Agile Self Development Manifesto

[This post originally appeared on its own blog, prior to my merging all Agile Self Development posts into Discardia’s archives.]


Constantly improving our happiness and personal fulfillment and helping others do the same reveals ever better ways to do so. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Increasing individual flow using whatever works over adherence to a system
  • Quality of life over quantity of achievement
  • Small, quick decision making which works toward current goals over detailed long-term planning
  • Simplicity over complexity
  • Responding to change over following a script

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Avoiding Hassles with the Look-Ahead

Life is full of surprises, true, but there are plenty of things that we get stressed out about which we could have predicted and made less painful if we'd only planned a little bit. You can dramatically reduce your craptastic moments by following this simple practice:

  • Look at what's coming up on your calendar and to-do list.
  • Think about what you'll need to make it go right and about what could go wrong.
  • Look at the equivalent past period of time and think about what was less than optimal.
  • Think about how you could avoid or reduce hassles.
  • Implement as many of those positive changes as possible.
  • Confirm that any preparatory to-do's are properly noted on your list, especially anything that requires an errand.

It's so simple, but we all see people failing to do this. That guy at the DMV having a hissy fit because he's been waiting in a line and didn't bring anything with him which would allow him to turn that into productive or enjoyable time? Don't be that guy. That gal running all over town on her lunch break trying to find a present for a birthday party she's attending right after work tonight? Don't be that gal.

It's really not hard to steer yourself clear of a lot of pain.

Once a month have everyone in your household sit down together with their calendars and quickly go over the next six weeks and the past six to make sure everything that impacts any other people is known and what works well gets learned. Everyone should know when there are houseguests coming, when they need to give someone else a ride or otherwise be available for assistance, or similar significant features in the domestic landscape.

Once a week do the same look-ahead for yourself with your work and personal calendars for the next and past month.

At the end of each day, do a look-ahead for the next morning, noting commitments and writing down any loose threads from now that you want to pick up again then.

Set yourself up for happy calm, it won't always work, but it's always worth it when it does.

Mid-year Discardian Themes

Welcome to the last day of this June's Discardia! Here we are in the middle of the year with our progress and lessons of the past six months under our belts and plenty of potential ahead of us.

Discardia in June is a trampoline you can use to give you a big bounce forward and break up patterns of stagnation. This holiday period and the time following it is about making choices and acting on them.

Get a little perspective on things. What’s dragging you down or holding you back? Where is your energy going? And is it fueling your engines or just polluting your world?

This is a good time to take a hard look at the patterns in your life right now, decide a few things you want to change, and begin those changes.

Discardian holidays are a reminder to re-commit your energy into moving your world toward awesomeness. Once you're in motion, refine your direction, and let yourself progress to your current goals. Maybe you won't take on as many life-transforming activities between now and the September holiday, but you can set yourself up for the decisions you make and the actions you take between now and then to best serve your dreams.

A shocking proposition: Stupid Simple Filing

Many people procrastinate on filing. In fact, most of them (us) dread it. Here's my theory: this is because most filing systems suck. They are painfully over-complex and inefficient.

Now folks like David Allen have suggested ways to make this less awful – use a simple A-Z order, only when needed should you make folders for a specific thing (filed behind the folder for that letter), and, most importantly, keep way fewer things. You can also make the filing process less unpleasant by using pretty folders and nicer filing cabinets and fancy labels and… ah, screw it. Filing is dull and uninspiring.

Here's how I do it.

1. Arrange to receive things you do not need to keep in digital form rather than on paper. Bank statements are a great example of this kind of thing which you can later access online in the rare case you need it.

2. Keep only papers you have high confidence you'll need again or that the government requires you to keep or that it stresses you out to think about discarding or shredding at this moment.

3. Make as few folders as possible for your comfort. Yes, A-Z, but also make folders for the stuff you know you'll have a bunch of (e.g. "Next Year's Tax Prep") or will need in a hurry or when stressed (e.g. "Homeowner's/Renter's Insurance," "Health Insurance," "Automotive Repair").

4. Make a folder called "Manuals" and throw the booklets for new stuff you acquire in there. Warranty info and purchase receipts for major things can also go here until they expire. I like to put the newest thing at the front of the folder and to weed it out once every year or so to purge manuals for stuff I got rid of and forgot to send the manual along with the item.

5. Put everything else you think you have to keep in one stack.

Seriously, just stack it up.

Make it very handy for adding to the stack and very unoffensive to your eye. My stack has sat on an upper shelf just above eye level when I had a seated desk and now resides behind two more constantly used desk items below eye level at my treadmill desk. (If I happen to spot a nice 9"x12" open-topped box, I might incorporate it, but so far it hasn't been necessary).

My discovery was that I spend far less time flipping quickly down through the reverse chronological stack to find one of the few things I actually wind up needing to refer back to than I ever did filing, so why file?

When the pile gets unappealingly high (or reaches 1 foot high, whichever comes first), whip through it quickly and pull out obviously stale stuff that can now be discarded or shredded or for which you have since created a file folder because you turned out to need those papers all together very often.

Here's the really sneaky part: since you know you'll be adding to it again soon you are not actually required to completely file or discard everything in the stack. If you feel anxious about what to do with it, just leave it there on the bottom and deal with it next time when it's less emotionally loaded or uncertain.

Is it perfectly orderly? No. Do I know just where to look for something when I turn out to need it? Yes.

Less time filing = more time for working on things that really matter to me!

Productive pattern: scenario planning

When you are creating or modifying something – a new furniture arrangement, a new aspect of your routine, a new way you want to approach particular social situations – design for not only the expected use but also for several possible other conditions if major variables switch to other settings than what you predict.

Prepare yourself for comfortably rolling with the changes.

There is a great discussion of this principle in How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand (a book which informs about a much broader range of thinking than merely the architectural!) on page 178. He says "All buildings are predictions. All predictions are wrong." I'll tone it down just a hair:

All plans are predictions.

No predictions are 100% perfect.

By preparing yourself for imperfection and envisioning reasonable responses to the most likely alternate scenarios, you'll reduce your stress and optimize your results.

Here's an example:
Over the past few years I kept reading about treadmill desks and thinking "Wow, that might work great for me." I finally reached a point where I was ready to try it. Instead of just making a plan to switch to the first one I heard about, I thought about some possible alternate scenarios to "Everything goes as I hope and I love it."

Alternate scenario #1: "I don't love it."
Influence on my plan: Find a way to invest less money on the experiment so it's not too painful if it doesn't work out. (I have more time than money. If you're the opposite, ordering the fancy pre-made solution could work for you if you are satisfied with the company's return policy).

Alternative scenario #2: "I totally love it and want it permanently, but it takes up too much space and disrupts our use of the room which serves as my office/guestroom/Joe's desk area."
Influence on my plan: Explore ways to rearrange that room which still allow for all the functions we currently use it for instead of assuming I need to leave my current workspace where it is.

Alternative scenario #3: "I like it, but my body takes a long time to adjust to working while standing."
Influence on my plan: Create 'infrastructure' to support taking care of myself physically. Continue using a rest reminder (I use TimeOut on the Mac) to give myself time away from keyboard and treadmill. Make a nice seating area near enough to my walking desk that I can step off for a few minutes and rest my body while writing on paper or reading a book or doing something else that doesn't require the computer.

Even a short brainstorming sprint on what else is fairly likely to happen besides your favorite prediction will allow you to plan better and build solutions which can accommodate a variety of futures without breaking.

Pick a road and get moving

Choose three things you want and three things you don't want in your life.

Think big. Don't edit what your heart and your gut are telling you; it's the truth of your wanting which will fuel your change in the right direction. Something that sounds little and achievable that you basically like the idea of will not lead to as much positive growth as burning for something huge you're afraid you can never have.

You can change your choices later, but choose something now.

I want…

I don't want…

Next time you have an option – and we are faced with options all day long – make sure whenever possible that you're going for things that fit the Want list and avoiding things leading to the Don't Want list.