From Book Reviews

Book: Getting Results the Agile Way by JD Meier

There’s always room to improve productivity. Whereas Getting Things Done by David Allen is probably the most well-known productivity system, there’s been some buzz about JD Meier’s system, Agile Results. Let’s take a look.< !—more–>

book agile results

At first, a word about the reading experience: it’s horrible. In a short sentence, the book has great content (so read on till I finish rumbling), but is a horrible read. JD Meier used to post his stuff for free on a blog, and seems to simply have saved all posts together as an eBook, Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life. You’ll read the same phrases and words over and over; ideas repeat and repeat; lists are excruciatingly long (several lists of 25 “key” things in the book); and I think the next time I read that something is (the) key, I’ll have a screaming fit.

If you’re still with me after steaming off about the writing, great! In terms of content, the book is a collection of pretty much everything you can usually find distributed across many places elsewhere, plus some additional easy-to-grasp and easy-to-realize concepts. That’s why, despite all my complaining, I think the book is worth reading and studying.

JD Meier himself suggests that you can use his system together with an already existing system. His suggestion is to keep what’s working, and to add from his approach what might make you more productive.

The 5 core elements of Agile Results

The book is split into three parts.
The first part explains the main principles in detail.
The second part explains how to use the system to plan days, weeks, months, and years.
The third part is a collection of “keys”, strategies etc., each of which can help your producitivity.

Given the many long lists in the book, it’s somewhat difficult to distill the main points of the Agile Results system. Here’s my take:

  • Focus on results, not tasks. The core approach is always to strive for outcomes, or results. This contrasts with tasks, that is, being busy whether it leads to anything or not. The principle of the focus on results is supplemented by numerous useful principles, values, and practices (the difference between these three is not very clear).
  • The rule of 3. This is probably the one thing that stands out most. A main principle of Agile Results is to never “chew off” too much from your plate of things to do. Instead, you should plan for three results – each day, each week, each month, and each year. Obviously, the size of these results scales with the time frame. In case you’re done with your three things, you can always choose something new to do.
  • Hot spots. Another main principle is to balance everything in your life. The different areas of life are termed “hot spots”. These include personal things like bodily and emotional health, finances, family and relationships, work, and personal projects like hobbies and vacations. Each of these areas can and should be planned via results.
  • Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection. It is another one of Meier’s main principles that you continually try to improve. Accordingly, each week is a new attempt to do your best, but also to learn from your failures. On Monday, you plan the week (3 results you want to see at the end of the week; 3 results you want to achieve on each day), and on Friday, you look back and identify 3 things that went well (=> keep doing), and 3 things that did not (=> learn and adjust/change).
  • Must, Should, Could. Prioritize every todo item according to whether it must, should, or could get done. “Could” is basically the category of things that never gets done…

Plugging Agile Results into GTD (or vice versa)

Although some productivity gurus feel that Agile Results outdoes GTD, my own experience so far is that the two have a lot of overlap and work quite well together.
Both systems are meant to manage all areas of your life, and have hierarchical foci starting on a day’s level, but going up to years. Both systems heavily rely on reviewing and changing plans depending on whatever comes along.

Merging Agile Results and GTD

  • One thing Agile Results doesn’t use is the concept of contexts, one of GTD’s core principles. The idea is that you should group any todo items according to the context in which they can be done (at the computer; at the mall; at home; when tired; …). Using contexts is of course still useful.
  • GTD is much more explicit about collecting everything that is going on and making sure you get everything out of your head and into your (list) system. I still find this an extremely valuable aspect of GTD. The result is, of course, a long lists, from which it is difficult to choose. The goal of GTD is to be maximally flexible by knowing, at all times, what’s on your lists, and then choosing at any given time either by deliberate choice, or by context.
  • Agile Results can really help with the long lists with the 3 items principle, as well as with the stress on results. It helps to focus, and forces a decision on what to concentrate on a given day.
  • Agile Results’ prioritization into must, should, and could further helps focusing and choosing.
  • Agile Results incorporates offers all kinds of “values” and “principles” from which you can pick what best works for you.

Definitely, the focus of Agile Results is for everyone to find their own personal best system. GTD is written much more as a definitive guide, though you can google thousands of personal implementations of GTD as well.

So, in the end, it comes down to you: when you feel that you just can’t manage all those things that pile up, and you need some system to deal with this s***load of work, then inhale both Agile Results and GTD, and then start building the productive system that fits you!

What are your favorite productivity tweaks? Do you use a dedicated system to organize your day, week, and year? I’d be curious to hear about it in the comments!

Related Resources

Check out Getting Results the Agile Way.

Also check out my review of Getting Things Done by David Allen, as well as its implementation in Evernote.

Asian Efficiency is a big fan of Agile Results. They have posted an entire series about its principles and implementation. Warning: not for the faint-hearted. These guys are real geeks. But if you’re serious about installing a working system, they can help.

JD Meier has a blog that might be helpful. He also has a site on which he helps you to try out Agile Results for 30 days by adding a principle each day.

Finally, JD Meier also has two posts on implementing Agile Results in Evernote here and here. They’re a good start.

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Book: Getting Things Done by David Allen

If you’re struggling with task management – keeping an overview, choosing what to do next, and finishing enough stuff – then Getting Things Done by David Allen is probably the first book to go to.

book getting things done

The book Getting Things Done by David Allen is a classic, and I find it a must-read if you are looking for ways to improve your productivity. The strength of the book is that it offers a complete system to approach to task planning.

The ultimate credo of the book is that you have to get stuff you need to remember (i.e., your todo list) out of your head into a “trusted system”. What Allen means by this is that you need to follow your system so consistently that you are never afraid that it won’t work. This frees up your head to be 100% on the task you decide to do at any given time. And if you follow the book’s advice, you can set up such a system. Warning: it can feel very anal, especially at first. But: if you do follow it, it’s really great.

5 steps to peace of mind…

Allen breaks up task planning into 5 steps:

  • capture anything that comes to mind that needs to be done, be it small or huge
  • clarify what you want to do with every single item you captured and identifying the next concrete action you need to do to move towards getting this thing done
  • organize by putting stuff where it belongs (and he has a very specific set of lists and places)
  • reflect, that is, review your lists, on a regular basis so that you always know what’s going on in your life
  • engage by choosing, from your lists, what to do right now.

There’s a lot more to each step, and Allen also goes into levels of planning, from how to organize today to identifying what you want to be or do with your life.

There’s a 2015 updated version of the book. If you believe what people are posting on the net, then it doesn’t really matter which version you read.

If you’ve read Getting Things Done, I’m curious about your thoughts. Have you implemented the system? What works? What doesn’t?

Related resources

David Allen has made a company out of his system, and they’re selling coaching and all kinds of related stuff.

There are many apps that are either designed to use GTD, or can be set up for GTD.

One such app for real enthusiasts (or nerds?) is Omnifocus (Mac/iOS).

Another one I really like is 2Do (Mac/iOS/Android).

David Allen explains his ideas quite well in several podcasts, for example in two episodes of Beyond the Todo List (one: www/iTunes; two: www/iTunes), and in an episode of [EntreLeadership][itunes-entre] ([www][web-entre-episode]/iTunes).

In the Evernote series of my hands-on section, I’ve described how you can set up Evernote for a pretty nifty GTD implementation.

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Book: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

This book about how entrepreneurs can build a successful and scalable business has lots of insight for a science team leader.

book cover emyth

Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited, has been an eye-opener for me.

At first sight, it has nothing to do with a science group. Gerber talks about new small business owners, and how they screw up and fail within the first few years of their endeavor. And then about what they can do to succeed with their business.

The key idea of the book is that the job of a business owner is very different from the job of a specialist. But before becoming their own boss, most small business owners are specialists, and then attempt to build their own business based on their expertise. They then make the mistake of doing the same as they did before – being a specialist – instead of becoming the head of their new business.

Why does that matter to a scientist?

You’ve probably realized now why the book is relevant to a science leader: we basically go the same path. First, we are specialists. Then, we become group leaders – boss of our very own “small business”. The big mistake we can make is to not fill that leading role, and instead try to continue being a specialist.

The two points I find most important in Gerber’s book are, first, that you have to build a vision about what you actually want your business to be. The second point is that you have to systematically remove yourself from the everyday work of your business. Of course, you don’t disappear, but your planning and actions have to follow this ultimate goal: to be free of the operative work, so that you can shape the business.

I’ve written more on the idea of removing yourself and porting Gerber’s ideas from a small business to a science lab in a blog post, Remove yourself: how to be free for leading without losing control. Suffice it to say, although the book reads a bit cheesy, it provides lots of food for thought.

Check out the book here.

If you’ve read the book, post your comments below!

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