This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.
The Agile method has been embraced by the tech world (software engineers in particular) as a far more effective way to bring products to market. Best defined as a series of short, reflexive sprints, Agile replaces the long slog of traditional project management whose slow-moving, disjointed, top-down process can cost a company time and money by strait-jacketing teams, leaving them unable to adapt to a shifting business landscape and one shot to get it right. Talk about stress.
What works for software developers and tech teams can work for your personal and home life, too, by reducing the stress and strain of what feels like a never-ending marathon of must-dos, have-tos, and to-dos. In his compelling TED talk, Bruce Feiler, New York Times columnist and author of The Secrets of Happy Families, makes a case for applying the agile methodology at home, with his family—something even he didn’t think would work. But it did.
Why? Because it makes people accountable and invested in their own success, lets them rapidly adapt their goals to what’s needed, and allows for people to continually reexamine priorities against values, and shift depending on what’s most important right now. Most importantly, shorter goal sequences allow for more success, and more victory laps. We all know that success breeds more success and this in general makes you and yours happier and more flexible.
Here are five life hacks to apply to your personal and home life using the Agile method:
Do a daily check-in: At my company, we do a morning scrum, in which everyone reports on what they’re doing and where they’re stuck. Make these daily meetings part of your home life to get everyone on the same page about priorities and blockers. Having that check in, with your family, your partner, and also with yourself, is key to making sure you’re on track to achieving what it is you want. And making sure the people you care about aren’t blocked or stressing about some looming deadline.
This doesn’t need to be an hour—think 10 minutes. It’ll bring everyone closer, more in touch, and add a productive start to your day.
Slim down your goals. It’s great to have a life mission, but with ‘agile’ we aim for manageable goals. Maybe you want to: Renovate your kitchen, write that novel, save up for that country home. These are worthy long-term goals, but if you always think in terms of completing huge projects, you make your goals unachievable, too big to bite off. So chunk up big goals into smaller, more achievable ones. Maybe you don’t rip the entire kitchen apart right now, but you clean it out, repaint, and replace an appliance or two. You may not sit down to write a whole book, but you can write that blog post. When you complete that one task, you can check it off, high-five, and move on to the next.
Take your victory lap. Make a habit of celebrating each small accomplishment. Make a habit of acknowledging and celebrating what you have achieved with every small success—simply because in an age where we all have to-do lists that will outlive us, there won’t be a time when “everything” is done.
Don’t just delegate; empower. The Agile method teaches that you don’t just “assign” work; you engender a sense of responsibility by empowering others to own what they do. Feiler talks about not just handing out chores, but having the kids own a certain task, whether it’s feeding the pets or greeting guests at Thanksgiving. When your family is invested in the outcome of their own project, they will see it through to its success, no nagging required.
Same goes for your personal life, by the way: Say you have a friend that you keep meaning to see and catch up with, but months go by and you keep losing touch. Maybe that’s because she always expects you to pick a date and a location, and you keep waiting for her to tell you when she’s free; in other words, no one is owning it. So you decide together that you’re each going to own a thing: You will find a few windows that work for her to choose from, and it’s her job to choose the venue. That way, you both make it happen, and the reward is each other’s company and a great meal.
Scale down the goal to meet the deadline. The Agile approach encourages engineers to set deadlines to build and release new features every two weeks. That means if they’re coming up against a hard deadline and they’re not able to finish what they set out to do, they scale down by removing or scaling back features. This keeps them from missing a deadline or scrapping it altogether. Say you want to throw an anniversary party, and have a date set, but some work stuff has cropped up and has you working longer hours. Don’t scrap the party! You make it potluck, which means you have taken out the component in which you make everything from scratch, and instead invite everyone to bring their favorite dishes (this also falls under “empower” because now everyone’s invested in the meal!).
In the Agile approach, finishing more goals and celebrating each accomplishment are the priority. This is what moves your life forward and helps you achieve what you want to, while giving yourself the ability to be flexible and adaptive, and above all, successful, so that you can move onto the next thing. This builds incredible self-esteem—for you, the people in your life, your children, everyone involved in the big project of living your lives together. After all, self-esteem is earned, and I can’t think of a better way to do it.