Guidelines for Agile Results

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Note - Index of Guidelines for Getting Results provides a quick map of all the guidelines at a glance.

- J.D. Meier


Objectives

  • Learn effective strategies for making impact.
  • Learn a frame that helps you organize principles, patterns, and practices for achieving results.
  • Explore guidelines for improving your results.


Overview

This is a collection of guidelines for improving your results and productivity. Guidelines are organized as a set of hot topics, so that you can quickly find and scan relevant items. Guidelines are expressed as tickler list items, so that they are easy to learn. Each guideline explains what to do, why, and how.


As you pursue results, you’ll likely face many challenges. Even small things can gradually wear you down. Your environment and the people you surround yourself with can work against you. Even your own motivation or energy can work against you. The chapter presents high-level strategies to help you maximize success, establish a rhythm of results, and combat many common productivity challenges.


How the Guidelines are Organized

The guidelines are organized by the following categories:

  • Action
  • Efficiency and Effectiveness
  • Energy Management
  • Expectations
  • Focus
  • Goals and Objectives
  • Information Management
  • Learning
  • Motivation
  • Planning
  • Prioritizing
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Discipline
  • Task Management
  • Time Management

For an explanation of the categories, see the Results Frame ("Heat Map for Results").


Results Frame -- "Heat Map" for Results

The following frame helps organize the guidelines in this chapter. Each Hot Spot represents an actionable bucket. You can use this frame as a backdrop, both for learning the guidelines in this chapter, as well as for finding, organizing and sharing your own guidelines from other sources. By using an organizing frame, you can manage and prioritize large collections of information. Here are the Hot Spots for results:


Hot Spot Description
Action How you take action and manage your activities towards results.
Efficiency and Effectiveness How you manage the cost and speed of your results, as well as how you manage the quality of your results.
Energy Management How you manage your energy in terms of thinking, feeling, and doing, as well as how you take care of your eating, sleeping, and working out.
Expectations How you set and reset expectations with yourself and others.
Focus How you focus your time, energy, and attention.
Goals and Objectives How you set meaningful goals and objectives for your results.
Information Management How you organize and manage information, as well as avoid information overload.
Learning How you learn, improve, and correct course.
Mindsets and Motivation How you get your head in the game.
Planning How you map out the work to be done.
Prioritizing How you choose what’s more important.
Self-Awareness How to improve your knowledge about yourself in terms of achieving results.
Self-Discipline How you correct your behavior.
Task Management How you manage your tasks and action items.
Time Management How you manage and schedule your time.


Each of the Hot Spots contains a set of principles, patterns, and practices. The following sections walk through each of the Hot Spots above and identify actionable guidelines.


10 Strategies for Improving Results

Before we get to specific techniques, let’s explore 10 higher-level strategies to help you maximize your impact.

  1. Monthly Improvement Sprints. Use Monthly improvement sprints to cycle through things that you want to focus on. For example, focus on getting in shape in January; use February to learn a new skill. By using a month’s chunk of time, you give yourself enough of a timebox to achieve meaningful results. By using monthly themes, you give yourself a chance to cycle through a variety of your key interests and goals.
  2. Balance your time across your Hot Spots. Balance your results across your meaningful buckets. For me, I use a life frame: mind, body, emotion, career, financial, relationships and fun. Each Hot Spot can be broken down into more Hot Spots. For example, my career bucket includes execution, thinking, administration, improvement and relationships.
  3. Build a library of reference examples. Collect working examples to learn and model from. Actively looking for the positive examples of successful people around you helps keep your mind focused on success patterns. If you want to manage your time better, model from somebody who is effective. If you want to mange projects better, find somebody with a proven track record and learn from them. Keep in mind that what works for them, may not work for you, but there is no need to start from scratch.
  4. Diversify your results. Think in terms of a portfolio of results. This means both producing results in different categories (such as relationships, career, and fun) as well as having some results you count on and some that are risks. Balance this with quitting when you aren’t going to get good at something, or you aren’t getting the return on investment. Diversify your results to avoid having all your eggs in one basket. For example, at work, you might have your flagship project that you can count on, but then add a couple of experimental projects to test the waters.
  5. Establish a rhythm of results. Don't let the tail wag the dog. Factor when you create from when you release. This frees you up to focus on creation, without the immediate burden of production or release. Your release rate should match absorption rate and demand. Your production and release can occur at different times and at varying rates. For instance, you could write your eight blog posts on Sunday, then trickle them out over the week.
  6. Find a way to flow value. Chunk your results down. Deliver incremental value to yourself or to others. Focus on value-delivered, not backlog burndown. Don't settle for being productive but ineffective. Focus on delivering value keeps you asking the right questions and making the right calls on priorities. Remember that backlogs tend to suffer from rot over time. If you focus on value delivered you won't miss windows of opportunity when they do appear. The other secret here is that focusing on value can be more energizing than tackling an overwhelming backlog, even if all you really changed is perspective.
  7. Improve your network. Who you spend time with probably has the largest impact on getting results, personal growth, your quality of life, your career, etc. Here’s a tip: build a mind map of your personal and professional networks and see where you need to tune, prune, or grow. Your purpose is your guide, whether it’s seeing others’ perspectives to keep creative juices flowing, connecting with others you can model and learn from, or simply providing you with the support you need.
  8. Make it a project. If you want to get something significant done, make it a project. This includes anything that takes several stages to complete or something that you know probably won’t get done otherwise. List the work to be done and estimate how long it will take. Allocate enough time, energy, and resources to accomplish the work and establish a timeline. Dedicate time to your project and see it through. It’s a simple but proven practice for achieving results. By giving something a start and an end, and by getting your head around the work, you dramatically improve your chances for success. By packaging up the work as a project, you can also look at it in terms of investment and ROI (return on investment). If you don’t think it will be worth the investment, you can make that call. Making it a project provides a lens you can both evaluate the opportunity and manage the work more effectively.
  9. Stay flexible in your approach. Be flexible in the "how." If you have a compelling "what" and "why," you'll find the strategies. If something's not working, change your approach. A good sanity check is to ask yourself, "Is it effective?”
  10. Sweeping. Periodically sweep up the mess you’ve left behind. Sometimes it’s easier to go back and clean things up than to try and get things right up front. It can be more efficient to batch and focus your time at a later point, than to try and keep things in order the whole time through. Consider sweeping as a deliberate strategy to maximize your energy by batching the work at a specific point in time. Sweeping as a practice gives you a chance to go back and improve things as well as integrate new learnings.


Action

Taking action is essential. It’s how you make things happen. By taking action, you can test what works and what doesn’t. When you take action, you produce results. If you’re not getting the results you want, then you can change your approach. When a ship is sailing, it can correct its course. The same is true when you are taking action. Know the sum is more than the parts. Consistent action over time produces real results. Think about how much you've accomplished over the long run, just by showing up at work every day and doing your job. Consider the following guidelines for improving your ability to take action:

  • Ask yourself, “What actions have I taken?”
  • Chunk it down.
  • Decide and go.
  • Do a dry run.
  • Do it, review it, and improve it.
  • Get the ball out of your court.
  • Just start.
  • Put in your hours.
  • Set a quantity limit.
  • Set a time limit.
  • Start with something simple.
  • Scrimmage against results.


Ask Yourself, “What actions have I taken?”

Hold yourself accountable to taking action. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking instead of doing. If you’re not getting the results you expect, enumerate the actions you’ve actually taken. You might find that you’ve thought more than you’ve done. Or, you might find that you did take a lot of action, even though you didn’t get the results you wanted. Now at least you have feedback. You can review the actions you’ve taken and decide whether it’s time to change your approach or to keep plowing ahead.


Chunk It Down

Break bigger results down into smaller actions. Breaking things down helps you right-size the action for however much time or energy you have. If something is too big, just keep breaking it down until you have something you can actually make progress against.


Decide and Go

Don’t second guess yourself every step of the way. Decide what you’re going to do, do it, and then review your results, after taking action. This is how you can fully engage in the activity. It’s also how you avoid spending all your energy task switching between analyzing and doing. Swim to shore, then figure out why you were drowning. You can combine a “Fail Quick” method with a “Decide and Go.” Simply do a small trial first to test the decision, if possible.


Do a Dry Run

This is a technique that’s especially effective for a task or activity that you haven’t done before. Pave a path. Simply walk the steps end-to-end, preferably with someone who’s done it before. Doing a dry run helps you identify things that you didn’t expect. Your dry run also helps you when you want to execute because you will have some previous experience and some clarity on the path you should follow. Knowing what not to do the second time around is as important as knowing what to do. Discovering the hidden gotchas lessens the anxiety for the second time around.


Do It, Review It, and Improve It

This is a simple loop to remind yourself to take action, review your results, and then improve your results. This helps you avoid analysis paralysis by reminding you to take action. It also helps you avoid perfectionism by reminding you to complete your results before evaluating how to improve. It’s usually more effective to iterate on your results multiple times and improve on each iteration, than try to do it once perfectly. This loop—do it, review it, and improve it—helps reinforce the habit of continuous improvement.


Get the Ball Out of Your Court

Make it a habit of getting the ball out of your court as soon as possible. Little items can add up quickly, and procrastination adds weight to your day. Know when the ball should be returned. Not every ball is worth returning, and some balls are more important than others. One way to help stay clear is make sure you are responding, not simply reacting. Simply being mindful can go a long way.


Just Start

Rather than looking for the perfect way to start or waiting for the perfect situation, just start. The sooner you start, the sooner you learn. The sooner you learn, the sooner you can change direction as needed. You’ll also find that starting helps build momentum, one small action at a time. The baby steps add up. One way to just start is to schedule a meeting with yourself and allocate time to start some action you’ve been avoiding.


Put in Your Hours

I heard that Hemingway wrote for two hours a day. The first hour, he edited his work from the day before. The next hour, he wrote new stuff. My friend, a marathon runner, says the key for her is putting in her hours. Putting in your hours is an investment in results. If you’re not getting the results you expect, one of the first things you can do is ask whether you’re putting in the right amount of time and in the right areas.


Scrimmage Against Results

Test your results. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Test your results to get real feedback. By thinking of your challenge as a scrimmage, you make a game of it, and you can play at your results. It also helps you find your strengths and weaknesses quickly. The scrimmage becomes a forcing function. The act of trying to produce real results early means you have to figure out the work to be done. It also means you start asking better questions. Whiteboards and slides are one thing. Producing a real outcome is another. The anti-pattern is doing a bunch of up-front analysis and design without testing your assumptions. Trying to produce real results early means you’ll find not just technical issues, but people and process concerns as well. Finding these earlier rather than later is a good thing. If you know what these issues are, you can prioritize them and budget your time and effort accordingly.


Set a Quantity Limit

One way to produce results is to set a simple limit in terms of quantity. For example, you might identify three results for the day. You might decide that you want to perform 20 push ups. You might decide you want to write one chapter or maybe ten pages. You can use quantities to inspire and guide your results. By setting a limit, you set a simple tangible goal that you can shoot for. Whenever you’re stuck on something, just break it down and turn it into a number you can deal with.


Set a Time Limit

Sometimes setting a time limit (a timebox) for something is a helpful way to both motivate yourself and manage your energy. It’s also a method to control distractions and procrastination tendencies. The key to effective timeboxing or setting time limits is figuring out up front, how much time it is worth spending or how much time should you spend before moving to something else. This is also one of the simplest ways to stay balanced. You can intentionally structure your time to spend enough time in activity A, B, and C.


Start with Something Simple

This is how you build momentum. Start with the simplest thing you can so you can get going. Once you start with something simple, you ignite your confidence and energy. Move from the simpler things to the more complex. Think of it in terms of jumping incremental hurdles.


Efficiency and Effectiveness

Efficiency is about the cost and speed of things, while effectiveness is about the quality of the result. You might be performing something very efficiently (low cost, high speed) but not very effectively. To be effective, you first need to know what you want to accomplish and if it’s value-added. You can then measure your results against your effectiveness. Once you’re producing effective results, then you can tune the efficiency by paying attention to the time, cost, and energy. This is a proven practice for improving efficiency with techniques. To improve your efficiency and effectiveness, consider the following guidelines:

  • Ask, “Is it effective?”
  • Do it daily.
  • Expand your toolset.
  • Pair up.
  • Reduce friction.
  • Reduce your context switching.
  • Script your success.


Ask, “Is it effective?”

It’s such a simple question, but it can help you checkpoint your results. Asking if something is effective reminds you of the results you’re after; it helps you evaluate the results you’re getting against what you want to accomplish.


Do It Daily

One way to become more efficient and effective at something is to do it daily. The key is to focus on improvement while you perform the activity. Doing it daily helps get the kinks out. Because of the routine of it, you end up finding shortcuts, and you get enough opportunity to test different approaches or reduce friction. When you know you will do something each day, it also helps you avoid over-engineering it.


Expand Your Toolset

When you only have a hammer, everything's a nail. Adding new tools to your tool belt can exponentially improve your results. Look for tools from disparate sources so you don’t just have an assortment of slightly different hammers. For example, you can study project management skills to learn how to chunk down projects and manage end to end results. You can study other productivity systems and take the best of the best.


Reduce Friction

Be like the fast river that moves the rocks and sand from its path. Create streamlined execution paths. Create a fast path for stuff you need to do frequently. There are probably a few scenarios where you have more friction in your process than you'd like. I use Monthly Improvement Sprints for my perpetual friction points.


Reduce Your Context Switching

Context switching is when you switch from one activity to another (usually unrelated) activity. For example, you might be concentrating on writing, but then you switch out to check your Facebook or email. Rapid context switching is one of the worst productivity killers. Studies show that it can take significantly longer to complete two tasks if you context switch versus just doing them sequentially. Error rates also go up significantly. Develop strategies to reduce context switching. Reduce the number of activities you work on. Designate a time for things. For example, you might check your email at morning, noon and night, rather than throughout the day. Develop discipline and don’t choose based on urgency, but rather importance. When another task is only an arm’s length or click away, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Avoid tools designed to interrupt you unless they are actually essential. Do you really need to get an email notification every time a message comes in?


Script Your Success

Write the steps you need to take to perform the activity. You can use your “script” to analyze the effectiveness and efficiency of your steps. You can tune and improve the steps in your script.


Energy Management

Your energy is your staying power. Some activities renew you, while others drain you. Your energy can come from different sources. A key to keeping your body supportive is to make sure you’re eating, sleeping and working out in a way that works for you. In addition to these, your thinking, feeling, and doing are key to your energy management. Thinking the thoughts that serve you influences how you feel. Spending time in activities that make you strong also helps improve your energy management. Another key to effective energy management is setting boundaries either in the maximum or minimum time you’ll spend doing something. To improve your energy management, consider the following guidelines:

  • Have a compelling “Why.”
  • Increase your power hours.
  • Leverage your power hours.
  • Manage energy for results.
  • Play to your strengths.


Have a Compelling “Why”

Know or choose why you are doing what you doing. If it doesn’t add energy when you think of it, it’s not compelling. A compelling "Why" is what will give you the energy and get you back on your horse when you get knocked down.


Increase Your Power Hours

You might find you only have a few great hours during the week where you feel you produce effective and efficient results. You may even feel “in the zone” or in your “flow” state. Gradually increase the number of power hours you have. You can build a powerful day, or powerful week, one power hour at a time. If you know you only have three power hours in a 40-hour week, see if you can set yourself up to have five power hours.


Leverage Your Power Hours

Chances are you have certain hours in the day or night when you are able to accomplish more. Guard these hours so they are available to you and try to push the bulk of your productivity within these timeboxes. This maximizes your results while optimizing your time.


Manage Energy for Results

Manage energy, not time, for results. When you're "in the zone," you get results. But consider the total amount of work getting done over a longer period of time. If you are in the zone, staying up late, but then exhausted and can’t produce anything the entire next day, you may not be getting more done. Tune your strategy. How well do you get things done when you're emotionally or mentally drained?


Play to Your Strengths

Improving your strengths can help you achieve more than improving your weaknesses. The exception is liabilities. Reduce the liabilities that continually hold you back. For example, poor verbal communication is a huge liability for a public speaker but likely only a weakness for a scientific researcher.


Expectations

Crossed-expectation is a common source of problems when it comes to results. Setting and correcting expectations with yourself and others is a key to effective results and for avoiding disappointment. If you keep failing to meet your own expectations, you can hurt your self-image, which in turn will impact your confidence. If you consistently miss expectations you set with other people, they’ll lose confidence in you, or they’ll be disappointed in your results. Consider the following guidelines for improving your ability to set and manage expectations effectively:

  • Know your capacity.
  • Set and reset expectations.
  • Set expectations.
  • Under-promise, Over-deliver.


Know Your Capacity

This is about being honest with yourself. This is about setting honest expectations for what you can or can’t achieve within a given time frame. If you continuously over-estimate yourself, then use this as input when you make your estimates and adjust for it. Knowing your capacity will help you make more accurate estimates of your time. It will also help you push back more effectively. If you know how much you can handle, then you can push back when you’re exceeding your capacity. Never be afraid to push back. It’s better to tell your manager (or yourself) up front that you’re over-extended, than fail to deliver and surprise them (or yourself) with failure.


Set and Reset Expectations

Make expectations explicit. Your goal should be to reduce the gap between expectations and results, by setting and resetting expectations effectively. This isn’t about making strict contracts. Instead, it’s about avoiding going dark, and making sure that you correct expectations as you learn more. This holds true whether it’s about setting expectations with others or with yourself.


Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

One of the keys to setting expectations is under-promising and over-delivering. This is a proven practice over continuously falling short on doing what’s expected. Make it a habit to set a realistic bar, but clear the bar with stellar results when you can. This will do wonders for your reputation and for your confidence. The more you execute successfully, the more you’ll believe in your execution ability, and you can gradually take on more complexity and scope.


Focus

Focus is one of the most important keys to results. It’s where you put your energy and attention. Choosing the right focus or the right scope can dramatically amplify your impact. Choosing the wrong focus can dramatically reduce your impact. Switching focus is one of the worst problems when it comes to results, especially if you don’t apply enough focus in a given area to produce a meaningful result. Working on your focus as a skill is a great way to get effective results. Review the following guidelines to improve your focus:

  • Apply concentrated effort.
  • Batch and focus.
  • Narrow your focus.


Apply Concentrated Effort

If you spread your effort across too many things you can water down your impact. Concentrating your effort is a way to improve your results. You can concentrate your effort by consolidating the time you spend on a particular challenge. You can spend more time on it. You can increase the frequency. The most important thing is to apply enough effort in a concentrated form to get over whatever the hurdle or hump that’s in your way.


Batch and Focus

Use focus as your weapon for results. Focus is your friend. A batched and focused effort can produce amazing results. Few problems withstand sustained thinking or effort.


Narrow Your Focus

Narrowing your focus is a way to improve your results, especially if you need to get unstuck. It’s easy to bite off too much and churn or spin your wheels. To narrow your focus, simply find a smaller slice of the problem to focus on, and overwhelm the problem with your focus and energy. Keep narrowing the problem down until your focus and energy produce effective results, which in turn, helps build momentum. As you build momentum, you can expand your focus.


Goals and Objectives

Goals are your guide for results. Technically, a goal is the result you want to achieve, while objectives are specific and measurable checkpoints along the way. Your goals should be relevant and meaningful for you. If they aren’t compelling, you aren’t going to see them through. To improve your goals and objectives, consider the following guidelines:

  • Check your ladder.
  • Create SMART goals.
  • Have a compelling "What."
  • Know the tests for success.
  • Know the “Why” behind the goal.
  • Use vision and feeling.
  • Work backwards with the end in mind.


Check Your Ladder

Is your ladder up against the right wall? Every now and then you have to stop and check your ladder. Nothing's worse than climbing a ladder to find it’s up against the wrong wall. Test your metaphorical ladder by imagining your future results based on your current path. One way to help check your ladder is simply add periodic reviews, such as weekly, monthly, or quarterly, and evaluate your direction.


Create SMART Goals

SMART goals are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely. A fuzzy goal would be “make more money.” A specific goal would be to make $100,000 a year within the next 6 months. By making it specific, you know when you’re done. You also know what good looks like. By putting a time frame on it, it helps you prioritize over other activities. You can’t do everything at once. By prioritizing your goals and by getting clarity on your results, you give yourself a clear map to drive your results and direct your energy.


Have a Compelling “What”

Your "What" should be a great manifestation of your "Why." Use it to guide your course. This is your vision.


Know the Tests for Success

Identify the tests you can use to know when you’ve achieved your results. Use your tests to also help identify what good looks like. The better your tests reflect what you want to accomplish, the more effective they are for helping you measure your results along the way. When developing software, it’s common to use “exit criteria” to know when you’re done with a certain stage. Consider adopting your own personal exit criteria.


Know the “Why” Behind the Goal

Why is this goal so crucial for you to accomplish? Most people fail at their goals because the goals didn’t really matter to them. If your goal is worth spending time on, then spend the time up front to really elaborate on why it’s so important for you. The more you can identify the value and make it compelling, the more creative forces and energy you’ll bring to bear when you need to make your goals happen. This will really help you when you hit your early hurdles or when you find your focus or energy starts to wane. You can revisit your why behind the goal, and it will help inspire you back on track.


Use Vision and Feeling

When you have a clear vision of the outcome you are shooting for and can even feel as if it has already happened, you make progress quicker. Assuming the goal is compelling and you actually desire the outcome, the feeling gives you the energy to continue moving towards your desired outcome. Knowing that the feeling is different from the outcome lets you shift to a different vision of an outcome if needed. Remember, in the end it’s how you think the outcome will make you feel that’s really important when you step back.


Work Backwards with the End in Mind

Working backwards from where you want to be can help make you more resourceful. Look to working examples and reverse-engineer.


Information Management

Your ability to manage information directly contributes to your productivity and energy management; it’s the difference between feeling on top of your game and feeling overwhelmed. Your ability to find, organize, and act on information is an extreme advantage in an age where people constantly face information overload. Consider the following guidelines to improve your information management:

  • Factor reference from action.
  • Identify what you know, don’t know, and need to know next.
  • Improve your filters.
  • Organize your actions.
  • Use checklists.


Factor Reference from Action

When you think about information, you can break it up into two buckets: reference and action. Reference information is any piece of information that you simply refer to. It could be details or explanations of things. It’s simply reference. Action is anything actionable. It could be a list of steps, or it can be a set of action items. By thinking of all your information in terms of reference and action gives you a simple way to avoid information overload. You’ll quickly find that a lot of your information day in and day out is simply reference information. You goal should be to capture and consolidate your action information (whether action items or steps). Once you’ve factored and consolidated your action items (such as a simple list), you now have a simple way to scan and prioritize your potential action.


Identify What You Know, Don’t Know, and Need to Know Next

Start with identifying what you know. Next, identify what you don’t know. Then, identify what you need to know next. This is a simple way to get out of analysis paralysis. It’s also a good way to remind yourself of your foundation. As you enumerate what you know, you can evaluate what your information is based on, as well as find the gaps.


Improve Your Filters

Information overload is less about having too much information, and more about a lack of filters. You can cut through information very quickly by identifying your objectives. Once you identify what’s important, you can ignore the information that you don’t care about. It’s when you have no objectives or no filters that an abundance of information can quickly overwhelm you.


Organize Your Actions

Consolidate and organize your actions. You can organize your actions by time, for example. You can also organize your actions by priorities (such as P1, P2, P3; or MUST, SHOULD, and COULD). The most important thing to do is to make your actions easy to scan. In this way, you can quickly see the map and make more conscious choices of what to act on and what to let go.


Use Checklists

Checklists are a great way to capture and share best practices. Many successful people use checklists to remind themselves of good habits or routines each day. You can also use checklists to capture key steps in complex procedures. Using checklists helps you avoid task saturation or feelings of being overwhelmed. You don’t have to spend as much think time figuring out what to do; instead, you can focus on how well you do it. You can improve your checklists as an improvement tool by refining and improving your checklists.


Learning

Taking action gets easier when you look at it in terms of results and feedback. The quickest way to get over fear of failure is to look at your failure as lessons and feedback. By taking action, you improve your quality of feedback and reduce the gap between what you dream up in your mind or what you think on paper. Focusng on learning and results creates an effective learning loop. Consider the following for improving your learning:

  • Build a system of profound knowledge.
  • Build feedback loops.
  • Identify three things going well and three things to improve.
  • Fail fast.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Model the best.
  • Pair up.
  • Turn insights into action.


Build a System of Profound Knowledge

This is about thinking of the system as a whole, knowing the impact of changes in the system, focusing on knowledge management, and taking into consideration the people-side of things. Remember that just because you might not be in a learning organization, doesn't mean that you can't set an example.


Build Feedback Loops

Feedback loops help you improve and keep you going. Build a sounding board of people you trust.


Fail Fast

If you’re going to fail, fail fast. Tackle your highest risks up front so you can create a glide path. Use what you learn to quickly change your course. Fail forward by turning your lessons into course corrections. You can also use your failures to make a determination whether it’s worth continuing your investment. The last thing you want to do is push your high risks to the end, only to get surprised or to have run out of steam. Use failure as a way to generate feedback early and often.


Find a Mentor

Find a mentor or a guide who can help you learn whatever you are trying to achieve. Mentors are the shortcut. One way to help identify potential mentors is to ask, “Who else shares this problem?” You can also ask your friends or colleagues for their suggestions on whom to learn from.


Model the Best

Success leaves clues. Using reference examples can help you shave off tons of wasted time. Whom can you learn from that will take your game to the next level?


Pair Up

Pairing up with someone can be one of the most effective ways to learn. You can also improve your energy and momentum by pairing with the right person.


Turn Insight into Action

Turn your insights into results. Insight doesn’t help if you don’t act on it. Knowing and doing are two separate things, so make it a habit to turn your lessons learned into real results. One simple way is to ask, “what are 3 things I can do, based on what I learned?” You can use this approach even when you take a training seminar. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can make information more actionable, simply by trying to turn it into 3 simple actions.


Mindset and Motivation

You mindset is your frame of mind or your state. Your mindset and motivation together can dramatically impact your ability to produce results. When you lack motivation, you aren’t going to make things happen. When your mindset is working against you, it can be distracting, draining, or limiting instead of supportive and enabling. Your ability to get into the right mindset and find your motivation is essential to effective results. Consider the following guidelines for improving your mindset and motivation:

  • Adopt a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.
  • Drive or be driven.
  • Adopt high-value self-talk.
  • Make it a game.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Use SWAT mode.
  • Use empowering metaphors.


Adopt a Growth Mindset Over a Fixed Mindset

Focus on learning and improvement (growth mindset) over innate ability (fixed mindset). Focus on little improvements and distinctions over time versus instant success. It's consistent action over time that produces the greatest results. This is how you master your craft a day or a moment at a time.


Drive or be Driven

Being on top of things is an entirely different experience, as opposed to reacting and playing catch up. For example, have you ever gotten a jump on your day? Even if you have a tremendous backlog, you can cherry-pick the key things to nail. When you’re driving your results, you’re in control. It’s easier to prioritize because you’re comparing things against your agenda instead of just reacting to fires or random opportunities. Part of being able to drive your day means having a buffer. Things go wrong. Include a buffer in your schedule and expect the unexpected. Don’t waste your buffer on low value things. Use your buffer to jump on high-value opportunities and avoid getting bogged down or carrying too much at once.


Adopt High-Value Self-Talk

The things you tell yourself, the “script” you repeat in your head, is a key ingredient to a winning mindset. Do you have a self-defeating script? “I should have done better,” and, “I should have seen that problem coming,” are just a couple of examples; this kind of self talk is designed to keep you in a rut. Or do you have confident scripts? Fine-tuning what you say to yourself takes you out of the rut and moves you forward; here are the same examples in a different light: “I didn’t do as well as I thought; let’s go through the feedback loop and incorporate what I learned,” and, “I didn’t see it coming, but I’ll know to watch for it next time.”


Make it a Game

Play at what you do. Making it a game can make it fun. Compete with yourself. Let your inner kid out to help you find the energy that comes from genuine curiosity and playfulness at whatever you do.


Pace Yourself

Know whether you’re running a marathon or a sprint, or a series of sprints. Pacing yourself effectively helps you set your own expectations and manage your energy, as well as know when to push hard and when to glide or coast. Effective pacing can help you keep from burning out, as well as anticipate when you will get the most results from turning up your intensity. You can also use metaphors to help you pace, such as thinking of chipping away at the stone, or blasting through a wall, or moving a mountain, etc.


Use SWAT Mode

SWAT mode is actually a metaphor. The idea is that you are on a high-intensity, short-burst mission. You can think of yourself as going into SWAT mode while you try to perform a given task or activity. By using SWAT mode in short bursts, you can increase your level of engagement and intensity to crack tough problems or give you an added boost that helps you crank up your ability to deliver results.


Use Empowering Metaphors

You can change your state or your mindset or kick start your motivation by using empowering metaphors. For example, you can think of your project as an epic adventure or you can think of your task as a race against time. Experiment and find the metaphors that work for you.


Planning

Planning is about mapping out the results and the work to get there. It can be at the macro-level, such as a project plan, or it can be at the micro-level, such as planning your immediate activity. The key to success is keeping your plans lightweight, flexible, and focused on outcomes. Inflexible plans break when you put them into action. Flexible plans allow you to keep moving forward and deal with whatever comes your way. Expect change and embrace it. Agility is the ability to respond to change. Your plans should be agile in that you stay focused on the outcomes, but change your approach as necessary to achieve your results. You can also practice agility in your outcomes, by adjusting your outcomes as you learn more about what really matters. Consider the following for improving your planning:

  • Iterate more, plan less.
  • Plan, then execute.
  • Stay agile.


Iterate More, Plan Less

This is not advocating thoughtless actions. It’s a counter to actionless thoughts. Thoughtful actions produce results. If you're already acting on your ideas, great; otherwise, action is the best oil for rusty results.


Plan, Then Execute

A good way to get results is making simple action plans. This can be as simple as a list of steps you need to take. By writing your plan down, you help free up your mind to focus on the actual action or steps. You also avoid getting lost along the way. It’s a simple map of your actions. The important part is executing your steps. By writing the steps down, you lay out a path that you can focus on the execution. If the results don’t turn out the way you expect, you can modify your plan and execute again. You can also share your plan with others that might have a better approach or can improve your execution.


Stay Agile

Accept that what’s important changes over time, and how you accomplish your goals may need to be flexible. Your flexibility in both your goals and approach will improve your chances of success. Success is negotiable; the key is your ability to adjust your plans based on what you want to accomplish and what you learn along the way as you move towards your goals.


Prioritizing

You can’t do it all, and you certainly can’t do it all at once. Prioritizing is about asking what’s important and what’s more important now. Time changes what’s important. Values influence what’s important. One way to stay grounded in your priorities is to continuously ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish?” This will help you stay focused on the outcomes that matter to you. You’ll find this will shift over time, but it’s a good way to remind yourself what you’re driving towards. Consider the following guidelines to help you prioritize:

  • Ask, “What’s the next best thing to do?”
  • Hit windows of opportunity.
  • Use MUST, SHOULD, and COULD.
  • Worst things first.


Ask, “What’s the next best thing to do?”

Ask yourself, “What’s the next best thing to do?” This question cuts right to the chase and forces you to evaluate where to invest your time and energy. What was important before may not be important now, and this question helps you evaluate priorities. You’re basically checking yourself against what you want to accomplish and identifying the next best steps to get there.


Hit Windows of Opportunity

One of the worst patterns for people that miss out on results, is they do too little, too late. They underestimate the value of making a time window. When you hit your windows of opportunity, you amplify your impact and get more ROI for your effort. In order to make your windows of opportunity, you must prioritize. As you get used to doing things on time, it becomes a healthy habit for results.


Use MUST, SHOULD, and COULD

A simple way to prioritize is to think in terms of MUST, SHOULD, and COULD. It’s pretty easy for your brain to figure out what you MUST do. Make sure you don’t let SHOULDs and COULDs get in the in the way of your MUSTs.


Worst Things First

A good way to prioritize daily is to do your worst things first. By getting the thing you dread out of your way, you create a glide path for the rest of the day. You do your worst thing first when you have your most energy.


Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is what you know about your own strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and capabilities. The more you improve your self-awareness, the better you can adapt yourself to a situation, adjust the situation to suit you, or avoid situations. By getting mindful and reflective and asking questions, you can learn a lot about yourself and then use that knowledge to improve your ability to get results. Consider the following for improving your self-awareness:

  • Know your strengths.
  • Know your weaknesses.
  • Know yourself.


Know Your Strengths

Know the activities that make you strong. Spending more time in your strengths will give you more energy. If you pay attention to your regular activities throughout the week, you’ll be able to identify which activities make you strong and which make you weak.


Know Your Weaknesses

Know which activities make you weak. Spending time in your weaknesses drains you. You need to limit your time in your weaknesses and maximize your time in your strengths. For example, if your boss asks you to have a review goal that is in your area of weakness, don’t hesitate to see if another goal can replace it. At work, you get paid for your performance, so give the company its money’s worth by performing in your strengths!


Know Yourself

Are you a starter or a finisher? Are you a thinker or a doer? Are you a maximizer or a simplifier? Do you know what kinds of people to pair up with to be more effective? Do you know your own workspace preference? For example, some people only like to work on a team. Some people only like to work by themselves. Some people like to work on a team while being allowed to do their own thing. Do you know your strengths? Do you know your weaknesses? Have you found your personal best way to fail fast, learn, and pave a path forward? Do you know your best personal success patterns for fighting perfectionism and for fighting procrastination? A little self-knowledge goes a long way.


Self-Discipline

If motivation is “why to do,” discipline is “what to do.” Self-discipline is the ability to correct or regulate your own behavior (whereas motivation is driven by emotion to create action). Self-discipline is what helps you get back on your course when you fall off your path. It’s what drives you to do the right thing in the moment for your long-term benefit, when you may want to do something else. Consider the following guidelines to improve your self-discipline:

  • Ask yourself, “What’s the right thing to do?”
  • Choose to over have to.
  • Decide up front.
  • Link it to good feelings.
  • Reward your behaviors.
  • Treat motivation as input.


Ask Yourself, “What’s the right thing to do?”

One way to help remind yourself of the right action to ask yourself, “What’s the right thing to do?” This will help you balance against what you want to do. You might not feel like working out at the moment, or you might not feel like finishing your report. Asking yourself what the right thing to do is, will remind you of what’s important and give you the chance to make a more thoughtful choice.


Choose To Over Have To

Don’t think of things in terms of “have to.” Think in terms of “choose to.” Remember that you are driving towards the results you want, so even though you may not want to do something or feel particularly inspired, you have the power of choice, and you are choosing to do it. This will help ensure that your self-discipline stays rewarding rather than restricting and exercises your freedom of choice. As subtle as this sounds, this little difference in changing your vocabulary can dramatically improve your self-discipline.


Decide Up Front

Decide on your behaviors beforehand. Once you’re in the thick of things, it’s easier to react than respond. You can respond more effectively if you are already committed to a decision. Once you are in the moment, you may have a different perspective and drivers. Decide what you want to accomplish, identify the behaviors that will help you get there, and use those behaviors as your guide.


Link It to Good Feelings

It’s tough to sustain any habits that don’t feel good. Where possible, link an activity or behavior to good feelings. For example, you might play your favorite songs while you work out. Linking your actions to good feelings will help reinforce your behavior in a sustainable way.


Reward your Behaviors

Don’t just focus on your results. Reward your behaviors along the way. Rewarding your behaviors is a positive way of practicing self-discipline.


Treat Motivation as Input

What does your mind want? What do your emotions want? What does your body want? These are input. They shouldn’t be your deciding factors. Remind yourself what you want to accomplish and which behaviors will actually get you there. This is where you exercise your power of judgment and self-discipline.


Task Management

The key to task management is working on the right things, at the right time, the right way. Just as it’s important to work on the most important items, it’s also important to let things go. Your ability to let go, while focusing on the most important tasks, is key to achieving your results. It’s about putting more energy into the vital few things that matter, rather than spreading yourself thin across a bunch of things that you’ll never finish. Consider the following for improving your task management:

  • Bite off what you can chew.
  • Fix time, flex scope.
  • Focus on outcomes over activities.
  • Let things slough off.
  • Reduce open work.


Bite Off What You Can Chew

This might sound obvious, but it’s way too easy to pile on a laundry list of things to do and just keep adding. Instead of piling things on, focus on clearing things off. Make it a healthy exercise to bite something off, finish it, and then move on to the next thing. Piling on too many things at any given time is a recipe for failure.


Fix Time, Flex Scope

Allocate a set amount of time for something, and then flex what you can do within that timebox. By fixing time and flexing scope, you can use time to help you prioritize. You can also use time to help you limit risk and set more effective boundaries. For example, you might decide you will only work on the project for a day, or a week, or a month, etc. Once you set the timebox, then you can decide what value to deliver within that timebox. You can adjust your scope as you go, responding to whatever seems the most valuable or important. This is a way to maximize your value and flexibility, while constraining the risk to a given amount of time.


Focus on Outcomes Over Activities

Don’t confuse activity with results. You might spend a lot of time on something but make very little actual progress. It’s easy to spend your time performing a lot of activities that don’t actually produce the results you care about. By focusing your attention on the outcomes or results, you can evaluate the activities you spend your time on against the impact.


Let Things Slough Off

Time changes what’s important. Let things slough off. If something is important enough, you can always make it a priority again. The idea is to make sure you focus on the most important things you can make progress on and let the rest go.


Reduce Open Work

Rather than have a lot of open items on your plate, focus on a small set of things you can complete. Finish something before starting something else. Keeping a smaller amount of open work helps you focus your energy on the vital few and get results; doing so also reduces your task switching.


Time Management

How you spend your time is vital to your success. Time management includes scheduling your time, prioritizing your time, setting boundaries, and knowing your most effective time. Consider the following for improving your time management:

  • Baseline your schedule.
  • Carve out time for what’s important.
  • Have a buffer.
  • Know your most effective hours.
  • Manage energy, not time.
  • Schedule it.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Take weekends off.


Baseline Your Schedule

Before you can improve how you spend your time, it helps to baseline your current weekly schedule. Simply identify where you spend your time; note your free time too. Once you have a solid handle on where your time goes, you can start to evaluate potential ways to improve how you spend your time.


Carve Out Time for What’s Important

Make sure you spend enough time on the things that are important. The key to doing this effectively is to first identify your priorities and make sure you allocate enough time for them. Make everything else work around that.


Have a Buffer

Have buffers in your schedule. Aside from needing the breathing room and allowing for things to go wrong, having a buffer makes it possible for you act on opportunities. If your schedule is packed too tightly, not only is it stressful, but you won’t be able to take advantage of opportunities as they come along. Worse, every possible opportunity will look more like a burden than an opportunity.


Know Your Most Effective Hours

It’s one thing to know whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. It’s another to know which hours or which days are your most effective power hours. Track your most effective hours for a week or two. Once you know your most effective hours, leverage them by making them your most productive for your most important work. You might find that some hours are better for your creativity, while some hours are better for your productivity. You also might find that some hours just don’t do anything for you at all.


Manage Energy, Not Time

One way to improve your results is to focus more on your energy management than your time management. You only have so much time in a day, and it’s fixed. Your energy, on the other hand, can fluctuate a great deal. You can focus on your power hours and improving your energy so the time you do spend on things produces exponential results.


Schedule It

Schedule results; don’t wait for inspiration. If you schedule it, it happens. As the saying goes, "One of these days is none of these days.” Schedule items you need time for.


Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries helps you manage your energy as well as prioritize.


Take Weekends Off

The idea here is to take weekends off. It doesn’t have to be weekends, but it’s about having a day or two where you have nothing planned and no commitments. This helps you recharge for the rest of your week.


Contributors / Reviewers

Adam Grocholski, Alik Levin, Andrew Kazyrevich, Andy Eunson, Andrea Fox, Anutthara Bharadwaj, Brian Maslowski, Chaitanya Bijwe, Chenelle Bremont, Daniel Rubiolo Mendoza, David K. Stewart, David Wright, David Zinger, Dennis Groves, Don Willits, Donald Latumahina, Dr. Rick Kirschner, Eduardo Jezierski, Eileen Meier, Erin M. Karp, Ethan Zaghmut, Gloria Campbell, Gordon Meier, Janine de Nysschen, Jason Taylor, Jeremy Bostron, Jill Heron, Jimmy May, John Allen, John deVadoss, Julian Gonzalez, Juliet du Preez, Kevin Lam, Larry Brader, Loren Kohnfelder, Mark Curphey, Michael Kropp, Michael Stiefel, Mike de Libero, Mike Torres, Mohammad Al-Sabt, Molly Clark, Olivier Fontana, Patrick Lanfear, Paul Enfield, Per Vonge Nielsen, Peter Larsson, Phil Huang, Prashant Bansode, Praveen Rangarajan, Richard Diver, Rob Boucher Jr., Rohit Sharma, Rudolph Araujo, Samantha Sieverling, Sameer Tarey, Scott Hanselman, Scott Stabbert, Scott Young, Sean Platt, Srinath Vasireddy, Tom Draper, Vidya Vrat Agarwal, Wade Mascia



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