Since the last year I thought A LOT more than ever about how to get things done. I am actually pretty happy with how I improved my system in the meanwhile. This week I read in “what’s best next” from Matt Perman on “the core principle of productivity”. It hit me somewhat by surprise and thinking about my system I realized that really a lot focusses on efficiency, which is getting stuff done faster. While this is important, it is actually secondary to the core principle of productivity, which is actually effectiveness, which is getting the right thngs done.
Before I just copy some thoughts out of the book here, here is what it made with me: it actually relieved somewhat a lot of pressure on me, this is how I experienced this principle this week. And I hope it will ever sink in more and more in the weeks to come! And also, it was already there somehow in my system, just that it became more crystal clear to me.
“Here it is (and this is now from the book!):
Know what’s most important and put it first.
There are lots of different ways to say this, but that’s the core principle for how to be productive and effective. Like most core ideas, it makes sense when you see it fleshed out and see it applied, which we will do. Here are some other ways to put it:
Rick Warren: “The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not worry about the rest.”
Peter Drucker: “If there is any one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”
Stephen Covey: “The key… is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
And another quote from the book to what Seth Godin said, when the author interviewed him:
“Godin was intially apprehensive about the concept of time management. He argued that when people talk of having too much to do, it often amounts to “productivity whining” (a term I think he coined during the interview). It’s an excuse, he argued, to avoid having to make the hard decisions of what’s really important and thus what you should do next. Which is exactly, he argued, what the core principle of productivity really is: Decide what really matters AND DO IT. “Once you decide you don’t need to worry about all this other stuff. You can just do the thing you’ve decided is important.” Decide what really matters, and then do it.”
Check the interview with Godin on Youtube:
The last year I tried out varioues productivity techniques in order to keep up with my new role at work, the birth of my 2nd child and a series of large scale organisational workshops in various locations that I needed to get done in a single month (I need to say now, that actually the organisation of family is the most challening of all of it and enjoy the relative quiteness at work!)
Everything that sounded good enough to improve my system was worth a try, from “Getting Things Done” to “Inbox Zero”, from “22 minute meetings” to “slack”. I have to say, that during the challenges at that time, my system became way more effective, the nicest of all my almost always empty inbox.
Having all this in mind and due to my job the whole Agile value system and it’s principles everyday in front of me, the other day I picked up my daughter from her Friday afternoon Korean lessons. The classes are conducted in a public school in Charlottenburg, in the classroom’s apparently of some 7th grade. I scanned their drawings and stuff on the walls and realized that they had created some posters for themselves on time-management. One of them had 5 plain points written on it:
- The most important things first
- Create a time plan
- Practice regularly
- Allow yourself for breaks
- Do not let yourself get distracted
That moment somehow struck me. I am getting paid to help teams implement buzzy sounding values and practices like the ones mentioned above. But the same stuff, I try to implement in the teams and organizations I work with, in non-buzzy terms are already used and implemented by simple 7th graders. It is all the same common sense stuff, that all of us need to apply to our contexts. Let’s check the 7th graders points with the Agile language again…
- “The most important things first” = “prioritize by business value“
- “Create a time plan” = “release / sprint planning“
- “Practice regularly” = “continuous improvement“
- “Allow yourself for breaks” = “slack time“
- “Do not let yourself get distracted” = “focus“
My own conclusion is this… through all the buzzy language, there is just common sense lingering that has been applied to the one or other situation and context. No magic, really, no! It’s cool actually. I get paid to apply common sense. Fantastic. My next plan then is to kick off a meetup with those seventh graders to learn more from them on how to get things done
In 2011 I spent 3 months of my parental sabbatical in Seoul, South Korea. Among other things I took a 10 week class in Korean. I had searched Google before on Scrum and Agile in Seoul but hadn´t found much. Once my Korean was at the level to type Hangul, the Korean alphabet, I searched for Scrum (스크럼) Seoul and pretty quickly found the site of the the Agile User Group in Seoul (yeah!).
I figured out the organizer of that group, namely June Kim (김창준) and asked him when the User Group would meet. In his reply he told me that would be in a couple of weeks. Also he asked me if I would share on my Scrum Master experiences at Ableton in a spontaneously organized smaller setting. Actually I was hesitant in the first moment, since I hadn´t given a presentation even in German before.But, in the second moment I thought, wow, this is a cool experience to share my experience with a Korean crowd.
Some weeks later we met about 12 people and I shared on Agile in Berlin, Germany and also on my own experiences. People from smaller and bigger companies showed up, e.g. Yahoo and LG and of course June Kim, who is kind of an Agile person of the first hour in Korea.
Afterwards we went to a German Beerplace called “Oktoberfest” and had some beer and sausages. I had a really interesting discussion with June and another guy on June´s Agile Coaching approach and life!
Some weeks later I got a response from Bas Vodde, whom I emailed some weeks ago, since he gives classes all over Asia. I received the contacts of Wisang Eom and 2 other people working as Agile Coaches at LG. I met with them for dinner and we had a very good discussion on the spread of Scrum at LG, the cultural challenges through the strong Korean hierarchical system and again on life in the software industry in Korea. This was really an awesome evening (by the way… Koreans like beer).
As I understood Scrum is far less popular in Korea than here in Germany. Probably like Germany some years ago. While we have access to lots of resources in Germany, including training through Agile consultancies, conferences and access to many of the US speakers, in Korea there is much less of that. The first reason is the language, since Koreans are not so used to speak English, and the second is, that traveling within Asia is pretty expensive compared to the European low cost travel. So for an speaker from US (say Jeff Sutherland) it is pretty easy to visit Europe, give some trainings first in London, the Denmark, then Germany, then Switzerland, in Asia this does not work out so easily. They were actually quite jealous to our access to Agile resources in Germany ;)
My 3rd contact and I was really amused and honored, was when a couple of weeks later I got an email from a girl organizing the “first” Agile unconference in Seoul (at least I understood that) end of November in Seoul. I was asked to be one of the keynote speakers :) (thanks again, what an honor for a young Scrum Master like me). Unfortunately I had already booked my tickets back for middle of November, that would have been awesome!
So back in Berlin now. I hope to see some of the guys again when I visit Korea next time!