My Latest Book

Product Details

Also available on,, and other Amazons and bookshops worldwide! 

To Think About . . .
What may be done at any time will be done at no time. Scottish Proverb
My Other Books

Product Details

Product Details

Product Details

The Pathway to Awesomeness

Click to order other recommended books.

Find Us on Facebook Badge

Search This Site

Discussion Forum > Personal Sprint Planning

This weekend it occurred to me that principles of Do It Tomorrow DIT matchup well with Agile Sprint planning.

I was reading these posts when the light bulb went on for me.

In Agile planning, a sprint is a fixed amount of time often 2 weeks where a team works on a fixed number of "stories" or projects. The beauty of sprint planning is that the team commits to work that will be done by a certain date and then works only on that committed work for two weeks (in theory).

This seems very closely aligned to a closed list or a will do list. In DIT this closed list of work is aligned with a day.

In the posts above, Mark proposed that the closed list doesn't necessarily need to align with a single day. I really like this nuance because stuff happens and being able to keep a closed list loosely aligned with a day is nice but having the flexibility to allow it to take a bit longer allows for handling emergencies and other factors.

So here is what I have been experimenting with:

Per the “Simplest Time Management Methd” post above, start by making a list of commitments I have that are pressing in the next day or so.

Once written, draw a line under the list and close it off. I'll call this sprint 1. (I’m using outlining software for this but paper should work)

If anything comes in after the sprint 1 list is defined, I either decide to do it right away as an emergency without writing it down or if not I write it down in the next sprint list (Sprint 2)

Per the rules of Mark's post, I only work on the Sprint 1 list until it is complete, but I can work in any order.

For a personal sprint list, I want to keep a sprint to be a days’ worth of work in size, but to avoid constant reorganizing, I won't move on from the current sprint lsit until it is done even if the day is “over”. I may renegotiate with myself to abandon something on the list or with cautious consideration defer something to the next sprint and re-write it on on the next list.

When Sprint 1 is done, I turn to the Sprint 2 list and close it off with a line and repeat the process.

Some problems I can foresee with this method is the future sprint list gets too long before I close it off. If that is the case, I think I'll need to groom the list before closing it to make sure it is something I can commit to finishing in a day or two. ( I think this process is a bit easier electronically)

For long running projects, the sprint commitment would be to progress the project sufficiently in the current sprint (day or so) to the point I'm OK in entering the next action for the project into the next sprint (day or so).

Has anyone tried this approach? It is obviously very similar to other systems we talk about here, but I like the way it forces me to not let old items age too long and since I work with Agile and Sprint planning concepts quite often the cognitive similarities help me. Teams have 2 week sprints, I have 1 day sprints.

April 17, 2018 at 18:38 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Yes, I think sprints work well.

The only thought I have is that by prioritising urgent and pressing things into the sprints (or things you like to do) is that the routine and not so urgent items tends to get left behind. They often then become urgent or pressing at some point having been neglected.

I think it is essential to always have some of the day set aside to review new things coming in and drop them into the relevant urgent or not urgent areas. Then to also spend some time working on older less important things so they jog along too.

From my own experience that seems to be the only way to keep things in balance by keeping the urgent and non urgent all progressing nicely.
April 18, 2018 at 15:30 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
If I remember correctly, Agile Sprint Planning include a pre-sprint meeting, where the team decides which items to tackle in the current sprint? It looks at the time (and other resources) needed to do each task, the value of each task, and sometimes who is the best person to do it (more efficient, and prevent overloading a single person). Then it ends with reviewing each item, deciding if it was completed (and what to do if it wasn't), and what was learned.

I usually use week-long sprints, but have also tried daily. I find the week gives me better balance, perspective, motivation, and flexibility.

When I forced my teenage son to use a weekly grid (day vs life-area (job-search, family, health, unpacking/purging his stuff), he made good progress in all areas. We used it at the start of the week, and then reviewed it at the end, before planning the next. (He didn't have to fill in each cell, but he did have to explain why he left any blank.) (He's taking a job-search class now, so I'm leaving the coaching to them for a bit. Once he's home and unemployed again, he'll have no excuse to avoid me.)

At first, he was good at forcing me to do the same grid exercise, and we both made good progress. He saw it as fun (make Mom work) and we both saw it as showing him how to do it and setting an example. Then he learned how to do it; it was no longer new and interesting; and we both started doing it too fast (no need to write the details, I know them). It worked very well while it lasted.
April 18, 2018 at 16:14 | Registered CommenterCricket
In my experience, we have always tried to put in the Sprint a mix of urgent, important and maintaining tasks. This in theory leads to the balance you speak of Mr Backlog.

Also in my experience no Sprint has a 100% completion/Success rate.

I'm finding the same with my experiment above. It's Thursday and I'm still working on Sprint 2 items.

I personally finding I can't go more than 2 days without a re-evaluation of any list so I'm going to set a time limit to sprints after all and then force a full review periodically. Similar to the "pre-sprint" planning you mention Cricket.

I still like the mental model of making sprints/closed lists but I'm still experimenting. I think I'm sort of trying to blend this with the OASIS model.
April 19, 2018 at 17:51 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
You can think of a Final Version chain of tasks as a sprint commit list.

FV isn't based on a time blocked iteration, however. So it's helpful to keep in mind how long your sprint is supposed to be, before starting the selection process. "What do I want to do before X, and get completed this sprint?"

And after selecting your chain of tasks, it can be helpful to review it before starting to take action, to help make sure it's the "right" list of stuff to commit for this sprint.

It can be pretty effective but doesn't respond well to urgent interruptions. FVP works better for that.
April 22, 2018 at 7:09 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
DIT can work like a daily sprint commit. But the problem is that all incoming stuff appears automatically (and undifferentiated) on your sprint commit list. (Unlike Scrum, where you consciously prioritize and decide what to include in the sprint, and what to exclude.)

If the day's work looks overwhelming it can be helpful to scan the list at start of day and delete / defer till you reduce the list to something you can commit to complete. But if you do that too often, you are really just kicking the can down the road and hiding the fact that you are overcommitted generally.
April 22, 2018 at 7:19 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Scrum Sprints suffer from many of the same problems as waterfall project management -- multitasking (many tasks / user stories in the sprint), Parkinson's Law (if your sprint is 2 weeks, you will take 2 weeks to complete the work even if not needed), and resulting buffering and padding (overestimating story sizes, committing to a smaller velocity than the team is actually capable of, etc.)

I am intrigued by Ultimate Scrum (described in The CIO'S Guide to Breakthrough Project Porfolio Performance: Applying the Best of Critical Chain, Agile, and Lean, and other books).

Basically it eliminates the Sprint, and replaces it with a task limit:
- Maximum of two tasks per team member at any given time
- Pull the next story from the Product Backlog when number of tasks falls below one per team member
- If you finished all your tasks, but the total number of tasks is greater than 1 per team member, then you can't pull a new story. Instead, go help someone else with their task. Opportunity for knowledge sharing, learning new skills, pair programming, etc. Do NOT use the time for technical debt, etc.

This keeps the team constantly focused on the top priority work, reduces/eliminates multitasking, eliminates Parkinson's Law, etc.

Teams that adopt this have typically seen 30%+ increase in throughput, according to the authors.

Applying it to personal productivity... The key principle is to focus on one thing at a time till it's done. If that's not possible, then reduce your batch sizes, and try again. Large batches can give the illusion of efficiency but crush overall flow. Batches are basically disguised WIP -- backlogs. They also create interruption -- if something urgent comes up, you have to interrupt a batch, and that means it waits till later, and that means, you have to keep track of it. So reduce batch sizes and see if it allows you to focus on one thing at time.
April 22, 2018 at 7:32 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Actually this batch size thing has really been a game-changer for me. I used to be the master of batching things up for efficiency. I thought I was being more efficient by creating little piles of stuff that I could then crank through really fast because it was all alike (paying bills; doing dishes; carrying stuff to the car; laundry; email; etc.)

After reading Goldratt's The Goal (and other TOC materials), I realized this has some really huge negatives -- basically creating all kinds of piles of WIP that you have to manage and prioritize somehow.

So I started trying to just get everything done immediately. For example, use a smaller laundry basket, and give every family member their own, instead of collecting into common baskets for white vs dark laundry etc. So far that has been pretty astonishing in how much it reduces laundry-related clutter in the house. It's not as "efficient" in terms of laundry loads -- the loads are smaller, and maybe we run more of them -- but I think the negative impact here is very small compared to the positive impacts for the overall result.

Laundry is just one small example. Overall this has been pretty life-changing. FLOW is much better with smaller batches. Many factories try to get to "single piece flow" because of the huge impacts to inventory reduction and overall throughput improvement. The same principles apply to personal productivity. One thing it helps with is to drastically reduce the need for prioritization. Overall productivity and flow increases tremendously, so you can just do FIFO (first in, first out) most of the time and get everything done just fine. Not always -- but more often than you might believe.

It also applies to Scrum. Besides the Ultimate Scrum stuff I posted earlier, see also Ron Jeffries article on the topic:

The gist of it is: "If you can't get your stuff done in a two-week sprint -- DO NOT increase the sprint length. Your problem isn't lack of time. Your problem is you don't have a good sense of how big your work is. So reduce the sprint to ONE week, and make a smaller, 1-week commitment. If your STILL can't get your stuff done, reduce it to a single day. You have a much better sense of what you can get done in a day. Work back up to a week after you can reliably delivery on your daily commits."
April 22, 2018 at 7:49 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

<< Many factories try to get to "single piece flow" because of the huge impacts to inventory reduction and overall throughput improvement. The same principles apply to personal productivity. >>

This reminds me of my simplest written time management system. You just write down what you're going to do next, do it, write the next thing down, do it and so on. In fact it works pretty well and you end up at the end of the day with an impressive list of what you've done. What's more, since you have a complete list of what you have actually done, you can then ask yourself the question "Is this what I really wanted to do today?"
April 22, 2018 at 20:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
My experiment continues.

With as many interruptions and unknowns I have each day, sprint planning has always been difficult, I thought a daily sprint would help but even that feels too big and I find some days to be overwhelming.

I am going to revisit some of the no-list methods with a supplemental "inventory/backlog list" to be reviewed as needed.

First up is SMEMA which is a very small continual "sprint"

1. Write down three tasks.
2. Do two (in order).
3. Add two (so there are three tasks again).
4. Repeat from step 2 (do two, add two) ad infinitum.

quote from article above that I like: "every time I do two tasks the method requires me to think carefully about what I should do next."

April 27, 2018 at 20:17 | Unregistered CommenterBrent

Hmm... must try that one again.
April 27, 2018 at 21:40 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This week SMEMA quickly turned into 3T as I found I wasn't always able to do things in order. As the week went on I found that 5T was a bit more relaxing of a choice when building a list of 5 things to "sprint" on. I know by previous experiences though that I really need to guard against having more than 5 things to choose from on a focus list like this.

Rules for 5T per Mark

1. Write a list of 5 tasks.
2. Do three.
3. Add three.

I've married this with an inventory/backlog list that is generally grouped by day DIT style.

When it's time to add 3 tasks (or 5 if I zipped through them all) to my list of 5, I first try to take a break and let my "careful thinking" remind me of what is most important, I think that is the true spirit of the no-list approach. If for whatever reason that is too unsettling or doesn't bring anything to mind, I look at my inventory/backlog lists and pick what stands out until I fill up my list of 5 and then I close out the big backlog list and focus on the new "sprint of 5"

So far I've really enjoyed the way a "no-list" list closes things off from the bigger catchall backlog list. It really gives me a sense of accomplishment through out the day when I know I finished 3-5 tasks and can take a break and think about the next round.

May 4, 2018 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
I've been re-reading "Secrets of Productive People" and was really inspired by Chapter 4 "Think Systems" It gave me assurance that tweaking my personal way of working is not a waste of time and creating a system that has low levels of resistance or drag is the definition of a good system.

Also been thinking about this comment mentioned by Seraphim : ""If you can't get your stuff done in a two-week sprint -- DO NOT increase the sprint length. Your problem isn't lack of time. Your problem is you don't have a good sense of how big your work is. So reduce the sprint to ONE week, and make a smaller, 1-week commitment. If your STILL can't get your stuff done, reduce it to a single day. You have a much better sense of what you can get done in a day."

Which has lead me to a week of practicing "The Next Hour" no-list approach instead of 3T or 5T. It has worked better than anything yet. I still don't have a great sense of what I can accomplish in a day (the day's vary too much) but I do have a good sense of what I can accomplish in the next hour.

I also did some re-reading of the Spinning Plates method and this time around found extra meaning in the visuals. Especially the table format

Using a table as shown, I can run through each larger project or area of focus and put a completed checkbox by the line if I think things are spinning nicely at the moment or an incomplete checkbox and write down a next action on a "prompt list" if it isn't. Processing inboxes and backlog is one of my larger projects. So are areas of personal health like physical, mental and relationships.

So my system is currently this:

Two columns on a paper.

Left column is my next hour list where I write down what I will do in the next hour, crossing items off as I do them and adding to the list to make sure the hour is filled.

Right column is a prompt list where I write down next actions or reminders that I know I can't do in the next hour but don't want to forget. I review this if I feel like I'm not sure what to top of the next hour list with but often I find that my intuition is sufficient and end up crossing most of them off by the end of the day naturally from working the next hour list.

I create a new next hour/prompts page each day and toss the old ones into the backlog/inbox process (spinning plate)

As mentioned I have a longer Spinning plates list that I review occasionally (at least once a week) to feed my "prompts" list or at a minimum put it back into my thoughts. Sometimes just a reminder is all the brain needs to sort things out on a subconscious level.

In short, Spinning Plates feeds a prompt list as needed and a prompt list feeds the next hour list as needed.

The hourly focus has been great for me and I find things just work out if I focus on what I can do right now in the next hour. As for Spinning Plates one of my "plates" is a meta plate to make sure I don't have too many and I'm spinning the right ones.


May 20, 2018 at 17:05 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Yes, I think this will work very well. I don't think you can beat pulling tasks out of a longer list.
It gives a good sense of achievement when a batch is done.

If it helps, the batch I pull out of the long list is about a days worth. Each hour seems a bit too fiddly for me. I just review once a day what needs to be done, or what I would like to get done and then pull them out for action.
I always seem to have a bit of trouble deciding what needs to be done, so I've gone for a simple system of marking things to be done today, within 1 week and within 3 weeks. Just paying a little bit of attention to a rough due date helps solve that.
May 21, 2018 at 12:43 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog