Today I’m going unveil my own personal agile technique which I use to increase my overall productivity, the technique is still a work in progress so this article will cover it in its current form.
The technique can be used in isolation or can be used in conjunction with macro team level agile methodologies such as XP, Scrum or Kanban and micro level personal productivity techniques like The Pomodoro Technique.
The aim of the technique is to suppress what I believe to the be the four enemies of personal productivity:
- Working without a clear objective
- Burnout through not knowing when to stop
- Inventing things to do to avoid the important
To fully embrace the Daily Mission Technique you need to fundamentally change the way you think about work. You need to stop focusing on time and start focusing on outputs. Instead of approaching a work day by deciding try and do as many tasks as possible in a fixed period of time you need to start trying to do a fixed number of tasks in as little time as possible. The change sounds slight, but the effects can be dramatic.
When using the Daily Mission Technique time becomes the carrot on the stick, it’s the reward you are given upon completion of your objectives. Using the traditional method of working against a fixed period of time removes the incentive, when we complete a task more quickly and efficiently our only reward is another task, whilst with the Daily Mission Technique we are credited with free time which we can spend as we see fit, guilt free.
I developed the technique during the six months which has been an extremely hectic period of my life, I’m involved in three separate startups, one social enterprise and am supervising the construction of my new house. This period has personified a pattern that has plagued me for years, massive bursts of productivity followed by equally massive lulls of inactivity.
The pattern always played out in the same way, some event would capture my imagination and I would work every hour available until I burned out, then I would hit a lull that I struggle to climb out of until some new event captures my imagination and the cycle repeats itself.
I also noticed another pattern, it seemed that increased workload actually decreased my outputs and increased the height and depth of these peaks and troughs. I’m sure this is due to increased procrastination, added temptation to multitask and continually working to the point of fatigue.
The Daily Mission Technique has helped me to break the cycle and transform the peaks and troughs into a much flatter line with continued consistency.
The technique is broken into five simple parts outlined below.
1) Mission Planning
Planning for the Daily Mission is as simple as defining the primary and secondary objective. Planning should not be completed on the same day as the mission and not before the previous mission has concluded. This leaves a window between the completion of the current mission and the end of the day prior to the next mission to set your next primary and secondary objectives.
The reason for this is clarity and discipline, it’s often at the end of the current workday that you can be most sure of what the next most important objectives are, also a significant time gap between planning and beginning the mission reduces the temptation to choose objectives which you want to complete rather than the ones you need to complete.
2) Primary Objective
It’s name is self explanatory, this is the all important objective of the day, the objective that you must do everything in your power to complete; no excuses. To finish the day without having completed your primary objective is a failure and a wasted day. Whilst to complete your primary objective is a success and whatever else happens, whatever distractions may arise to prevent you getting anything else done, you can go to bed on this day guilt free, comforted by the fact that today you took another step in the right direction.
3) Secondary Objective
The secondary objective which cannot begin until the primary objective is complete and is the difference between good enough and exceptional, the difference between guilt free and true satisfaction. Think of the secondary objective as a bonus prize, the extra push that when delivered consistently can turbo charge your progress. A day where you complete your secondary objective is not merely guilt free day, it’s an achievement. Something to be celebrated, something to strive towards each and every working day. These are the days that make the difference between success and failure in the realisation of your dreams.
Progress tracking is a vital part of the Daily Mission Technique, it’s important to be aware of your track record so you can easily spot negative trends and periods of inactivity. The Daily Mission Technique uses a daily percentage score with 100% being a perfect day and 0% being a complete failure. The numbers are also aggregated into weekly, monthly and all time scores so that you can observe trends on a larger scale.
The 100% score is made up of five requirements each worth an equal 20%, as follows:
- Prior Mission Planning (20%)
- Starting Primary Objective (20%)
- Completing Primary Objective (20%)
- Starting Secondary Objective (20%)
- Completing Secondary Objective (20%)
You may question why starting and completing an objective hold equal weight? The answer is simple, in my experience the most challenging part of a task is often mustering the motivation to begin, especially when the task isn’t particularly interesting. This is the point where lulls of inactivity usually begin and the scoring system reflects that.
The retrospective is your chance to evaluate the days mission. If you didn’t reach 100% this is your chance to establish the reason why. Was it due to underestimation, fatigue or other distractions? Once you have identified the problem you should then think about how you can prevent this from reoccurring tomorrow. For example in the case of fatigue we could try decreasing the size of the objectives, going to bed earlier, not going to the pub tonight, completing only the primary objective for a few days or taking a day off. The purpose of the Daily Mission Technique is to creating and maintaining a manageable momentum, rather than trying to cram the most we possibly can into every waking minute followed by the inevitable burnout. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Once you start using the Daily Mission Technique you will soon realise that the number of hours you work decrease while your outputs and the value of those outputs increase as you trim the fat by replacing general activity with focused productivity.
Where does Daily Mission fit with other agile methodologies?
I use the technique primarily in conjunction with Kanban. Stories or minimum marketable features almost always require more than half a days worth of input. I break these stories into smaller parts and use those parts for my objectives. That same can be done for XP or Scrum.
Where does Daily Mission fit with other personal time management techniques?
I often use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique, I simply estimate and break the objective into 25 minute pomodoros and continue as normal. The Daily Mission sits nicely between a macro level methodology like Kanban and micro level time management technique like Pomodoro.