you can improve your productivity – like schedule management, task management or motivation. A bit like the different categories we have on this site.
Inner Game Components
One thing that I really like about Agile Results is the large emphasis on “inner game”. If you remember, AE Thanh mentioned that inner game is what goes on inside your head, and how that has a direct correlation to how you perform in the real world.
The term itself comes from the book The Inner Game of Tennis which is about the mental strategies and patterns of successful tennis players, and how it changed their on-court performance.
Productivity also has an inner game, and Agile addresses a lot of it.
Productivity Pitfalls are the common mistakes and errors that people make day-to-day that stop them from being productive.
These are the ones that we think stand out:
- Analysis Paralysis. Lots of people get tied up in analysis and planning and organizing, and end up frozen – in paralysis. Overcome this via taking action first.
- Do it when you feel like it. If you only do things when you feel like it then you end up missing opportunities. This is one of the gaps in standard GTD systems. You can overcome this via setting outcomes, and by setting routines.
- Not knowing what is to be done. If you don’t have goals, you don’t know what you should be working on. Overcome via setting some goals.
- Lack of boundaries. Boundaries are super super important to living healthily and productively. We’ll have an article out on them soon, but anyone who wants to know more should read up on Wayne Dyer.
- Perfectionism. Trying to get something perfect the first time is a recipe for disaster. It may be required in school, but in the real world, versioning and iterations are a far more effective strategy.
- Death by a Thousand papercuts. Papercuts are a metaphor for friction, or things that slow you down (e.g., having to gather info, having to locate things when you need them every time). If enough things pile up in your process, then your momentum and results will die off. You can overcome friction by removing obstacles, and sources of friction.
25 Keys to Results
Agile’s Keys are different concepts and ideas that are signposts towards using the system and being more productive. They are not all immediately actionable, and will take some time to implement. We’ll show you how in Parts 2, 3 and 4.
As with the productivity pitfalls, here is the full list of keys.
And here are the important ones:
- Results over Productivity. Getting results, is more important than “being productive”. You should streamline after the process, not during.
- Effectiveness Over Efficiency. This is so important that we have an entire article dedicated to it. Essentially, it is better to be able to do something before being able to do it perfectly or as quickly as possible.
- Results Focus. Results are everything, and the only currency that matters.
- Time + Energy + Technique. The intersection of these 3 things is how you bring outcomes and ideas to life. If you focus all 3, you really can do anything.
25 Strategies for Results
Agile’s Strategies are different ways of tackling tasks and problems.
- Different Strategies for Different Situations. Self-explanatory. Don’t get locked into one way of thinking or acting.
- Have Compelling Reasons Why. We have an article dedicated to this. Having a strong, emotional reason why, and having lots of smaller practical reasons why, is one way to keep your motivation and concentration levels high.
- Test Results. Always do dry runs. Try something first, see if it works, correct if necessary and the test it again.
Mindsets and Metaphors
Agile has a section devoted to metaphors and mindsets. They are essentially different perspectives about productivity, and the emphasis is on shifting mindsets (and metaphors) to solve any roadblocks you encounter.
- Life Metaphors. Agile suggest drawing life metaphors from fiction, from history and from make-believe to use in your life. This is like when kids have heroes that they look up to. You can do the same as an adult. This creates inspiration and motivation.
- Introversion-Extroversion and Thinking-Feeling. As we talked about in Leverage Points, knowing your natural strengths is one way to maximize your leverage and your productivity. Agile’s axes for doing this is introvert/extrovert and thinking/feeling. Introvert types work better alone. Extrovert types thrive in teams. Thinking types work great with plans and systems. Feeling types work better with intuition.
- Change Your Hat. Much like the productivity personas we mentioned, changing your hat is a metaphor for adopting a different frame of reference to tackle a challenge or task. You can change strategies, motivation and technique, by metaphorically “wearing a different hat.” A simple example is “ok, now we’re going to critique this as-if we were the client”.
- Mindsets are Either Or. Most mindsets are either or – they either help you, or hamper you.
- Shifting Focus. When you get stuck, shift your focus to improve your concentration. We’ll discuss this more in Part 4.
Values with Agile are kind of like a quick-reference list for how you should go about working towards your goals. Along with the Agile Principles (below), they form a code of conduct or sort that you can easily refer to.
- Growth. Always be growing and learning. If you’re reading Asian Efficiency, you’ve probably already got this down.
- Good Enough. Good enough is good enough. You can always improve in the next iteration.
- Systems. See our article on Systems Thinking.
- What’s the next best thing to do. The number one question you should always be asking yourself when stuck, or unsure of what to do next.
- 80/20 Action/Analysis. Spend 80% of your time on action and 20% of your time on analysis. This applies to everything in life. You learn infinitely more by doing than by analyzing.
- Time is King. So important that it’s also an Agile Core Concept (see above).
Onto Part 2
Now you have an overview of how Agile Results works as a system. As much as it would be awesome to go in-depth into all the values, principles, keys and ideas behind Agile, that’s what the original book is for (you can buy it here from Amazon in print or for the Kindle). We’ve just expanded on some of the major points, and things that people often miss.
The next 3 parts of this series on Agile Results are going to show you how to implement all this into a productivity system, and more excitingly, how Agile can sit alongside a standard GTD setup to make you even more productive.
Edit: Part 2 is live.
Photo by: EmreAyar