12 Productivity Hacks for Scrum Masters & Agile Coaches

12 Productivity Hacks for Scrum Masters & Agile Coaches

Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches need to stay on top of their game. Your job is about helping others to succeed. Use these 12 productivity hacks to keep yourself grounded and centered and have the biggest impact on those you are coaching.

Below is a list of productivity tips that I have found helpful to me as an Agile Coach. The inspiration for this article was an article on productivity called SELF-HACK YOUR WAY TO A BRIGHTER BUSINESS FUTUREAuthor Patrycja Slawuta is the founder of SelfHackathon. I included one of the hacks Ms. Slawuta mentioned in her article (Square Breathing) below because I frequently use that technique.

1. Scrum Masters Need Written Goals

This “hack” has been around forever. The act of simply putting your goals down on paper has been shown to improve the odds of achieving them by 50% or more. I take the time to write my goals at the beginning of each year and each month. I often do this for each day, but I am less disciplined about that.

2. Plan Your Day

Similar to the first, taking the time to plan your day in advance will help you stay on top of your game. Pick no more than 3 things that you absolutely must achieve each day. Even if your plans are disrupted by events, you will be more likely to maintain your balance and achieve those 3 things if you have a plan.

3. Control Your Calendar

Our lives are busy and complex. The tyranny of the urgent will often dominate our days and crowd out the things we feel are important. One way to exert some control over this is to pre-schedule what is important to you.

Go ahead and schedule (and pre-pay for) your vacations, training events, conferences, and retreats. Look ahead and schedule lunch with your spouse, friends, or those colleagues that you find energizing or nurturing. Pre-schedule your training runs or gym sessions. Hire a personal trainer and hold the time of your sessions sacred.

4. Pick the Time

Dan Pink in his latest book When; the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing describes how to use our natural rhythms to create peak performance. Pink contends that choosing the right time to tackle various kinds of work can be critical to high productivity. Timing can be within a specific day, week, or even season or year.

Knowing when to work on something may be more important than what to work on. As an example, I find that I do most of my best writing early in the morning. Sometimes I get it done during the week, but I’m even more creative early in the morning on the weekends. On the other hand, as a Scrum Coach, I find that afternoons are better times to catch up with Scrum Masters I support since they have so many morning meetings.

5. Say “No” More Often

Saying no is exceedingly difficult for us people-pleasers that hate to disappoint anyone. Or for those of us who tend to be overly optimistic about what can be achieved. Or for those of us who work in organizations where a “can do” attitude is rewarded.

Ironically I find that clients and associates appreciate me more when I am realistic about what I commit to or when I set boundaries and push back. And they appreciate it when I do deliver on the things that I commit to. As a bonus,  I am happier inside.

6. Meditate

Meditation is one of many approaches to preparing yourself for the day. I find that it helps to ground me and focus on the bigger picture.

I learned to use Transcendental Meditation from a coach several years ago. I like the mantra approach to meditation but find that other techniques for mindfulness including prayer or breathing also work great.

7. Square Breathing

Similar to meditation, square breathing is a technique for calming us. To use it, you simply breathe in on a count of four, hold your breath for another four, exhale for a count of four, and then hold that for four before repeating the cycle. Patrycja Slawuta states that

Square breathing is used often by combat special forces personnel to remain calm and collected under some very stressful situations.

And then repeat for 1-2 minutes or as needed. This will naturally reset the body and remove stress and anxiety in the process.

8. Take the Time To Respond Thoughtfully

Words from coaches are treated as important. I cannot tell you how many times my own words, good or bad, have been served back to me. Frequently it is long after I’d forgotten what I had said. And the reality is, sometimes I simply blurt things out without thinking it through.

Other times, I am able to pause and think before speaking. And sometimes when I pause, I realize that I don’t need to say anything. Take the time to think before speaking and judge for yourself whether words are required.

9. Maintain Perspective

Often as coaches, we focus on the potential for what could be. We act as change agents, constantly striving to change the status who. We push for continuous improvement and don’t rest on our laurels.

That approach may be great but it can also lead us to forget what is most important or to lose sight of the gains already made. Don’t forget the great strides your teams have made in the last 6 months or year; affirm the positive strides that are happening and don’t nitpick the small things.

10.  Keep an Internal Locus of Control

Many of us look outside ourselves for validation. Rather than believing that we control our own destiny, we believe outside forces shape our results. And so we let things outside of us control how we feel about ourselves. This is called external locus of control.

I am working on an internal locus of control. I put less weight on the feedback that I get in my training course, the number of likes I get on my LinkedIn articles, the weather outside, and whether or not the stock market went up or down. Instead, I have learned to tune in to how I feel and how much I am loved by God. It’s not easy. I have to gently remind myself when I lose my focus to shift back to what is going on inside me.

11. Change Your Habits

Humans are creatures of habits and our habits – good or bad – define us. You can start a new habit in 21 days. Last year I cut out most sugars and carbs from my diet using the 21-day approach. Simply do the same thing for 21 days in a row and it becomes habit.

And you can break old habits by getting accountability. I enrolled my good friend to help me with my addiction to sarcasm. I pay him $5 every time he catches me making a sarcastic remark. It’s been a great investment and it has really helped me break that lifelong negative habit.

12. Turn Off Those Alerts

Technology can help in so many ways but it can also be a negative, especially when it comes to interruptions. How many of us have been with someone who became totally distracted when their email chimed or who took a call rather than pay attention to us. As a coach, I want to be “with” those who I am coaching and supporting.

Don’t let the random calls or texts distract you from the moment. I turn off all notifications on my laptop and phone including phone ringers, email notifications, and text alerts. I am a coach, not a firefighter or a heart surgeon. As I say frequently, there are no crisis in Agile. I don’t receive calls or texts that are more important than what is happening at the moment.

That is my list of 12 hacks that I use, though I am sure there are many more I could name. I would love to hear from you about your favorite hacks. Please let me know in the comments below.

Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

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