Go Farther Strategy #3: Work in Sprints #gofarther
Accomplishing bigger outcomes requires the completion of small tasks. When you “Schedule Everything” and “Make Time,” you can complete at least one 30-60 minute “sprint” every day or week without interruption on whatever outcome you want to achieve.
”Sprinting” is an idea taken from a style of work productivity called Scrum – popular in the software world – in which a team decides on the set of outcomes for a given work period, usually 2-4 weeks. Within each work period, individuals and smaller teams set aside “sprints” that break down these outcomes into smaller tasks.
Say you want to do your first 50-mile ultra marathon this year… A good “sprint” would be spending an hour researching race calendars or training programs.
Say you want to start blogging… Spend a “sprint” setting up an account on GoDaddy or BlueHost to buy a URL and set up WordPress.
Say you want to write a book… Block off an hour a day to write every day, even if it’s garbage that you throw away. I’ve been doing these most recent posts during my morning “writing sprints.” A “sprint” is just a block of time that is dedicated to focused work and completing a task, or a series of related tasks. The key here to be focused and dedicated. No distractions.
Here are three examples of how I apply “sprinting” – to writing, to work and to workouts…
My most recent “writing sprints” started after I cracked open the initial draft of a book manuscript over Thanksgiving weekend. I’d been sitting on the draft from the publisher for a couple of months, and with Uberman and other work projects, it just sat and sat and sat. Most of all, the delays were impacting my 2017 sales and marketing plans centered around the book launch. During my Uberman training and for the month after, I let myself sleep later in the morning to recoup from training and to just let myself be a little lazy. I finally decided that I had no more excuses and set aside about an hour of morning time after Morning Pages and meditating, and before my son wakes up.
Looking back on my revision back-ups, I had 23 days of writing on the manuscript (I backed up the file each day, multiple times in each writing session). Over the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I added 20,000 words to the manuscript and sent back to the publisher on December 30th for their next editing phase. This happened because of my daily “writing sprints” I set up for myself each morning. This works in tandem with “Make Time.” Because I’m an early riser, I made the time each morning to work on the manuscript.
The process took me about two-and-a-half days per chapter to review, edit and add new material. Through these daily morning “writing sprints,” I was able to knock out the revisions – about 1000 words a day – and return the draft to my publisher by the end of the year. 23 writing days, 11 chapters and 20,000 words added, not to mention revisions, deletions and replacement content. Pretty solid work for 23 days of “writing sprints.”
Now… there were definitely days when I’d just be settling in with Spotify cranked up and a fresh cup of coffee, typing my first sentences, only to hear “DAAAAAA-DEEEEE” – my son waking up earlier than expected and blowing up my “writing sprint” that day. On these days, I’d take him to school and hunker down out at my favorite coffee shop (Cloud Forest Cafe) and knock out 30-90 minutes of writing for whatever chapter needed to be started or finished. “Schedule Everything” is handy here because I block out my mornings for creative work and project work, giving me the time to knock out my writing sprint. In fact, I’m finishing up this post right now from the cafe in the time between dropping off Benjamin at school and a weekly coaching call at 9:30am…
Even then, it’s not perfect. On some mornings I have set obligations – weekly coaching calls on Tuesday and Friday mornings, and occasional morning calls with teams in Europe because it’s afternoon there. Having the time blocked out for the writing sprints enables me to withstand the pressure of a daily fluctuation when the morning doesn’t go according to plan.
Daily Work Sprints
At work, I use a Scrum Board to track tasks in four categories: Backlog, Planned, Doing & Done. (More about Scrum here.) This is a methodology that I’m rolling out to my clients this year via our semi-monthly “Boardroom” meetings, applying Scrum to client their sales projects. Starting this month, we’re running a Monthly Planning Video Conference to plan “work sprints,” and a Monthly Project Update Call mid-month to identify obstacles and celebrate progress.
Yesterday, I ran through four “sprint sessions” myself, ranging from 25-50 minutes each. This is what I got done in those four sprint sessions:
- Sprint #1 (50 mins): Planned out the content, agenda and announcement details for our first “Boardroom” meeting on January 16th, and sent out the meeting invite to clients around our 2017 kickoff on January 16th.
- Sprint #2: (25 mins): Website work, including adding a “Search Box” to my website. During the 25 minutes, I spoke with the product manager at Algolia (Thank you Jasmine!) and emailed with my web team in Australia (Automation Agency) that’s doing the implementation.
- Sprint #3: (25 mins): Typed out my hand-scribbled notes from Sprint #1 into Evernote so that I have the content digitally available to repurpose for building a presentation next week for the January 16th Boardroom Kick-Off video conference. (Building the PowerPoint slides will be a “daily sprint session” next week.)
- Sprint #4 (25 minutes): Held a “sprint planning” meeting with myself by rewriting project tasks and organizing my Scrum board so I know where I am and what’s ahead over the next week.
Working in sprints helps my focus too. If I’m in the middle of sprint and I receive an call, email or text, because I’m in a “sprint,” I give myself permission to wait to respond. In fact, I require myself to wait. I think of it this way – if it was the other way around and I was on a call with a client, I wouldn’t stop the call just to begin working on a project. I never stop a workout to start working on something else. “Sprint sessions” must be dedicated, focused time.
After each “sprint,” I took a 5-20 minute break – lunch, walks around the block, a walk to Whole Food to buy bananas because we were out of them at home. I eat two bananas every morning with my coffee and I did not want to be without. (See: “Find Your Routine.”) ????
Even if you’re a one-person team, you can use Scrum and “work sprints” to make huge progress on your self-directed projects.
Workouts as Sprints
“Sprints” work really well for workouts too. Yesterday, I wrote about how to “Make Time,” with a couple of examples of when I slotted in short workouts with the time that I had. These are basically “workout sprints.” If I know I have a workout that I want or need to do -– say I need to do a strength and conditioning workout – then working with whatever time I have, even if that’s 30 minutes, can lead to huge gains.
When I was commuting to San Francisco three times a week, I would take the early train and arrive to the office around 7am. I was always the first one there and if I was feeling particularly anxious because I didn’t sleep enough or hadn’t worked out in a couple of days because of my schedule, I’d go downstairs to the basement and do a 15 or 30-minute workout with only body weight exercises – something like four rounds of 25 pushups, 25 sit-ups, 25 lunges and 25 air squats. It definitely got my body and mind settled, and got me the workout I needed for whatever training I was doing. I didn’t always have workout clothes, so there were times that I would strip down and do the workout in my boxers. Fortunately we had a shower at work with a few towels laying around so I could rinse off after… ProTip: Keep a bag of baby wipes in your office for when you’re in a pinch…
Between the commute and travel, I managed to knock out the Donner Half-iron triathlon in July 2015 and my first ultra-marathon at the North Face Endurance Challenge in December 2015 (sadly, my race report for the one is still in my drafts…).
I apply the same idea of “Make Time” and “Sprints” applied to evening runs. When I’m short on workouts or miles, or just need to get some exercise, I’ll do a three-mile run around my neighborhood – two laps at a slow to moderate pace. It’s not the best workout, but the three mile jog you take is better than the 10-miler that doesn’t happen…. My wife is particularly adept at this too. I don’t know how she does it. It’ll be 9pm and we’ve just gotten Benjamin to bed. I’m ready to hit the sack and she’s changing into her workout clothes to head to the garage to do a workout. I think of these emergent workouts as “sprints” – completing a task necessary in the timebox available.