Agility comes down to a few key habits: coordinating the many demands of your life; staying strong enough to endure the hurdles thrown at you; and balancing the competing demands of work, health, family, and mental health.
While these may seem like tall orders, the Agile Manifesto may be just what you need for a new perspective on how to engage the speed and reflexes you need now.
Originally written in 2001 by a group of software specialists as a philosophy to drive effectiveness in tech development processes, agile practices have become known as some of the most innovative ways to enhance performance and productivity. At its inception, the approach was avant-garde—putting people first, thinking of work differently, and focusing on constant improvement—all had the fundamental effect of empowering people and helping them to be resilient to shifts in customer requirements and market needs. Likewise, this is the principles’ relevance to now. The world is shifting and we’re grasping for a way to thrive during tough times. Agile can offer the right response.
Here are five lessons from tech’s agile systems to help your personal agility.
Take small steps
Things are overwhelming today. From politics to the pandemic and from killer hornets to the spread of wildfires, it can feel like Armageddon. One way to respond is to break things down into smaller segments.
In agile terminology, this is called “deconstructing work.” Consider the big things you have to accomplish and separate them into small tasks and responsibilities. Put these in sequence and check them off your list one at a time. Take this approach for the big project at work and the small ways you’ll fulfill its requirements. In your personal life, consider the significant demands you face and break them into less daunting chunks. Putting things into more manageable terms is good for your psyche and your motivation, but it will also increase your chances of success.
Work in tandem
The best of an agility-based work style values people over process and prioritizes the team. Working through difficulty and challenge can be especially stressful if you feel alone. Take a lesson from agile practices and form coalitions with others. If you need to complete a tough task, ask for input or advice, or engage others to help. If you’re struggling to keep perspective, find a support group and share your challenges to gain new thinking. If you’re lonely or feeling isolated, seek a group with common interests.
One of the hallmarks of agile practices is to test, try, tinker, and experiment. Rather than waiting for perfection and then releasing a new method, agile processes tout the benefits of failing often and failing early, taking incremental steps toward success. You can translate this to your coping skills by ensuring you experiment. At work, try a new approach to your project, and in your personal life build a new skill. Avoid the paralysis that can come from stress and keep moving forward by giving yourself permission to be less than perfect. Learn, stretch, grow, and explore in order to be agile.
A key element of a successful agile process is to keep the customer involved. In your work, seek feedback from the people who receive your outputs and look for input about how you can improve your effectiveness. In your personal life, focus on how you can add to others’ experiences. Bring your positive attitude to your children or partner. Add your great sense of humor to interactions with your friends and contribute perspective to volunteer work. Overall, consider how you serve others with your best skills and talents—one of the foundations of agile.
Focus on improvement
The agile model is effective because sets of tasks are performed in sprints—short cycles for which the team receives regular feedback every few weeks. You can apply this lesson from agile by always focusing on how you can get better.
When you’re staying home and can’t go as frequently to the office, the fitness club, or even social gatherings, there is a risk you’ll stagnate. Seek out new challenges at work. Raise your hand for the tricky project and offer to help a colleague. In your personal life, look for the opportunity to improve your fitness levels or spend time with family and friends (in physically distanced ways).
Times are tough, but you can be agile in your work and personal life. To apply agility to your life, take small steps, work with others, experiment, support your social circle, along with continue learning. Together, these will help you be as flexible, coordinated, and balanced as you can be—all important traits to endure, survive, and thrive through this challenging period.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.