By December 31, 2008 8 Comments Read More →

30 Day Improvement Sprints

30DayImprovementSprints
Photo by johnthescone

I’ve been using 30 day improvement sprints as a way to sharpen my skills.  I originally started 30 Day Improvement Sprints a couple years back loosely based on Scrum 30 Day Sprints.  I pick a focus to work on and I commit to improving it for a 30 day timebox.  Committing to 30 days of improvement in a focused area, is easier to swallow than changing for life.  However, improving an area for 30 days, is actually life changing.

With 30 days, persistence and time are on my side.  It’s a big enough time box that I can try different techniques, while building proficiency.  Using 30 days makes working through hurdles easier too.  A lot of the hurdles I hit in my first week, are gone by week 2.  Little improvements each day, add up quickly.  I look back on how many things I tried for a week and stopped thinking I hadn’t made progress.  The trick was, I didn’t get to week 2 to see my results.  Lesson learned!

Why 30 Day Improvement Sprints
Why 30 Day Improvement Sprints?  I get asked this often enough that I think I should distill the keys:

  • Because they’re really monthly improvement sprints, I can cycle through 12 themes each year.  It’s ultimately a portfolio of results and a way to test out and learn new things or add extra focus on something I need to improve.
  • I can commit to something for 30 days.  Starting something without an end in sight, can be daunting.
  • It helps me deal with the now.
  • It’s a timebox to deliver value to myself.
  • If I only do something ad-hoc now and then, I don’t create an effective technique.  If I do a little each day,
  • I find a way to reduce the friction.
  • It lets me parking lot things I want to work on.  I can put something on the backburner if I know I have a way to pick it back up.
  • It gives me a system to build a portfolio of improvements instead of cling to one-hit wonders here and there.
  • If it’s daily, it becomes a habit.  If it’s something I do a few days a week or only for a week, I don’t build a routine.
  • It’s a long enough duration to see improvement or change approach.  I wonder how many things I tried in the past for a week, then stopped because I didn’t see improvement?  If I’m not getting results, I have enough buffer to change my approaches or strategies.  Put it another way, 30 days gives me enough buffer to mess up.
  • It’s easier to buy into incremental, daily improvement versus big up front improvement or change.
    I’m a sprinter by nature.  While I’ve learned to pace by nurture, I prefer to put my all and do bursts.  It’s when my energy is peak.
  • Because my 30 Day Improvement Sprints are so effective for me, I have to resist the urge to bite off too many areas at once.  In general, I try to balance between mind, body, career, financial, and relationships.  My scannable outcome lists help me checkpoint.

If that’s not good enough for you, it might help to know that people like Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, and Jack Canfield have also had variations of 30 day routines.  In fact, Jack Canfield walked me through a study from NASA that validated that you need an uninterrupted sequence of days for a new habit to sink in.

Making 30 Day Improvement Sprints More Effective
In a previous post on 30 Day Improvement Sprints post, a reader asked, what tips do I have to make 30 days sprints more effective.  Here’s my short list

  • Buddy up.  Seriously.  One guy’s hurdle, is another girl’s breeze.
  • Don’t beat yourself up.  If at first you don’t succeed, tell yourself you just learned another way how NOT to do something.
  • Count your improvements, not your blunders.  It’s a pick you up vs. put you down approach.
  • Make each session count.  Keep your sessions short and sweet.   Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Focus on your improvement process vs. the result itself.  Make the process your reward.  I enjoy learning again for learning’s sake.      
  • If you’re churning, change your approach.  Don’t mistake churn for awkwardness. Growth feels awkward and is a precursor to proficiency.
  • Find experts you can model and learn from.  Success leaves clues.  If you can find somebody who does a great job at what you want to do, you have a head start.  I leverage lots of mentors.  I used to just see an amazing pool of people around me.  Now I see an amazing team of coaches.
  • Journal your lessons learned.  Each day, reflect on distinctions you made.  What’s one little thing you learned you didn’t know the day before.  You’ll be surprised how simple notes can shine a spotlight on your gains.
  • Repetition is your friend.  Remind yourself that repetition is the mother of skill.  World class experts master the fundamentals through repetition and refinement.
  • Set your own bar vs. follow others.  Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to you.  Be your personal best.  I remember a point John Wooden made some time ago.  He didn’t think his team should gloat over wins, or beat themselves up over losses.  His point was, if you won, but didn’t play your best, did you really deserve to win? …  If you lost, but you played your personal best, did you really lose?
  • Focus on the thinking, feeling and doing.  Sometimes the inner dialogue is more important than what you see or hear.  While something might seem purely physical, sometimes, there’s a lot of self-talk an expert does that might not be obvious.  What do they think about when they perform the technique?  When they mess up, how do they get back in the zone?  What’s their decision tree?  For example, when I do a customer arch and design review, they see me put stuff on a whiteboard.  They hear me ask precise questions.  What they might not know is the matrix of questions and reference examples I draw from.
  • Be your own best coach.  Use questions to shape your improvement.   
  • Ask for feedback.  Find those you trust to point out things you might otherwise miss. 
  • Few problems withstand sustained focus.  There’s a bit of captive genius in everyone that just needs to be uncorked.  30 days of focused improvement seems to be a great way to pop the cork.  I’m finding improvement sprints refreshing because I now have a schedule for exploration.  I can rotate through more interests.  Most importantly, rather than tackle everything all at once, I just wait for my next 30 day focus.  It’s easier to put something aside for the moment, if I know I’ll have a chance to immerse myself in it in the future.  If I enjoyed something so much and I want to continue, I just do another 30 days.

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8 Comments on "30 Day Improvement Sprints"

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  1. Louisa says:

    30 days seems just about right. It gives you enough chance to really focus on something and not too much in case you need to change your strategy.

  2. JD says:

    @ Louisa

    They’ve helped me a lot. In the past, I used to dabble in a bunch of things at the same time. Whatever I was working on, I worried about what I wasn’t working on. Now, I just make a thoughtful choice each month of what will really get my focus.

    In one of my improvement sprints, I ended up roller blading more than 15 miles a day, simply by adding a lap each day.

    In another improvement sprint, I had some amazing results from testing a living foods diet.

    Each month is a new chance at bat at something old or something new.

  3. Have you ever heard the John C. Maxwell quote, “A good leader learns from their mistakes. A better leader learns from others mistakes – and successes.”

    I think this illustrates your “success leaves a trail” remark quite well.

    Anyway, I have been using “champions” as a way to improve myself for quite some time. They provide inspiration and a method. However, one of the main mishaps is following a champion too closely. Once you get to a certain point, you need to branch out and do your own thing.

  4. JD says:

    @ Success Factors

    Nice quote! Maxwell is among my heroes.

    Great point on branching out. I think that’s where Bruce Lee’s guidance kicks in — “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”

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