Getting Things Done–The Agile Way

Based on Brian Tracy’s Goals program, I have used a planning journal to write down my main inspirational goals each year, and then to break down those goals into monthly and weekly goals.

For about a year, I took Brian Tracy’s recommendation to the next level, and wrote down my daily goals.    I found that doing this took about half ah hour, and he recommended doing it the night before rather than the morning of each day.   Here’s the practical problems I found with this approach.

First of all, I was often tired and doing a detailed laundry list of everything I had to do, and then prioritizing each item and putting them in a schedule was often mentally tiring.   However, saving it to the next morning when I had the physical energy wasn’t the best option either because I would have the physical presence of mind before my first cup of coffee to be able to do the daily plan.    And sometimes deciding what time I would have to get up would depend on what was in the daily plan, particularly if it was a weekend day.    Could I sleep in until late, or did I have to get up early?

The second problem was that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray–sometimes even by the time I get to work.    One of the first things I do is check my phone-mail messages and e-mail message, and an urgent message from either one of those channels might alter my daily plan considerably.

It wasn’t until I got the work Getting Things Done by David Allen that I got a better, more flexible way of organizing my time.  And it wasn’t until recently when I started studying Agile project management that I understood why it worked better.   That discussion is the subject of today’s post.

Getting Things Done

In David Allen’s system, he recommends taking larger, aspirational goals and breaking down them down, just like Brian Tracy recommends.    However, he recommends stopping at the level of the weekly plan.     Let’s say on Sunday you draw up a weekly list of what needs to get done in the various areas of your life.    What do you do on Monday morning (or Sunday evening, the night before)?    You draw from that weekly plan those elements that you are going to aspire to get done during that day, based on urgency (how quickly it needs to get done) and priority (how important it is to get done).

This worked out a lot better.    Every day I would choose 10 items that I wanted to get done, and I would focus in on that list.    Yes, there were times that I would get an urgent message via telephone or e-mail, and have to add an item to the list.    But adding one item to a list of ten is a LOT easier than having to scrap an entire daily plan.    I figured that, at a minimum, I was saving 3 hours a week by not having to draw up daily plans.    The daily list would take 5 minutes at the most.    And at the end of each day, those items that I got done on my daily list would get checked off on the weekly plan and voila, by the end of that week I would have most of the weekly plan accomplished.    It was thorough enough to capture everything that needed to get done, but flexible enough to accommodate the changing circumstances that come from …. well, life itself.

The Agile Way

In preparing the material from chapter 2 “Introducing Agile Project Management” of John Stenbeck’s book “PMI-ACP Exam Prep PLUS Desk Reference”, I suddenly got why the David Allen system was an improvement on Brian Tracy’s goal program.

The larger yearly or monthly plan was the roadmap that listed my aspirational goals over a long period of time.   From this, I derived the weekly plan, which was like a release plan in agile PM language, that I would use to capture all of the deliverables I wanted to complete by the end of the week.    The iteration plan was the daily list I would draw that would draw from the release plan or weekly plan those elements I wanted to complete during that day.    I would focus all of my energy on that iteration plan or sprint and not be concerned about the totality of the weekly plan.    That would improve my focus and keep me from being overwhelmed at the number of items to be done on the weekly plan.

The David Allen system is an agile version of the more traditional system that Brian Tracy advocates.    The breakdown process is the same, but the David Allen does not try to completely describe the exact scope for each day–life is too chaotic to be hemmed in by such a rigid system.

Now when I do my daily list I even call it “today’s sprint” to honor my newfound understanding that I am, in reality, using agile project management not just in my profession, but in making my daily life run more smoothly.


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