The Workflowy Productivity Hack: Individual Sprints

Using Workflowy to Design Personal Sprints and Increase Weekly Productivity

Make Sprints, Not War.

The Story

I’m not usually a huge promoter of products I haven’t worked on myself, but something happened last week that made me realize that I had to get the word out on this particular Workflowy hack to increase weekly productivity. This has been such a life saver for my serial entrepreneur/contractor/global vagabond type lifestyle.

Last week, as we were coming back from summer travel and catching up on work at an airport, my boyfriend thanked me for showing him (sometime last year) how to leverage Workflowy’s tool to create personal sprints. Smiling, he rotated his laptop screen to show me a neat outline of the last few quarters with sub bullets of weeks and point velocities.

“I’ve been using your method for over a year now — it’s been so helpful. It’s changed my life.”

I hadn’t really thought about it as a method that could be useful to anyone else but me. But here was proof that it had value to someone else.

Why this hack is for you

And after giving it some thought, I think the person who would gain most from my Workflowy hack will likely have these pain points:

  • Individual ToDo lists in laundry list formats often go stale and thus lose their power to help you understand your tasks or priorities
  • It’s hard to understand your personal capacity of how much you can get done in a week, especially with an unstructured lifestyle (ie, solo founders, freelancers, contractors, writers, etc)
  • Sometimes you lack the motivation to get things done, especially projects or tasks of your own initiative
  • You find it hard to track how much you got done week by week

And now, I’m going to share the super easy way to tweak how you may be using Workflowy to make your weeks more productive. Please note: this may require at least a basic understanding of scrum and some experience estimating and conducting sprints. Or it may not. If you’ve never really heard of agile development, but find this useful, great!

1. Come up with your big goals or themes for the week

As in, what big things do you need to do or want to accomplish this week? Make those bullets. You should have one top level bullet that’s something like “Week 1 Estimation: 25 points, Actual: 0 points”. That’s where you get to keep the tally of points done, and hey, it’s much simpler than a kanban board.

2. Start breaking those goals or themes into tasks

This is kinda like creating user stories with specs, but to be honest, it’s better to keep it simple. What are the basic tasks you need to do to get the larger goal or project for the week done? Each one should be a sub-bullet under your theme.

3. Estimate your tasks

Give each task some story points based on relative complexity. I personally like going the Fibonacci route (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc). However, if you find yourself giving a task a lot of story points (ie 5 or 8 points) — rethink the task. Break it down further into sub tasks and point those instead.

4. Groom your week’s backlog

Let’s say you think you have the capacity to do 25 points worth of tasks in a week. Sum up the story points of the list of tasks you’ve given yourself for the week. If it’s lower than 25, time to add more tasks. If it’s much higher, than start prioritizing because the reality is, you won’t get everything done. You can drag bullets up or down in priority order OR what I like to do is just bold the priority tasks as shown in the image.

5. Tally up the points through the week

As you ‘Mark as complete’ your various bullets through the week, remember to add the points in your top level bullet, increasing your actual number of points from 0 to something much higher. Yay getting things done! Soak that sense of accomplishment in, people.

6. At the start of your next ‘sprint planning’, close out the week

Every week, you can move out tasks that didn’t get done into the following week into a new top level bullet for the new week (if they’re still relevant). And you can close out the ‘sprint’ by collapsing the top level bullet and dragging it wherever you’d like, maybe under a bullet called ‘Old sprints’.

Here’s what your workflowy could look like in any given week:

Example of Using Workflowy to Design Personal Sprints and Increase Weekly Productivity

In summary

Pros:

  • Workflowy is designed to be a super flexible todo list tool, which makes it great for individual organization like this hack. It’s barely more complicated than a simple todo list but it’s structure gives you so much value and leverages agile philosophy to keep you productive on a weekly basis.
  • This method encourages breaking larger projects or goals into smaller tasks, but it also allows you to delve deeper into each task or project (just click on the bullet and Workflowy lets you start a whole new page devoted to the bullet). If you really wanted to, you could do full story specs, etc with this method. It allows you to have as much or as little detail as you want.
  • You can feel a sense of accomplishment keeping track of your weekly velocity and productivity. And of course, it really feels good to cross things off/complete tasks and slowly point up your weekly tally.
  • Did I mention Workflowy is flexible? So what if your plans change for the week — you can change your tasks/points/priorities so so easily. Just drag things around, etc.

Cons:

  • It’s not a very collaborative tool yet. This is not a huge con to me since there are great collaborative issue tracking tools out there already. But every now and then, I do feel the pain point of not being able to share or collaborate on a weekly plan or sprint with people directly on Workflowy.
  • Workflowy is not really designed for sprint planning, so you just have to deal with a lack of automation. For instance, it’d be nice if the tracker of your weekly estimation and actual point counter was separate and/or automatically counted story points as you completed them.

Anyway, I hope this post is useful, especially for the Workflowy enthusiast or productivity nerds out there. Let me know if you do try it, as well as what else you may have tried/tweaked to the method to make your weeks more productive!

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