Agile Living: Learning How to Live in the Digital Age
Energy is what fuels us. After reading a recent article by Tony Schwartz on “managing” one’s energy, it struck me. Understanding how we use our energy is what will give us our competitive advantage. It allows us to rev up when needed but also requires us to take a moment to recharge.
The Shift Taking Place around Us
We are currently living through a paradigm shift in our work, our lives and our communities. The world around us is changing at a rapid pace and requires us to manage our energy wisely to keep up. We are not built to produce 100% at all times. Tony Schwartz and others describe this shift in terms of energy instead of time as follow:
- Manage time
- Downtime is wasted time
- Life is a marathon
- Self-discipline is key
- Manage energy
- Downtime is productive time
- Life is a series of sprints
- Rituals are key
This new paradigm was born out of the needs of the new economy that demand innovation and creativity. We are no longer working in a stable environment where traditional yearly planning and linear thinking makes sense. The most obvious is that we no longer view work as a “marathon” of long activities. Rather we look towards achieving results in short periods of time where we focus our energies on smaller chunks of work to reduce complexity and change. We depend on our “rituals” to get us there -rituals like planning meetings, stand-ups, reviews and retrospectives, which results in accelerated learning and results. We do this at a sustainable pace that maximizes our productivity. This sounds like agile living to me.
Agile is Popping-up Everywhere
From this point of view, we can see lean and agile thinking pop up outside of our business lives. An example is the widespread adoption of Crossfit. Crossfit is rooted in Tabata-style workouts a.k.a high-intensity interval training. Tabata-style is defined as “an exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods.” It’s popularity is due to the basic principle of tabata which maximizes benefits by using the least amount of time to get a desired result.
Another example using agile, is the agile classroom. The agile classroom was designed to help teachers bring agile into their teaching, defining it as a “21st century operating system”. Teachers work in a learning rhythms where students, inspect, adapt, iterate every four weeks. Working within this cycle allows students to accelerate and grows their capacity for learning.
Many people working in technology have either worked in an Agile team or have been involved with one. But for those who haven’t, Agile was originally developed as software process but has since evolved into a team-based, collaborative and customer-focused culture.
How I’m Living Agile
For those of us who spend our workdays doing agile practices and being agile in our thinking, could it serve us to live our lives in an agile manner as well? I’m not suggesting a total devotion to agile that’s cult like. No, I’m raising the question as to whether lean/agile has further to go in helping us thrive in our lives.
For example, at my company, we applied “sprint” thinking to how we work. About a month ago, we moved to a 4-day work week where we work from 6:30am till 5pm Monday through Thursday, leaving a three day weekend every week for us to recharge and live our personal lives.
So far it’s been great. We’re producing results with less effort in less time and enjoying it more. We bring our best effort and best energies to work for the concentrated time of Monday through Thursday. Personally, I’ve found the time from 6:30am till 10:00am to be the most productive time I’ve had in years if not ever.
I start fresh with a clear head and have 3–4 hours of uninterrupted focus time. I call these my morning “focus sprints.” I use this time to tackle my biggest and most important projects. I’ve found these are the projects that have sat the longest on my to do list but also the most important. The reason they’ve sat on my to do list for so long is that they require about 45 minutes of “start-up time” before the solutions start to open up. They’re usually deep and complex problems that require a lot of data and thinking just to get my head into the right space. Without the substantial chunk of focus time in the morning, the projects ended up never getting started. In just a matter of weeks, I’ve been able to move mountains. One of them being the series of articles I’ve recently posted.
I get more done by 10am now than I used to get done all day!
What I’m realizing is work and life no longer need to be balanced. They are two sides of the same coin with each taking their turn.
In a future article, I will explain more about how “work energy” and “life energy” take turns hour to hour throughout the workday.
Tony Wong is the founder and CEO of Digital Onion, a leading independent provider of organizational leadership services. Connect with Tony and the Digital Onion team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.