By: Daniela McVicker
July 31 2019

Lean and Agile: How You Can Use Them to Increase Personal Productivity

Lean and Agile are project management methodologies that were created for business. They were designed to ensure that software development and other projects run as smoothly as possible. They also help ensure consistency of effort and provide project teams with a way to evaluate the success of each initiative.

A guy talking on phone with a digital signage board displaying the word 'productivity' to represent benefits of Agile and lean for personal productivity


It turns out that the things that improve software projects can also increase your personal productivity. Here are some principles of Lean and Agile, along with ways you can apply them to your own life.

Stay on Track by Asking Why

Purpose and organization are two of the key elements of software development methodologies. When things start to get off track, strict adherents are quick to remind their teammates that whatever they are proposing is currently off the table. To stay on track and boost your personal productivity, be prepared to ask a simple question about any task.

Why am I doing this? Why am I the person who is expected to do this task? 

By asking the first question, you can determine the value of the task at hand. Simply put, is the task necessary? Is it simply something that is done in spite of there being no need for it, a la Testing Procedure Specification reports?

The second question is just as important. In fact, it is one that you should ask yourself much more often than you probably think. ‘Why me?’ Why am I taking on this task? Is there someone else who should take this on? Is doing this the best use of my time? Have I taken this on because I felt obligated, was trying to avoid conflict, or felt as if it was the ‘nice’ thing to do?

In project management, teams ask ‘why’ to stay on track. This can apply to your personal productivity as well.

A group of people sitting around a round table and having a conversation with their laptops on the table


Start Your Day with a Morning Meeting

SCRUM is a version of Agile that is designed for software development. Teams work on projects in small chunks. These are known as sprints. While working on sprints, team members get together for a morning meeting. In these meetings, each team member addresses their accomplishments from the prior day, their plans for the current day, and any roadblocks they see.

You don’t need a team to have a morning meeting. Instead, you can take a few moments with yourself to address the three items above. If you want to improve your personal productivity, start a workday with these 4 simple steps:

  • Remember your accomplishments from the previous day to gain a positive outlook.
  • Identify any loose ends to be tied up.
  • Identify what you plan to accomplish today.
  • Acknowledge anything that might stop you from accomplishing your goals.

This is a great way to get your morning started! First, by tying up any outstanding issues or loose ends, you begin your day with a win. Those are things you can check off your list straight away. Next, by identifying your goals for the day, you have created your to-do list. Write it down, and refer back to it as needed.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, lay any troubles out on the table from the start. Then, you can start making plans and strategizing solutions. If you don’t delay dealing with roadblocks now, they cannot blindside you later. 

What’s more, this little ‘trick’ will help you reduce the negative effect of procrastination. The case is that you are the most productive at the beginning of a workday before you get overwhelmed with tons of emails and momentary tasks. They slowly take your energy and make you feel stressed and tired after a while so you just can’t force yourself to accomplish any complicated task. Inevitably your brain will try to make you avoid that ‘big’ problem you had to deal with.

A sign board on the roadside reading 'homework, 'procrastination' and 'stop'


Set Goals and Stop Wasting Time

Lean and Agile methodologies were created to keep teams on track and focused on the goals in front of them. They are not designed to allow much if any deviation from what is on the table at that moment. Anything else that comes up is tabled for another sprint. 

A good project manager who adheres to Lean or Agile is a bit of a taskmaster. They don’t tolerate much time or even headspace being dedicated to activities that don’t contribute to meeting the project goals.

This is a great philosophy to use in your personal life. If you are spending too much time on activities in which you are not:

  • Learning something
  • Working towards a personal or professional goal or objective
  • Improving your health, spirituality, or emotional wellbeing

It is time to rethink your priorities. How many hours in a week do you spend?

  • Playing social media games
  • Surfing websites that teach you nothing
  • Watching shows you don’t care about or pay attention to
  • Engaging in pointless conversations

This doesn’t mean you can’t have any downtime. It certainly doesn’t mean that engaging in some activities to unwind is a bad thing. Unfortunately, most of us simply spend too much time on activities that don’t really help us get ahead.

Conclusion: Always Add Improvements

There’s a Japanese philosophy that is known as Kaizen. Basically, it states that you should be on an everlasting search for improvement. The idea isn’t to make big earth-shattering changes. It is to simply identify small ways to make things better, and then put those ideas into action.  Kaizen is the foundation of Lean and Agile.

Use these principles to make yourself even more productive. Whether you are shaving time off of your morning commute by taking a new route, meal prepping to save time cooking during the work week, or simply trying out a new productivity app that may better meet your needs, always keep an open mind when it comes to better ways of doing things.