If you’re not a software developer or project manager, you might not know about Agile. But you should — because it’s a great framework for managing your personal life.
You might not think you need a personal project management system or a framework for managing your life, but once you see just how simple and powerful the principles of agile are, you may very well want to put one in place. Let’s take a look at what Agile actually is, and then get into how it can help you.
I’ve also created a few worksheets to help you institute agile principles in your personal life. Download the Agile Personal Management worksheets and follow along through the steps!
What Exactly Is Agile?
Agile is a project management method that’s primarily used by software developers. It’s made its way into other fields as well, but it will always be anchored to development.
The Agile Manifesto sums up the ideas behind the movement succinctly:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
That might not make a whole lot of sense. Reading through the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto will make it a bit clearer. If you want it summed up, though, you can think of it this way: Agile focuses on flexibility and fast results.
Those results aren’t always 100 percent perfect. But agile teams continually refine. They make incremental changes quickly, and keep moving toward their goal. They’re also prepared for change — they may need to tweak their goals or tactics often. But that doesn’t faze them. Efficiency and communication are also highly valued.
As we go through a few ways you can make your personal life more agile, you’ll start to see in more detail how the system works.
If you haven’t downloaded the Agile Personal Management worksheets, grab them now.
Step 1: Set Goals
In software development, the main goals of a particular project are set by the customer. They share with the development team what they want from the final product, and the team works toward creating it. In personal Agile, though, you set your own goals.
What kind of goals should you set?
I recommend identifying three to five goals that you want to pursue in your life. They could be related to just about anything. To give you an example, my current goals might look something like this:
- Grow freelancing business.
- Increase financial security.
- Improve bike fitness.
- Read more books.
As you can see, there’s a variety of life areas represented, and the goals range from complex and weighty (“increase financial security”) to simple and enjoyable (“read more books”).
Think carefully about your goals, and make sure to write them down somewhere. But don’t feel like you’re locked in — one of Agile’s greatest strengths is its ability to easily handle changing goals.
Step 2: Simplify
Agile is big on keeping things simple. Bob Hartman’s fifth principle of Simple Agile is “Do the simplest thing that works — then stop.”
This applies equally to everyday tasks. Zen Habits puts it like this: identify what’s important to you, and eliminate everything else. Take a look at the goals you identified in the previous step, and think about the possessions, habits, and routines that aren’t supporting those goals.
Are there things you’re doing that you don’t need to? Priorities that you don’t feel very strongly about? Possessions you don’t really need? Get rid of them!
You can declutter objects, processes, and priorities. And that’s a great way to start living an agile life. When you focus more of your life on your goals, you’ll get faster, higher quality results.
Step 3: Plan
While agile teams are flexible, they also spend a notable amount of time planning. Daily check-ins, weekly reviews, and similar activities are common in agile teams. These planning sessions can be relatively informal, but they ensure that everyone knows what’s going on.
You can bring this part of Agile into your personal life in a number of ways. Bruce Feiler instituted standup meetings and morning checklists into his family routine. They had great success with it.
One of the planning features you can easily take advantage of is the sprint: a short period of time where each person has a single task (or a small number of tasks) to focus on. You might institute weekly sprints to help you meet your goals.
Want to start your own business? Have a paperwork sprint, where you spent a bit of time each day finding the forms you need. At the end of the week, you’ll be much closer to starting your business. Other tasks won’t distract you, and you’ll put your energy toward an important goal.
If you’re looking for a new job, an application sprint might make sense. Learning a new skill is very amenable to the sprint format.Whatever your current sprint is, focus on it when you have some extra time during your day. By actively putting your focus on a specific area, you’ll be more likely to make progress on it.
Checklists are also common in Agile, and they can be a huge help in your daily life. Do you find yourself not knowing what to do on a work break? Make a checklist of things you can do in 15 minutes. Have trouble getting out the door in the morning? Use a checklist to document all the things you need to do before you leave.
These types of planning might feel like they actually take more time than just continuing with your current practices. And for a while, that might be true. But as you get better at them and make changes, you’ll find that they greatly boost your efficiency.
Step 4: Update
This is a big part of Agile. Processes, priorities, and goals are always in a continual process of being updated. Maybe your requirements have changed — you’ve discovered that you aren’t spending enough time learning new skills. Or you realize that your methods aren’t the best — early evening just isn’t a good time to clean and organize your house.
Whatever the reason, take some time to think about how you can improve what you’re doing. If you’ve let a process or goal slip, this is the time to recommit. Regularly reviewing your processes and goals will help you fine-tune your personal management system so it’s helping you do what you want.
You could schedule a weekly reflection session or just keep a mindset of continual improvement. (You can use a journaling template to speed up this process.) I’d recommend a scheduled time, though, so make sure you continue to update your system.
Building Your Own Agile System
Now that you understand the four steps to building an Agile personal management system, it’s time to get started. Download the Agile Personal Management worksheets and fill them out. They’ll help you identify goals, create checklists, and successfully update your system.
Above all, remember that Agile is about being flexible and efficient. Don’t put a process in place where you don’t need one. Don’t use a tool that’s more complicated than it needs to be. Keep everything as simple as possible, and focus on your goals. You’ll be an Agile productivity master in no time.
Let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you. And be sure to chime in with your best tips on how to incorporate agile principles into your personal life.