Agile for New Year’s Resolutions

Note: I realize it is May and I am horribly late to the party.

What is it about New Year’s resolutions that makes them so hard to keep? Everyone enters into them with the best of intensions, but how often do you hear your friends tell you in December that they stuck with it all year?

Like everyone else, I had already fallen into the usual traps of trying to go to the gym more, reading more, and eating better. None had really taken. After a few months I just didn’t have the motivation I started with, or I would realize my resolution was less relevant as time went on.

What’s the Problem?

Thinking about this from a design perspective, I started to see some problems in my typical resolutions:

  • Poor feedback loops — I was not keeping good records and for most of my goals it was hard to tell how I was doing. Change can be slow, memory is short. I needed some sense of progress to keep me going.
  • Too rigid — I was thinking about resolutions in too rigid a way. There wasn’t enough room to change my mind without it feeling like I was giving up or failing. It’s hard to project a year into the future and know what problems to focus on today.
  • No accountability — I did not have anyone or anything to hold me accountable.

Do these look familiar to you? They did to me. They looked a lot like the problems software developers were trying to address in their move to Agile methodologies.

If you are not familiar with Agile, its philosophy “promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.” — Wikipedia

Forget that it is talking about software, don’t those sound like good traits for a person to strive for? How can we apply this philosophy to resolutions, our framework for improving our own “software”?

Borrowing Solutions

Borrowing ideas from Scrum, the flavor of Agile I am most familiar with, I decided to make a few changes to how I approach resolutions:

  • Monthly sprints — Instead of yearly resolutions, I decided to do monthly ones. This is long enough to still feel like I’m commiting to something, but short enough to not feel handcuffed to a bad idea. It also gives me time to iterate on a good idea that just needs some adjustment.
  • Simple and measurable — The true goal of resolutions are often nebulous. Sprint resolutions should be simple and measurable; it should be easy for me to say whether I accomplished it or not. Will cooking five days a week improve my life? I won’t know unless I try it and reflect. I also plan to keep notes to help me keep track of how it is going.
  • Share progress — In Scrum, a major component to address accountability is sharing your goals for the day/week/sprint. Regular progress updates are also shared. I plan to share my resolutions and reflections here on Medium.

Getting Started

Through the end of the year I plan to tackle a new resolution/experiment each month and post about it here. For January I decided to go without alcohol, a somewhat customary practice in the U.K. I’ll share my observations and insights on that experiment in my next post.

Have a suggestion for one of my resolutions? Want to share your experience with doing something similar? I’d love to hear from you.

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