Welcome to Part 2 of Applying Agile to New Year’s Resolutions! Let’s discuss how you can apply agile concepts of sprints, sprint capacity, and backlog review to setting up your goals.
Problem #1: A year is too long.
You don’t feel a sense of urgency when you set a goal for the year. And without a sense of urgency, we tend not to take these goals and resolutions seriously. There is always tomorrow or next month. There is no rush.
Just think back to when you were in school and imagine someone giving you an assignment with a deadline a year from today. Would you start working on this assignment immediately? Or would you postpone it till 10-11 months from now? I bet it’s the second.
Sprints in Agile
Agile projects are broken down into sprints or iterations, short, repeatable phases called sprints. The number and length of the sprint should be determined at the beginning of the project, and each sprint should result in a draft, prototype or workable version of the final deliverable.
From my experience working in different scrum teams building software, sprints are usually between 2-6 weeks, 2-3 weeks being the most common choice.
These sprints are quite short, but long enough to produce an iteration of a product.
The reason why agile sprints are short is that you want to see the deadline approaching. You want to feel a sense of urgency, so you don’t procrastinate. Plus, when it’s short, it prevents you from overcomplicating and over-planning things.
How to apply sprints to new year’s resolutions
I strongly believe we shouldn’t set resolutions for the entire year. It’s too long of a timeframe. We don’t feel the deadline when it’s 12 months ahead. There is no urgency. We need to make the timeline shorter.
A sprint should be short enough to feel the deadline approaching but long enough to see the first results of your efforts.
It’s really up to you how long you want your sprints to be. It depends on your goals and your personality.
When reviewing what I wanted to do for the next year, my New Year’s resolutions were more system- and habit-based. It takes longer to establish those, so my sprint duration needs to be a bit longer. I decided to stick to a three-month period when setting new year’s resolutions. I think it’s long enough to build a system and make it a habit. I picked three months, but you can pick any amount of time that you want. I wouldn’t go more than three months because you lose the sense of urgency.
When I think about my new year’s resolutions, they’re not for 2023. They are for Q1 2023. After the three months are up, I’ll pause. I’ll do the sprint review and then decide what habit/system to focus on for the next quarter.
Do you feel a sense of urgency when picking the sprint duration? If not, shorten the timeline. Again, it should be short enough for you to feel a sense of urgency but long enough for you to produce the first measurable results.
Don’t plan out the entire year
Now that you’ve picked your sprint duration, the tendency can be to divide your year into equal chunks and plan out your goals for the entire year (all the sprints). This is a very common mistake because that’s how we’ve been conditioned to think about planning and personal productivity. However, it is the opposite of what the agile framework recommends.
Under Agile, all this extra planning is a waste of time because it’s not based on any learnings from interacting with the real world. Under Agile, you want to focus on planning the next sprint only.
When you create these long-term elaborate plans, you waste a bunch of time. And you become stuck in this imaginary world that you created for yourself when creating these plans. And because you will be stuck in this world, you will not see many opportunities, many learnings that come up from the real world.
When you pick the duration for the sprint, don’t plan out the entire year. Just focus on the first sprint. After the first sprint, you will do the sprint review. You will learn something new that you don’t know right now. And any further plans should be based on the learnings up to that point, not up to today.
Our new year’s resolutions are based on the perfect version of ourselves and the world.
Last week we discussed that new year’s goals don’t account for our realistic past. But they also don’t account for our realistic future.
Oftentimes we set goals as if we don’t have a job, family, and other commitments on our time. It’s as if tomorrow we’ll wake up and have a completely different life, free of any outside commitments and responsibilities. No wonder we fail at our New Year’s resolutions. That image is not realistic. We wake up, we still have family, kids, jobs to go to and dishes to clean. But our new year’s resolutions did not account for that.
That’s where the scrum concept of sprint capacity comes into play. When you decide to plan out your first sprint, the first thing you do is evaluate your sprint capacity. You open up your calendar for the upcoming sprint and look at all the commitments you already have: all the deadlines, big work projects, trips, doctor’s appointments, family visits, holidays, etc.
And there are two things that you want to understand when looking at your calendar:
- How much time do you really have to dedicate to your New Year’s resolutions for that upcoming sprint?
- What areas of your life are heavily represented in your pre-established commitments for the first sprint?
The first question allows you to pick a goal or a habit of an appropriate size.
The second question helps you choose the goal of resolution that will balance out your life. This prevents burnout.
There are four broad categories of goals that I usually look at:
- Career and growth;
- Health and fitness
- Key relationships (family and close friends)
- Quality of life (high-quality leisure activities)
When I looked at my calendar for the first three months of 2023, I realized that all my commitments that I have on my calendar are work-related. So for the first sprint, I decided to pick a health goal for better life balance.
Choosing the focus area for your sprint
There are two ways to pick up the focus for your New Year’s resolutions for the first sprint.
- You can balance things out by picking a goal from a different category.
- Example: if your calendar is filled with work commitments, you pick the resolution that is from the quality of life category (e.g., going for a hike every weekend)
- You can pick a habit or resolution to help you achieve a big commitment that you have on your calendar.
- Example: You are studying for the CPA exam (external commitment from the calendar). In order to make it easier for yourself, you pick the new years resolution to go to bed at 10 pm to get enough sleep so that you can have a successful study session the next day.
Thus far, you’ve selected your sprint duration, calculated your sprint capacity, and picked a focus for your upcoming sprint. Now is the time to do a backlog review. If you’ve done the homework from Part 1, you should have a backlog file with different resolutions/goals and ideas recorded in no particular order.
Now that you know how much time you have for the upcoming sprint and your focus area, you can start moving things around in your backlog. Move goals aligned with your focus area to the top of the list. If there is a goal that you want to do but don’t have enough time for, make it smaller to fit within your time budget.
When you have too many goals to choose from
If you have too many goals but not enough time to do them all, spend some time thinking about what you should focus on.
I usually decide what to focus on by asking the question, “Which goal will bring the most strategic byproducts?”
You are never achieving one goal in isolation. You are always creating strategic byproducts when achieving a goal.
For example, when you exercise, it also impacts your mood for the day and your productivity. These are called strategic byproducts.
When you decide to eat healthier, it affects your mood, sleep, and energy levels. It also saves you money.
If you have too many goals to pick from, pick the one with the most strategic byproducts.
- Decide on the sprint duration. It should be short enough for you to feel urgency but long enough to produce results.
- Evaluate your sprint capacity. How much time do you have to dedicate to your goal?
- Pick the focus area for your sprint.
- Do the backlog review. Move the most suitable candidates to the top of the list.
Read Part 1 and Part 3 of this series!
Explore this topic further:
- Sprint planning for personal productivity
- Sprint capacity for personal productivity
- How to use product backlog for personal productivity
- Why long-term planning is not as good as you were taught
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