A Small New Year's Tip: Timebox, Not Scopebox
I hope you are all enjoying your holidays.
Many people use this time of year to reflect and then make New Year's resolutions. I'm not one of them. Sure, I reflect, but I rarely make any New Year's resolution. I've never kept a resolution for more than a few weeks. (There's plenty of research that says I’m not alone in this.)
I always wondered why. I'm a disciplined person. I know how to make change in my life. But I could never lose those 5 (or more!) pounds. I have colleagues who couldn’t manage to get to the gym. Some colleagues have had resolutions to improve their technical skills. But they never have learned more about testing, development, or management–whatever their resolution was. They wanted to keep their resolution, but never did.
That’s because all of these resolutions are scope-based. I know that for me, and I bet for many of you, scope-based resolutions are impossible to keep. That's why I prefer to timebox. When I timebox, I ask myself, “How much progress can I make on this task for a limited time period?” For example, I monitor my weight daily, and record it weekly and monthly. That means I have a one-week timebox inside a one-month timebox. I vary from week to week, but over the course of a month I can see the real progression of weight loss. And, if it's weight gain, I've caught it before it gets away from me.
When it comes to cleaning up my office, I set a one-hour timebox and see what I can do with that. Once I'm done with that hour, I can choose to spend more time or declare I’m done for now.
I do the same thing with my writing. I write for 20 minutes every day. (Yes, I’m allowed to do more, but my timebox commitment is to 20 minutes.) Sometimes, you see that writing as blog posts, articles, or books. Sometimes you don’t see any of that writing, because it's so awful I use it as the germ of an idea, but not for publication in that form.
The key for me is to take the timebox, apply myself to the task at hand for that time, and review the results. One of my newsletter reviewers said, ‘With timeboxing, you get to have “success, success, no further commitment” rather than just “failure after two weeks”. Feels better.' That’s because you recommit–or not–after the timebox.
If you decide to make a change, remember that to make the change real, you need practice and integration. Instead of setting yourself a scope-based goal, such as “I will work out regularly,” consider a timebox. “This week, I'll go to they gym three times.” Or, “This week, I will stay on my eating plan Monday through Friday.” Or, “This week, I will read one article about project management.” At the end of the week, reflect back. Where were you successful? Can you characterize what made you successful? Where were you not successful? What happened then?
Once you know how to make yourself successful once, you can try to repeat that pattern the next week. If you learned what was unsuccessful, you have some data to learn from and try something different next week.
Forget resolutions–scopeboxes–with their open-ended timing. Timeboxes work for people because you can get enough feedback. Take advantage of the feedback available to you.
Manage Your Project Portfolio…
If you have more work than time, consider readingManage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects. You'll see how to make the decisions about what to do first, second, third, and never.
Thinking About Training in 2010?
I've updated my program management workshop, as well as my agile workshops. Take a look at myworkshops page for all the details.
Have a great New Year’s and I’ll see you in 2010.
© 2009 Johanna Rothman