The Secret to Beating the February Slump: An Agile Approach to Personal Productivity

How is your February going? Let me guess.
When you go to a gym, it’s less busy.
There is less activity on productivity subreddits.
Your YouTube feed stopped recommending goal-setting content.
Atomic Habits is gone from Amazon’s recommendations list. 

It’s a clear sign that New Year’s resolutions are dead. 

Why do New Year’s resolutions die? 

They were not set up properly from the very beginning

Some resolutions were doomed from the very beginning. I talked more about it in my New Year’s Resolutions series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).


Black-and-white thinking

The all-or-nothing crowd.

Work out every day.
Wake up at 5 am.
Read a book a week.
Quit all added sugar overnight.
Go keto. 

“Go big or go home” is the motto. 

But here is the truth. No one can be that perfect. Especially in the beginning. 

I always tell my clients never to aim for a 100% completion rate. Never.
If it’s a new habit, start with 70%.
Feeling more confident? Ok, aim for 80%. 

When you build some slack into your goals, a small slip will not cause you to quit your goal altogether. You just get up, brush it off and continue. There is a safety buffer built in. 

We add some buffer time when we need to get to the airport. This brings us calm and confidence that we can get there on time. Why not treat our goals similarly to guarantee calm and consistent results? 


Linear thinking 

We are taught that the progress to your goal is linear. You start at point A and get to B in one straight line of consistent actions.

linear progress


What Agile (and our own experience) teaches us is that our progress has a cyclical nature of feedback loops. Your progress is based on incremental improvements over your previous efforts. 

circular progress

Oftentimes we quit on our goals when it’s simply time for another feedback loop. 

This is how we approach our action plans under agile:

agile sprint

Our progress is rarely linear. Review your progress regularly and adjust your plan accordingly. 


Inner rebellion

I share a story in the Monthly Method School of how I came up with the concept of the cool-off week. Every time I tried a new productivity system/tool/app/philosophy, there was always this moment, about a month in, when my inner rebellion came out. And man, was she feisty! 

Screw this.
This is too hard.
You can’t live like this for the rest of your life.
There is more to life than colour-coded calendars and checklists.
Let’s go have some fun!
Let’s be spontaneous! 

These days I have a cool-off week after every sprint. I take a break from productivity and enjoy a slower pace of life. 

Guess what? The inner rebellion is gone.

For me, inner rebellion was the first sign of burnout. And if I persisted with the productivity-at-all-cost lifestyle, burnout would’ve been a much more serious issue. 

I think a lot of people start getting the first signs of burnout at the end of January or early February. And they decide that they should quit on their goal altogether. In reality, they can just take a regular productivity break to avoid burnout. 


Life happened.

And people didn’t account for it. And what’s more puzzling, many don’t want to account for it going forward. 

I keep saying that Agile is the most practical and realistic approach to personal productivity. The opposite of woo-woo magical thinking. It forces you to engage with reality. It forces you to try things in the real world (vs. your imagination) and base your next set of actions based on these results. 

Yes, in theory, you can fool yourself and set up your first sprint based on the ideal (but unrealistic) image of yourself. But there is no way you can continue doing it for more than one sprint. 

The feedback loop is based on you trying things in real life and seeing what happens. 

You treat your every sprint as an experiment. The same way a scientist in a lab treats her experiment:

I tried X.
I got Y results.
What can I do differently in the next experiment? 

When life happens, you can quit on your goals. Or you can finish your sprint. Pause. Analyze your results and life events that happened. Adjust your next set of actions accordingly. Commit to the next sprint, your next experiment. Repeat as many times as needed to get the result you want. 

If you want a step-by-step guidance on how to plan, go through and review your first sprint, I am inviting you to join an upcoming sprint in the Monthly Method School.


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