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How to be more productive in your life and business (by actually knowing where you spend your time)

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Without getting in to a heated philosophical debate on Rationalism vs. Empiricism, I’m going to jump right in to how you can use empirical data and gamify your life to measure progress, learn from and predict future throughput for yourself or your team as your working towards your goals.

First off, what the fuck is empirical data you ask?  It’s a pretty simple to understand actually.

Back in the “old” days, when I asked my teams how long something would take to complete, they’d give me an estimate in months, weeks, days or hours.  Sometimes they would take past experience of creating something similar in to account, but usually not.  They’d basically guess.  And most of the time these guesses were pretty far off.  Hence project overruns that plagued us up until the last 6 years or so.

So what changed over the last handful of years that now all of a sudden individuals and teams were able to predict, almost exactly, how much time a project was going to take.  Empirical data.

Rather than providing estimates for tasks in time, teams now use what we call “relative estimation”. That is, how big  (or small) is this first task on a numbered scale (those numbers are called “points”), then how big is every other task on my list of shit to do compared to that first one.

So now you have 5 tasks, each has a different size because they differ in complexity, unknowns & risk (you don’t always know up front what you’re getting yourself in to when you start working on something, so you factor that in to the score you give it). Use whatever scoring system you want – 1,2,3,4,5 or 10,20,30,40,50.

You set out to work on these 5 tasks over the next week and you get four of them completed. Let’s say it totaled 20 points. The next week you start working on the task you didn’t complete the previous week, along with six other tasks for a total of 40 points.  This week you charge it and get 30 points completed. You repeat the same process the next week and complete a few more tasks for a total of 35 points.

Now you’ve been working for three weeks. Week one you completed 20 points, week two 40 points and week three 35 points.

Here’s the cool part.  The average of those three weeks is 31.6 points. Let’s call it 30. Empiricism asserts that given everything else going on in your life – family, distractions, other work, etc that you can safely commit to 30 points worth of tasks each week and get those completed. For the teams I coach, that number “30” is now known as their “average velocity”, and I use it to project (very accurately) how long a project will take to complete.  I also use it to push teams to look at ways to increase that number by making changes in how they are working.  Always looking for opportunities to get better, work more efficiently, communicate better, etc.

Simply stated, Empiricism uses past performance as a way to predict future output.

You can easily use this method to understand what you can comfortably commit to on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis and as you gain results from your work, you can predict how much you’ll be able to achieve even with everything else in your life you have to deal with. Just remember that in order for this technique to work, you have to be consistent in the length of time you are measuring (1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, etc).

Chris PuglisiComment