Agile Life is fully integrated into my work now. I am actually able to take on bigger projects because I have reduced my mental clutter and am more confident in my ability to take on multiple projects, meet deadlines, and make a sustainable income while working online. There are five key Agile Life habits that anchor my work now. These habits help me maintain a sense of self-worth and trust as I talk to clients and develop my business.
Tool #1: Define Done
Part of the Agile Life methodology is to define what "done" looks like from the beginning. First I write out all the tasks I need to do, and then I decide how I will know when each task is completed. This prevents me from chasing a moving target; I do the work I laid out, without getting caught up with new ideas or distractions.
With a client, we agree on what "done" looks like from the beginning. If they have a spark of inspiration and want to add on work, that definition of done has created a boundary for me. I can either say "this is outside the scope of the project" or "that will take more time and therefore cost more." And here's a bonus: I no longer spend free time complaining about clients who add on work because I am empowered to charge for it, or reject it.
Tool #2: Progress, Not Perfection
Confession: sometimes I still get stuck in a moment of perfectionism. Rejection or critical feedback can knock me out of my flow and make me start to doubt my new boundaries. This phrase from Agile Life, "progress, not perfection," helps me through it. It reminds me that I'm not going to do all my work perfectly, so I don't need to make that the goal. Progress is the goal: I am taking creative risks, learning more about my craft, and getting to know my clients. Perfection got in the way of all this by splitting all my work into two categories: right or wrong. Progress allows my work to exist on a spectrum from "new or experimental" to "finished or standard." When I start to get in my head about whether or not my work will be good enough I remind myself that no matter what, it is giving me information about what the client wants and what I am capable of. That is progress.
Tool #3: Energy Management
Prioritizing my time has the added benefit of protecting my energy. I don't make nearly as many panic decisions as I used to. I do creative work when I have the most energy—not when I am crushed under the weight of a deadline. I don't wake up with a sense of foreboding that pushes me to get everything done on a scale of most anxiety inducing to least anxiety inducing because I start the day with the work that requires the most creativity. By the time work is due, I have been putting my creative juices into it a little bit each morning for awhile. The end result comes out naturally and far less painfully.
Tool #4: Reveal Hidden Parts
Agile Life says to break down tasks that are more than four hours; a task like "launch website" will never make it to the top of the to-do list because it is too big and overwhelming. If the task is "open Squarespace account," that will get done. In practicing this strategy, I have learned that certain words can also push an item to the bottom of the to-do list. These words are vague and un-actionable. They might be different for everybody, here are mine: figure out, brainstorm, write, check. Write, for example, can mean anything from "complete for publication" to “make first draft.” Brainstorm usually means, "I don't have an idea but I need one." It isn't actionable. If these words are on my to-do list, I challenge myself to get more specific and write what I actually mean.
Tool #5: Estimated Task Timer
Once I have broken down the tasks, I estimate the time for each task. When I first started doing this, it was hard for me to get into the groove of estimating my time. I would write, "this should take about 45 minutes" but I never actually checked the clock to find out if it did.
So I added a timer to my daily time estimation system: I decide on my task, set a timer for that amount of time, and put my phone on airplane mode. The combination of these three actions keeps me laser-focused. If my alarm goes off and I still have a little more work to do, it is easy to estimate how much more time I'm going to need and add that to the timer. I also make a note in my planner so that I can estimate a little extra time for that particular task in the future.
And that's it! I am proud of these five practices. They aren't just about organization, they are about honoring myself and my work. That's my biggest take away from the Agile Life methodology: my time and energy matters. I don't owe it to anyone. I use my time best when I respect that.