Scrum for One
In this episode I explore a productivity method for creativity called Scrum for One.
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about the creative process. In it, I explore ways to avoid creative blocks and procrastination.
If you're a fellow multipotentialite, someone who has many different creative pursuits, you might relate to the struggle of juggling different projects at the same time. This episode in particular might interest you if you have a multitude of creative projects going on at once. I'll be talking about a planning technique I use called Scrum for One.
It's the beginning of the day and I've just finished my first cup of coffee. I'm on my iPad, scrolling through the news, scanning through my Instagram feed, and then watching some new videos on YouTube.
The news is depressing and boring. Instagram is full of amazing artwork that causes me to focus on my lack of productivity. And YouTube? Well, it's just full of people ranting.
I look at my phone and realize that I have only two minutes before my first client meeting of the day.
But you know what? My client work goes smoothly. I'm a member of my client's technology services team. And we use the Agile methodology to guide our software development. It seems to work pretty well. As a team we're working on many different projects at once and Agile helps us stay focused and productive.
The day is busy, so by the end of the day I'm mentally exhausted. I end up doom-scrolling on my iPad again. I'm not making any progress on my many personal creative projects.
The contrast between work and my free time is palpable. At work I'm focused and productive and I feel supported, in large part due to the team successful use of Agile.
And so I start to wonder. Even though Agile is intended for teams, could there be a personal version of Agile?
It's a strange question to ask whether you could apply Agile to your own artistic process. The myth of creative work is that it has to be magical and spontaneous. We make up that you can't force creativity, that you need to wait for the muses to show up before you can do any meaningful creative work.
Multipotentialites in particular thrive on spontaneity and novelty, so being tied to a process or methodology might lead to a lack of excitement. The idea of using a methodology like Agile for personal creativity can be quite intimidating for some people.
Perfectionists might also shy away from such a process. Agile emphasizes using the tools, materials, and time at hand, instead of waiting for the perfect moment. For perfectionists, this might seem like a constraint that limits their ability to achieve perfection in their art.
But my curiosity is peaked. So I Google Agile for personal use. And the first article that shows up is Scrum for One by Dustin Wax. I'm intrigued, so I read on.
Agile puts a great emphasis on constant feedback. Dustin explains that the term scrum comes from rugby and represents the team huddle after each play. In agile, the daily standup meetings give team members the ability to report on progress and identify any needs going forward. The meetings are typically no more than 15 minutes long.
In the Scrum for One model you check in with yourself every day. This could be in a journal or a diary or on a simple notepad. You make notes on how your projects are going and you identify any needs going forward, perhaps noting something that you might want to research or noting a tool or material to add to a shopping list.
The daily check-in is also an opportunity for self-reflection. “How did I do today? What worked well? What can I do better?”
This enhanced self-awareness is one of the primary benefits of the model. It helps you identify things to improve. You make frequent adjustments to your work habits instead of waiting until the end of a long project to figure out what you can do better.
Another Scrum for One principle is to work with what you have so that projects don't stall. Most project plans will have many steps, so if you can't make progress on one step, you could probably make some progress on another step. And if you're like me and have multiple projects, you can probably make progress on another project while you wait to restart the one you're stuck on.
With daily check-ins, it's important to work towards clearly define short-term goals. Vague goals that stretch over months are often discouraging. It's much better to have reasonable but meaningful goals that you can name and measure every day.
If you're writing a book which can take months, create a daily goal of 500 to a thousand words a day. Then in your daily scrum check-in you have a measure that you can reflect upon.
Setting short-term goals and tracking progress daily allows you to stay focused and motivated. Breaking down larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks helps you prioritize your time and make progress in multiple projects simultaneously.
The last Agile principle that can be applied to your personal process is the sprint plan. This is a planning step where you decide what project or projects you'll be working on over the next week or so. It could be just a simple checklist. But the important thing is to have it out and visible as you work on your projects and also when you do your daily check-ins.
In a traditional Agile sprint, you would be responsible for just one project or set of tasks. But in Scrum for One that may not be practical. After all, we have all kinds of roles that we play in our daily lives. What does help though is to set aside consistent time to work on your own stuff. And even the simplest of sprint plans can help you focus during the time that you've blocked off for your own creative projects.
Dustin explains that this is not anything like a complete productivity system. But just applying the daily check-in process is a big benefit. He says, “The next time you're stuck ask yourself the simple question, ‘What's standing in my way right now?’ And see if that doesn't lead to, ‘Okay, what am I going to do about it?’”
I have to admit I was never much of a planner. It wasn't that I couldn't focus, I can. But every day I would find myself interested in something new. This is something that many multipotentialites experience. I was starting projects but not finishing many of them. I felt aimless in my own creative goals. I blamed myself for not being productive enough. By the time I was finished with work and family, I was too tired for creative work. And when I did have time, I faced decision paralysis, not knowing how to start or what to start.
Scrum for One changed all of that for me. I started using it when I applied for and was accepted in a local artist-in-residence program. I had three months to finish five different kinetic art pieces. And I needed something that would keep me on track.
Every weekend I created a new sprint plan. And during the week I worked on my projects and did a daily check-in with myself. “How was I doing? Is there something I needed? What was I going to work on next?”
One thing I realized early on is that I could be quite productive in the early morning. I had over an hour and a half of time every day between breakfast and when I started my client work that was previously spent surfing the web and other mindless stuff.
And where before I would struggle to decide what I wanted to do in the mornings, I now had that decided the night before. Each morning I was jumping right into my project because I knew what I was going to do.
What using this method revealed to me was that in addition to helping me finish the art pieces on time, it was helping me change my view of myself. What I like about Scrum for One is the emphasis on introspection and self-reflection. “How am I doing?” is such a powerful question. I'm no longer blaming myself for not being productive.
And I don't feel that I've lost any spontaneity. I have the flexibility to choose to do something different from my sprint plan every day. And as a multipotentialite that flexibility is freeing.
As for perfectionism, I've always felt that was more of a strategy to hide your talents than to use them well. Scrum for One encourages you to use your creativity, even if the time isn’t right or you don't have the right tools and materials.
I often find that I have a creative breakthrough when I'm faced with limitations. For example, I made a prototype automaton of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fighting with lightsabers. I made it with cardboard and Popsicle sticks. And the motions were crude and imprecise, but that imprecision gave the figures a human-like quality as well as a feeling of weariness that seems appropriate for the battle.
I don't find Scrum for One intimidating at all. In fact, it's just the opposite. It's comfortable because it's routine. And I feel a sense of constant course correction. Decision paralysis has basically disappeared because I'm making small affirmative decisions in my daily scrum check-ins.
So that's my journey with Scrum for One. As I wrap up this episode, I want to challenge you to try Scrum for One in your own creative process. Whether you're a writer, a painter, a musician or creator of any kind, give this a go.
It doesn't require you to turn your life upside down or to commit to a rigorous regimen. It just requires a few minutes every day to check in with yourself. Plan your sprints, break down your creative goals into manageable daily tasks and reflect on your progress regularly. And remember it's okay to adjust your plan along the way. That's the beauty of the system.
The important thing is not how well you stick to the plan. But how well you listen to yourself. Honor your own process and find your path to productivity. This methodology is not about perfection, but about continuous progress.
Thank you for tuning in to today's Creative Shoofly podcast. Your time and interest are truly appreciated. If this episode inspired you consider subscribing and sharing your thoughts on Apple Podcasts. Remember, embrace your creative spirit, continue exploring, imagining and making. Every idea, every brush stroke, every note matters.
See you in the next episode.
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