Information Radiators for personal development

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


In Agile software development an information radiator is a display – electronic, whiteboard, or paper – which makes visible to the team current indicators of progress (or velocity) within the current sprint. Panic (makers of utilities for the Mac) has a particularly attractive one. As noted on Tim Ottinger and Jeff Langr’s Agile in a Flash, effective information radiators are simple, stark, current, transient, influential, highly visible, and minimal in number.

    For the items you’re working on now, what did you decide to measure? How can you expose that to yourself as encourangement or warning to keep yourself on track?

  • Do the tools you already use include displays which meet these requirements of a good information radiator?
    Some examples:
  • Can you create your own visual indicators as part of any of your habits?
    • If you write daily pages, what could you put at the top which would expose progress at a glance?
    • If you make a short list of tasks for today, do you cross them off as you go and keep that list in sight throughout the day?

    Use your surroundings to keep yourself on track over the course of each sprint.

A productive month!

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


Here's some of what's been happening with Agile Self Development since mid-March:

The Oligivy Notes folks put up the visual notes by Liisa Sorsa of from our SXSW session. You can even download a PDF if you didn't get a printout at the conference.


One of the ideas we featured was using a Daily Standup as a way to check in with yourself and others about your progress on personal goals. Those three questions – What did I do yesterday? What will I do today? Am I blocked? – are great for quickly identifying how you're doing and anything that needs to be resolved to progress.


Exciting things are happening in Birmingham! Pierce (@piercingwit) took our ideas, especially this use of a Daily Standup, back home and ran with them, starting a group there and a blog – Agile Self Development Birmingham – to share what they're learning together. Check out Pierce's introduction to the project, his description of what they do at their meetings, a key distinction about AgileSelfDev vs. Agile: You Are Your Own Scrum Master, and lovely tips to get you started in Sprints vs. Marathons. The latest post is right on the money about the importance of improving your ability to estimate realistically how much you can get done: "Agile Self Development is all about creating small successes that we can build on each day to create large successes."

Go, Birmingham!



Comments from the original post:

Pierce The grand experiment is going well so far! We're continually learning and tweaking how the approach but it's definitely helping everyone's focus. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by: Pierce | 04/12/2011 at 08:01 AM

Dinah Great! Onward and upward!

Posted by: Dinah | 04/12/2011 at 09:01 AM

Run a Quick Lap, So to Speak

It’s not just tough to get moving when you’re first beginning with Discardia; it can be difficult to get yourself in motion any day of the year, no matter who you are. Sometimes ya just don’t wanna. So how do you fight this resistance to your life becoming more awesome? Well, remembering that that’s what you’re working on helps, but even when we know we’ll be happy about the outcome it can be hard to start. The solution to this is to run The Lap.

Any progress is better than no progress, so rather than say “I’ll do it later,” make a deal with yourself to do just a little now.

One of my favorite forms of The Lap is powered by something I love doing: hearing my favorite music. Listening to an album straight through doesn’t take all that long, particularly when you’re doing something else, and good tunes can be a great motivator. Combine these two pieces of information and you’re ready to go for the record.

Sometimes a whole album’s worth of plugging away takes more time or energy than you can muster. That’s when the short lap is your best bet. Set a digital timer or put on some music and go for four or five songs. Don’t say “Later,” say “Okay, just … minutes now and then I can stop.” You’ll be amazed at what a difference fifteen or twenty minutes focused progress can make against even the worst chore.

This approach can also train you to better define your tasks so that the very first step to take is obvious and the project doesn’t repulse you as much. When you find something lingering on your to-do list for a long time, it’s a good sign that you need to do just fifteen minutes to break through that block or better define the project.

Laps like this work well in combination with a reward. Maybe you get home and want to take the rest of the night off, but before you do, devote just fifteen minutes to a happier home. Try setting your sights on the kitchen. Ready? Find ten things that you don't want in your kitchen anymore. You get more bonus points the bigger they are. Kick them out to the trash, charity, or wherever they belong. Gone. Done. Better. That was pretty quick wasn’t it?  Trust in a quick burst when time, energy, or enthusiasm feels like it’s in short supply. There are certain chores that get put off because they seem too big to get done in a little bite of your day. It's easy to view “clean the kitchen,” for example, as a monumental roadblock, but you don't have to do everything in one go and even twenty to thirty minutes can make a big difference.

Next time you're feeling daunted say “Okay, short burst,” put on some good music or a podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to or set the timer and make a little progress. You'll be amazed at your ability to carve a few bursts out of your day when you'd never believe you had a spare hour to spend making things nicer. Go ahead and laugh when your stubborn “don’t wanna” mood sometimes evaporates and you find yourself working cheerfully on long after that timer goes off. Getting started is truly the toughest bit.


(An historical note for long-time readers: In the past, I referred to these short bursts as "sprints," but now that I've learned more about the use of that term and "timebox" in agile development – and am adapting it to personal purposes in the form of agile self development – I've decided to switch to "laps" as a better representation of a short chunk of effort put in against a current set of goals).