“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” — Anotole France
Now’s a great time to pick your dreams up, blow the dust off, and get ready to make them happen. This month is all about getting results. Along the way, I’ll introduce you to methods from my book, Getting Results, that you can use to stack the deck in your favor and increase your chances of success.
Monthly Improvement Sprint
One of the first things I want to introduce you to is, Monthly Improvement Sprints. Monthly Improvement Sprints are one of the 12 core practices of Agile Results. The idea is pretty simple. Simply pick a theme for the month, and use it to focus your time and energy. With a full month, persistence and time are on your side. It’s a big enough time box that you can try different techniques, while building proficiency. You can use a monthly improvement sprint to
- Make progress on a dream (chip away at a big dream or dream a little dream and make it happen)
- Sharpen a skill
- Try your hand at something new
- Reshape your body
- Adopt a new habit
Why Monthly Improvement Sprints?
I originally called the approach 30 Day Improvement Sprints. I borrowed the idea of sprints from SCRUM (a software management practice) and I thought it would be a good idea to apply it to personal development. I used 30 days as my time box, but I found that keeping track of when to start and when to end, wasn’t worth it. I then decided to use months as a time box. This way, each month would be a fresh start, and I would know I was done when the month was over. This made it even simpler to stay on track … I simply line up with the calendar. This seemed to line up on so many levels that I stuck with it ever since.
The Power of Sustained Focus
Few problems withstand sustained focus. Using a full month makes it easier to work through hurdles. What I generally notice is that a lot of the hurdles I hit in my first week are gone by week 2. Little improvements each day add up quickly. Interestingly, before I used Monthly Improvement Sprints, I would try something out for a week, and then give up because I didn’t make progress. I wasn’t giving myself a chance. I just needed to get to week 2 to see my results.
12 Themes for the Year
It’s literally a portfolio of results. You get to cycle through 12 themes for the year. There’s a bit of captive genius in everyone that just needs to be uncorked. A month of focused improvement seems to be a great way to pop the cork. I find improvement sprints refreshing because it gives me a schedule for exploration throughout the year. I can rotate through more interests. Most importantly, rather than tackle everything all at once, I just wait for my next Monthly Improvement Sprint to focus on it. 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 Monthly Improvement Sprint.
I’ve used Monthly Improvement Sprints to test out a living foods diet, improve rollerblading, burn through my backlog of books, … etc. I’m using this Monthly Improvement Sprint to focus on helping the world get results.
Ways to Improve Your Monthly Improvement Sprint
Here’s a handful of techniques to help you make the most of your Monthly Improvement Sprints:
- 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
The minimum you should do is pick a theme for the month. If you’re ready for more, then start to think of some little steps you can take to start living your dream.
Photo by evoo73.