Thursday, September 27, 2018

How I Scrummed My Life

In my last blog post, I promised that I would come back from Italy, do Whole 30 and blog about it. In May.

It is September. This is not a blog post about Whole 30. And spoiler alert: I didn't do Whole 30. (I actually did something else that is much longer lasting than Whole 30 and I'll probably write a number of blogs about it. Shortly. Though I know better than to make promises)

I gave a talk today for a TED-style event at work. And in preparations, a number of people that I shared or practiced with encouraged me to share my talk more broadly. The text is below, pretty much verbatim, though I've tweaked some work-specific references.


Two years ago, I found myself stuck.

At the risk of being overly personal, I'm going to bring you into my bedroom. I once heard that our bedrooms are metaphors for what is really happening in our lives... beneath the surface. We can bring people into our homes, and those homes can look pristine and inviting, but most of our guests never see what's in our bedrooms. Our bedrooms are warehouses for all our messes.

The main part of my home, the part that everyone could see, was in pretty good shape. I was proud of the accomplishments in my life: graduating from a top business school, running a half marathon, running a marathon, building a successful career. I was a go-getter who knew how to hustle and focus to accomplish something difficult.

It was two years ago, when I finally felt like I was standing on my own two feet in my career, that I suddenly stopped and took stock of the by-product of all my hustle. My bedroom was a mess.

Picture this: clear, plastic drawers better suited to a college dorm than the bedroom of a professional woman; a closet and clothing rack overflowing with clothes of varying sizes; another pile of clothes and other miscellaneous junk that I kept hauling between my messy floor and the unmade bed, a bed which sat only on a standard metal frame.

My figurative bedroom was also a mess. Although I knew how to work hard, I had never mastered the ability to get a decent night's sleep. I was exhausted. And although I had run a marathon, I found myself completely burned out on running and I couldn't even run a mile. And so... I was stuck. I didn't know how to make a positive change if I wasn't going to be rewarded with a score, or a medal, or a bonus.

This isn't a talk about why it's important to build healthy habits. This is a talk about how I changed; how I got un-stuck.

There's no shortage of information on the "why" or the "what." When I was searching for answers, I could log onto LinkedIn and see "50 Ways Happier, Healthier and More Successful People Live Life on Their Own Terms." I could visit Facebook and ready "8 Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast." I attended a work conference and listened as Dan Harris told me how I could be "10% Happier" through meditation. And I watched as Arianna Huffington stood in this very room and told me how I could "Thrive."

I felt overwhelmed.

At the time, I was working on a team that had just started using Scrum and Agile. I wondered: could I use this approach to move forward with change in a way that feels less overwhelming?

Change is hard. But I believe that by using an agile mindset, we can slowly start to build habits to become who we want to be.

Now before I tell you how I scrummed my life, I want to level set. Some of you may have never heard of agile, while others may be Certified Scrum Masters or Product Owners.

Agile is the mindset. Scrum is the specific methodology that I used.

The agile mindset involves taking a large project with it's array of features and requirements, and breaking it down into smaller and smaller chunks, until you get to the smallest piece of work which adds value: the user story.

The user stories form what is the most empowering element of agile: the backlog. The backlog holds all the potential features while allowing you to focus only on those that are currently the highest priority.

My Scrum Board

So when I scrummed my life, I started with what are known as epics. Which areas of my health are most important? For example: I want to be physically healthy so that I can live life as abundantly as possible.

Not something that is easily actionable.

So I broke that down into what are known as features: which aspects of my physical health are most important? "I want to sleep well so that I can thrive physically, mentally and emotionally."

Better sleep in two weeks? Again, not easily actionable.

So I broke that down into user stories. "I want to sleep with no devices in my room so that I can fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and get up quicker."

I took that user story, and all the other user stories that I'd written, and anything that even remotely interested me from the articles and the talks, and I consolidated them into a single list in Trello -- my backlog.

I set up a recurring meeting on my calendar every other Sunday evening for "Sprint Planning" and "Sprint Review". On those Sunday evenings, I would define a set of stories to focus on for the next two weeks, a mix of tasks and habits. As I progressed through subsequent sprints, I would keep some and let some go.

This is what my bedroom looks like today:
My bedroom today

In my second sprint, I brought in a story about making my bed every day. That change was the catalyst for this transformation. As I saw that little area of my bedroom cleaned up, it led to sorting out the messes, buying "grown-up" bedroom furniture, cleaning out the closet, and eventually... throw pillows! It became important for me to have a private space that felt like an oasis.

My figurative bedroom was also transformed. Gone were habits of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram when I should be sleeping. In were habits about being intentional about bedtime and building strength training into my routine. As I've progressed in my career, I've been able to bring in a renewed energy and focus.

In his book Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith references building a muscle for success. When we successfully make change in our lives, that change enables us to make further change. I didn't just become someone who could get a decent night's sleep; I became someone who was capable of change, even without scores or medals or bonuses.

I no longer sit down every other Sunday for sprint planning (although the meeting still shows up on my calendar), but I do leverage agile principles when I want to make change in my life.

As January 1st rolled around this year, I found myself facing the temptation to make New Year's Resolutions. Everyone around me was doing Whole 30 and juice cleanses, new workout regimes and giving up Netflix. I had just started using a new budgeting tool called You Need a Budget, and I decided to see what Agile Resolutions would look like. I resisted the pull of gym equipment and juicers. Until I had built the habits to support my budgeting initiative, I wasn't going to worry about anything else on the list.

Change is hard. But I believe that by using an agile mindset, we can slowly start to build habits to become who we want to be.

So think of that aspect of your life that you want to change. Break it down into one step that you can take today. Take that step. Capture everything else in a list -- your backlog. And address it after you take your first step.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Healthy 2018, Part 1: The Budget

New Year's Resolutions have never been my thing. Part of it is that I get annoyed with the surge in people at the gym. And the other part... do people actually stick to them? I'm generally not a fan of certain failure.

When 2018 rolled around, though, I had a desire to make some tweaks in my life. So I borrowed a key agile principle - no multitasking - and figured I'd use that to start to make some changes. The idea was to just pick one change at a time and focus on it until I felt like it was ingrained as a habit before moving on to something else.

Habit #1 - budgeting - started a few days before actually toasting in 2018. My sister spent a few days raving about her new budgeting tool (YNAB - pronounced "why nab" - which stands for "you need a budget") and I finally got so intrigued that I signed up for a free trial.

Let's talk about budgeting.

Before YNAB, I actually felt pretty confident with my budget and with finances. I used Mint to track my expenses, spent less than 50% on essential expenses, put away more than 15% of my salary for retirement (including employer match) could come up with $2,000 in an emergency and my only debt was one outstanding student loan with interest under 5%. (All of which are general benchmarks for budgeting and not just random facts about my situation.)

But here's the thing... even with Mint, my money just kind of leaked out. Mint doesn't force you to be hands on with your budget, so if you're not on top of categorizing everything, you don't get the information you need from your budget. And so after a few months, while I kind of had a budget, it wasn't really providing me with the information I needed and definitely didn't bring any accountability. So yeah, everything was fine and I didn't have credit card debt, but was my money really doing what I wanted it to do?

Enter YNAB.

YNAB uses a unique approach that I found absolutely revolutionary. They have four rules, and the idea is that you only budget the money you actually have. You start to put this money away for the expenses that don't come up all the time. When you go over budget, you're not just punished with a budget bar turning red, you have to find the money to cover that overspending from another category. And over time, you're supposed to get to a point where you're a month ahead of your spending.

I could probably rave and educate about YNAB for blog post upon blog post, but they've got tons of educational materials and stories and even free classes on their website, so I'll stop.

What I've learned about budgeting, money, financial health and health in general in the first two months of 2018:

  • There are certain truths that apply whether we like them or not. If I spend more money than I earn, I go into debt or deplete my savings. If I consume more calories than I burn, my weight goes up. We may dislike the feel that we're restricting ourselves, but there's just no way around those basic truths.
  • Intentionality is important. Before I had to sit down and actually say what every dollar in my bank accounts was going to do, I had assigned 3-5 jobs for every dollar. Actually creating a budget, I had to prioritize and decide what was most important. Some things just had to go away... a clothing subscription service didn't make the cut. Travel did. Extra debt payments did. Eating out with friends on occasion stayed, BUT ordering in went way down. Suddenly the motivation to meal plan and grocery shop went up when I had to make my dining out money last a few more days... and if I didn't, it had to come from somewhere else.
Now that I'm feeling like the budgeting habit is ingrained, I'm going to take a quick break on new habits in March to start a new job and do some travel. But coming in April... Whole 30 for a diet reset.

Quick note: this is definitely not a paid advertisement or review for YNAB; however, I do have a referral code that will get us both a month of YNAB for free if you sign up after the free 34-day trial. Click here.