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Applying Agile to Planning Your Workday

When I first started working, one of the trickiest things to pin down was planning my work schedule. Once I felt like I had a good routine going, something else changed in my environment that washed it down the drain, whether it was a new responsibility, different projects, COVID-19, a Wi-Fi outage or incessant construction noise.

I thought to myself, “Once I achieve a consistent, noise-free routine, I’ll be able to work seamlessly.” To be honest, that kind of workflow still hasn’t happened.

As the weeks went on and the pandemic seemed to extend our remote work stints into eternity, I learned that change was always going to happen despite my schedules and routines. Sure, some days, everything went according to plan. But other days, I knew disruption would be inevitable. Acknowledging this reality drastically changed how I viewed planning my workday – and helped me stay productive and valuable to my team, while being flexible and kind to myself.

When we think about agilely planning our workdays, preparing ourselves for disruption will help us stay light on our feet and less stressed when change comes our way.

Tip #1: Set realistic expectations.

Are your energy levels low? Do you have a lot of meetings on your calendar? Think about your whole environment – external and internal, mental and physical – and how it could affect your workflow. Knowing how you work will help you set realistic expectations that will keep you productive but won’t burn you out.

Try this: Be kind to yourself. What are some realistic limits to your productivity today? Examples: dependents, poor sleep, last-minute meetings, etc.

Tip #2: Do a midday check-in.

Remember that part about setting realistic expectations? Sometimes we get it wrong at the beginning of the day, and that’s OK. It could be helpful to pause in the middle to make sure you’re on track, particularly with urgent tasks or large projects. Reassess and reprioritize based on how the earlier half of your day went.

Try this: After your midday break, write what you were able to accomplish in the morning. And then, what you have left to do in the afternoon.

Tip #3: Plan large chunks of time, then incrementally smaller ones.

Software developers who use Agile methodologies often work in two-week sprints. This is key to how they create software products with user value in a short amount of time. Planning your next two weeks (or one month or three — whatever works best for you) can help you extract more value out of your time too. Remember: Planning takes time and energy, and well-planned projects will show value in the end. Having a broader map of your coming weeks is like having a first iteration of your schedule, after which you can change incrementally week by week and then day by day.

Try this: 1. Record all upcoming deadlines, events and meetings in a calendar you (actually) use. 2. For large projects, write down what you want to accomplish each day leading up to the deadline. 3. Review steps and schedules as necessary on a weekly and daily basis.

Tip #4: Get rid of what doesn’t work.

There are a lot of productivity hacks out there that just don’t work – and it’s up to you to decide what they are. Can’t wake up at 5 a.m. to deep work? Don’t. Feeling burnt out after brainstorming past 4 p.m.? Stop. (Of course, some of these tasks come at the discretion of your team. Sometimes you may have to brainstorm after 4 p.m., but consider that you bring the best value for your team by bringing the best version of yourself.)

Try this: Is there a habit or way of working that hasn’t helped you be agile lately?

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide, “The Everyday Agile Workbook.” Download the full guide here.

Photo credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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