There have been many a time I’ve been frustrated with the GTD approach to task management. For so many years I couldn’t quite get myself above the ground level. I tried implementing the David Allen-sanctioned horizons approach. That just did not connect with me, and with productivity systems, things have to connect to stick.
Don’t get me wrong; GTD is a fantastic framework for handling information. I still use it. But GTD is not applicable to every use case in every environment. For me, the sticking point was getting above the minutiae into the longer term vision.
I began a bit of a journey to find some more helpful frameworks. The one that ultimately stuck?
Getting Results the Agile Way, or otherwise known as Agile Results.
What is Agile Results?
Agile Results was created by J.D. Meier, a project manager at Microsoft. The Agile Results website touts a lot of reviews how the concepts and tactics transformed individuals ability to get things done. What does that mean for you and me, then?
The main concepts of Agile Results are:
- Rule of Three - Simply put, choose three things as a way to pare down information and avoid overwhelm.
- Outcomes versus Tasks - Instead of focusing on “things to do,” focus on what the end result should look like. These don’t even have to be tasks; they can be things like “Enjoyed hanging out with my son” or “Made it through the meeting gauntlet today”.
- Monday Vision/Friday Reflection - Use the rule of three to pick your three most desirable outcomes for the week. Then, at the end of the week, reflect on what went well and what didn’t.
- Daily Outcomes - Same as Monday Vision, but for each day. You can consider this concept similar to selecting your 3 Most Important Tasks, but keep in mind, the focus is on outcome, not tasks.
- Hotspots - A self defined list of areas in your life to focus on. Similar to the Wheel of Life, this can help you ensure your life is in balance.
There are a few other components Meier covers in his book (finding the best times of the week to do certain types of work, how to choose what to focus on, monthly sprints), but these are the major concepts relevant to this discussion.
How does Agile Results complement productivity systems?
While technically Agile Results is a system all unto itself, it can be used as a layer on top of almost any other productivity system. As I mentioned, I found GTD’s approach to be difficult to get into the higher planning levels, but adding Agile Results as a helpful planning and processing layer on top of the minutiae management strength of GTD really helped.
The great thing about every productivity system is you get to pick what works for you. Sure, the creators might get frustrated if you deviate from their grand idea, but it’s not about them. It’s about you.
I think J.D. Meier gets that, and that’s evident in the flexibility of the approach he uses.
I could spend a bunch of time stating how you can apply these principles to your system, but I think it would be easier to show you mine. It’s pretty simple.
How I use Agile Results
One of the key points of note is that I don’t use every part of Agile Results. I’ve found other methods that stick for me for setting goals and managing my calendar. As I’ve stated before, use what sticks and makes sense!
Rule of Three/Daily Wins
The easiest and most helpful part of AR to adopt is the rule of three and selecting your daily wins (or outcomes). Every day, though not religiously, I select my three outcomes I want to achieve during the day. I’ll write them down on a notecard or put them in Todoist, whichever makes most sense per the mode of work for the day.
These outcomes are formulated just like GTD tasks - start with a verb and define the result you wish to achieve. Where AR outcomes differ from typical tasks is two fold:
- They are written in past tense.
- They can be any desired outcome you want to have for the day (meaning they do not need to be tasks).
For example, here are a few outcomes of mine used recently:
- Presented on the initiative with clarity and effectiveness
- Took and enjoyed a lunch break restfully
- Focused on playing with my kids and spending time with my wife
Approaching daily outcomes like this foster a few benefits for me. First, I’ve noticed I tend to focus on achieving my outcomes when they’re clearly defined for me. Second, phrasing them in past tense makes me feel like they’re a done deal, meaning the psychological barrier to starting and proceeding on a task is lessened.
To start using daily outcomes, all you need to do is decide and write them down.
I’ve structured my weekly review heavily around an Agile Results approach. You can see most of it implemented in my Productivity Journal.
I address three components in the weekly review from AR.
I have my own defined list of hotspots I created that’s relevant to me. They are:
To create your own list, literally write one out and don’t edit it. The order you come up with them is important, as it’s generally your gut feeling on what is truly important to you. The idea is to work with your thought processes instead of rework them.
I scan this list each week during my review for the one or two areas that stand out to me as needing the most attention. Then, I take that hotspot and try to formulate a goal or outcome for the next week around it. Easy as that!
I won’t spend too long on this, but a weekly win is my version of Monday Vision. On the prior Friday during my weekly review, I will envision what I want to accomplish the next week. I’ll write them out just like I do my daily wins - the same rules apply.
Lastly, as part of my weekly review, I will use the rule of three to outline three things that worked during the week, and three things that didn’t.
The idea behind AR is to allow you to incrementally make changes along the way, just like Agile programming allows you to make faster changes to developing programs. The Three Things are the quickest way to identify these areas.
The best focus is to keep doing what worked, and try a different approach to what didn’t.
Key Tips in Implementing AR
Agile Results works perfectly alongside GTD. I use my normal GTD task lists and layer on the aforementioned components to help guide my time effectively and focus on accomplishing and improving the right things.
A few key tips to implement components of AR I’ve learned along the way:
- Sync up your weekly wins, hotspots and daily wins. Don’t set a weekly win then ignore it each day expecting it to happen. Same thing with your hotspots. Your hotspots serve the selection of your weekly wins, and weekly wins the selection of daily wins.
- Just start. AR is meant to be an iterative approach to life management. Pick a component, implement it, then review what worked and didn’t at the end of the week. Start again next week.
If you’re interested in learning more about AR, I’ve linked the book above. J.D. Meier also has a 30 day walkthrough of the AR concepts you can utilize at your own pace.