I have been working with my business partner Jennifer to create a new business. If you’ve been down that road, you know it takes a huge amount of work. As coaches, one of the most common issues we come across is clients who are burned out or living in a state of overwhelm. This is the condition where they have so much to do they literally work most of their waking hours.
As we formed our partnership, we set out some principles or shared values to guide us. Implicit in several of these was not getting into a state of overwhelm. If we are to serve our clients we have to be able to show them a different possibility for their lives, one that is healthy and sustainable.
We decided in the spirit of efficiency to adopt proven best practices. We adapted one of these from the world of software development. It is the concept of breaking work up into bounded time periods called sprints. Each of our sprint lasts four weeks, and we capture new requests in backlog, and then decide what items from backlog to include in our next sprint.
We plan the next sprint by identifying our available capacity for the next four weeks. For example, am I unavailable for any days, this could be vacation, etc. Next we take account of two things to arrive at our available capacity. The first is buffer. This is planning for the unknown, things we hadn’t planned that take more time and we set aside 20% for this. Next we take account of the recurring everyday tasks we can’t avoid. This leaves us with our net available capacity.
Why This Is Hard
This is where the process starts to get really interesting (and painful). Our available capacity is usually 30% less than the total capacity we started with and I always feel very unhappy about it. My gut says it can’t be true, that is too much capacity to give up. A big advantage of having a partner is having someone to hold you accountable. We help each other stick to our available capacity and move on to fitting in items from the backlog. As you can imagine, we typically cannot fit in everything into the sprint we desire, again making me feel bad.
At this point I don’t blame you for thinking, why the heck do they do this?
Then Magic Happens
Once we start work in the sprint, the magic happens. By living within our capacity, we actually have time to do each item to the best of our ability, and we almost always surprise ourselves with the extra value we create. Because we aren’t stressed, I think we get much more done and if we finish early, we pull more items into the sprint. Now we are in our fourth sprint cycle, this is becoming a trend giving me confidence to say by committing to do less, we actually get more done. We don’t end up with many, if any, unfinished items and it feels GREAT to complete things.
Drop me a note if you are interested to learn more about how we use sprint planning to great effect. It is not just for software developers and it can change your relationship with time!