Journey to Agile starts with personal productivity

Prior to starting in my previous employment — Shopitize Ltd, I was a researcher for about 8 years and I didn’t manage anyone, but myself. Now I find myself in charge of 35 people spread into 4 different countries. What do you do to get help? Call your mate.

So I picked up the phone and called Maxim Dorofeev who since then went to write 2 books and became well known public speaker. My question to him was: for the last 8 years I was a researcher and didn’t manage anyone but myself, now I have a team of 35 in 4 different countries, what would you recommend to learn about the best approach in Agile. His recommendation was — here are 3 videos about structuring team, performance metrics and retrospectives each 45 minutes long.

My answer: I don’t have time to watch 3 45 minutes videos And he responded with: “All right I know this symptom, here 3 15 minute videos on personal productivity” (and it took me 6 months to watch it 🙂).

Have a single Todo list similar to GTD (today, this week, someday), but most important — spell out your tasks so you can do it with your brain switched off. Why is it more important than quadrant: urgent/important? Between urgent and important task, the brain selects the next understandable task, which may fall back to Facebook pull to refresh, check cricket scores, eating, sleeping or watching TV if it didn’t find the one on the todo list. This is why flagging email as todo is counterproductive — it may contain multiple tasks and you have to re-read to process it.

Have one single todo list: personal and work should be in one = “don’t forget the milk” shall be part of the same todo. The amount of brain fuel is limited, the more you spend at the beginning of the day less you will have in a day and brain fuel is not equal to energy. Remembering requires brain fuel, which is why to use a todo list and avoid remembering whenever possible.

Eliminate distraction and manage your focus time — disable notification, I use the “Pomodoro technique” when I can (limited so recently, Jira is not accessible from my Pomodoro app) — 25 minutes work on a timer. Forces you to do the first part — spell out the task so you can pick it up and finish in 20 minutes.

Another trick I use — process inbox at the scheduled time not the first thing in the morning, decide what you want to accomplish today first.

My favourite tool Maxdone— the app I use for my todo list, my flow has daily and weekly checklists as per the technique above.

The technique called Inbox Zero, I have zero emails in mailbox, although you don’t have to be psychopathic about it.

One more important point is personal knowledge management: “thoughts fly swatter” — if you have an idea/useful thought, write it down on a mind map or on a piece of paper. Don’t hold it — brain fuel is limited, review it weekly and build connections, more on it latter.

DW few things jump out:

  1. Write stuff down and get it out of your head. I do this partly because I don’t trust my own memory, but as you say this also clears “bandwidth” to focus on tasks. I switched to doing all of this electronically (currently using OneNote, previously just draft emails to myself) a while ago, as the paper is an unsearchable/unorganisable mess (at least for me)
  2. Daily/weekly to-do lists. I do a daily task list at the beginning of the day (including personal / admin things) and have ongoing key activities/task list that I review/refresh each week. I find this gives the balance of near term focus and progress within a day whilst keeping a view of longer-lived activities

My answer: Your first point sometimes called exocortex and sometimes collaborative knowledge management! And there are a number of tools like notion.so, coda.io, obsydian.md and roam research who strive to create state of the art in that area, we will see more coming and I will write more about in a few days: the world is getting more and more complex every day and we need to have a way to handle this complexity.

One may ask: I missed it how is it connected to working/leading the agile team. Firstly you start with your own performance and getting on top of your own things — there are many people, who even on the top of the organisation can’t be on top of their mailbox, secondly, if you know how your own brain functions, then you can give clear, concise and understandable tasks to your own team, this is where military 5Wand H comes into play. Check your team backlog, can a random team member pick up a task from the backlog and process it without talking to anyone else?

At the same time, this blog post is a reminder to myself — I am slipping this methodology and my daily todo list can be easily renamed weekly (20 items) and weekly — someday (270 items), and someday to never.

I am a systems thinker with a deep understanding of technology and a methodological approach to innovation