Full disclosure: I'm not an expert on agile AT ALL. I hear people talking about it all the time, and I nod and smile. Best I can tell, agile is an approach to business that focuses on efficiency.
But what I am an expert on is washi tape and markers and stickers and buying office supplies.
In that vein, may I present to you, my scrum board! (I covered the details of the cards because they are top secret plans to save the world, and I don't want them falling into enemy hands. Sorry.)
If you want to connect with a real expert on agile, check out the work of Rebeccca Pope-Ruark. She wrote a book called Agile Faculty and she wrote a great blog post about scrum boards.
My blog post will cover Scrumming (verbified it) Karen Style.
My understanding of a scrum board is that it supports an agile work process. Whatever that means. Let's just get to the fun office supplies.
I scored a board at Michael's over the weekend for only $10 using a much sought-after 50% off coupon. I used my husband's tools to drill stuff into other stuff, strung a wire across the back of the board, and hung it on the wall in my home office.
There are typically three categories on a scrum board: TO DO, WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS), AND DONE. I decorated some paper with those titles using stickers, markers, and washi tape and pinned them to my board.
FYI: I've seen a lot of people using dry erase boards and post-it notes for their scrum boards. I've found that post-it notes fall off, and then my dog eats them, and that doesn't seem very agile, so I went with a cork bulletin board and push pins instead.
Then, I started filling out cards with tasks (I cut 4x6 pieces of cardstock in half for the cards). I used different color markers and my favorite Papermate Inkjoy pens to list my tasks on the cards.
Here are a few epiphanies I've had about scrumming:
1. Don't sleep on the DONE category.
When I first started researching how to set up my board, I couldn't understand the DONE category. Why take up space on my beautiful board with tasks that are DONE? Why not just throw the DONE tasks in the trash? Since then, I've moved five tasks from WIP to DONE, and it was freaking fantastic. I'm realizing that the DONE category is really about reinforcing positive habits and celebrating success. Rather than just staring at all that I have TO DO, I can remind myself of all that I've DONE. This helps to motivate me to do more. When I look at my board and imagine moving a task from WIP to done, or from TO DO to DONE, it inspires me to keep going.
2. The visuals are powerful.
It's really hard to make decisions about where to invest our time, isn't it?
I've caught myself, since hanging my scrum board, glancing up at the WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS) section. Right now, for example, I have eight big tasks that are WIP, including paid work and creative projects, both inside and outside of higher education. This is, of course, in addition to being a human who takes care of a little human and is a partner to a big human, and who has a canine shadow, and who needs to take care of her human body. Eight is great. Eight is more than enough.
Before agreeing to any additional tasks, whether they're my own or someone else's, I really need to look at that WIP column. Do I have room for anything else? If I add something to WIP, am I willing to subtract something else? I can also choose to wait, and take on that new task after I've moved something from WIP to DONE. Rather than just thinking this through in my head where things tend to spin around in circles, being able to visually see it is really helpful to my decision-making process.
3. My ideas are in one place.
Oh my ideas. I have a few. Thousand. What I love about my scrum board is that it's a safe space to store my ideas. I went through all of my notebooks and asked myself whether an idea was board-worthy. When in doubt, I put it on the board. It gives me a sense of peace to know that my good ideas won't get lost in the shuffle. When space opens up in the WIP section, I can look at all of my ideas in one space so that I can prioritize which one is most important to me.
I also much prefer having my ideas where I can see them rather than hidden in a notebook. Writing ideas in a notebook means they won't be completely lost, but it's so easy to ignore our notebook ideas. I see my TO DO ideas every day, and it helps me to feel closer to them, as if they're more likely to happen and it's just a matter of time before they come to fruition.
If you've been looking for a way to prioritize your projects, a scrum board might be helpful. My biggest tip here is to make it your own. Do you want a virtual scrum board or one you can touch? Corkboard or dry erase? I've also seen people getting creative with the three categories. My sense is that keeping the basic model in place and then making it your own is the way to go.
I had to take a sick day yesterday, like a real one where you stay in bed and watch an 80s movie and try not to think about all the work that you have to do. I am fully remote in my work, which makes sick days particularly challenging, because my home office is twenty feet away from my bed, beckoning to me to come do all the work.
I feel better today, and I'm really grateful for that. I'm working on never taking these good days for granted. I noticed, though, that when I sat down to look over my schedule this morning, I was in attack mode.
My rationale was that since I didn't work much yesterday, I needed to work twice as hard today. Isn't that funny that this was my first instinct? Because when you think of it, doesn't it make more sense to take it slow today, since my body is still likely trying to return to its balance point? I took a breath, and let go of attack mode. I decided to move at a steady, sustainable pace instead. So far, so good.
I'm realizing that after a gorgeous break this summer, where I spent an inordinate amount of time in a hammock, I came back to work in August like this guy:
I think we talk a lot about getting burned out in jobs we hate, but not nearly enough about how doing work we love, with people we love, also requires us to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. That's been true for me, at least. I love the work I'm doing, and I want to do more. Which is a good problem to have, as they say, but if I don't take time out for rest and relaxation, it won't be sustainable.
Sustainable work: slow and steady. I want to learn more about that, write more about that, and find others who are having that conversation.
As I was writing this post, I saw a professor post on Twitter about taking a sick day, and felt a little less alone. Higher education, in general, can be a tough space to share our human frailties. Writing this feels weird and vulnerable, and I came THIS CLOSE to stopping myself, and writing something confident and bold and focused and strong instead.
But I want to hear from more people in higher education about the art and science of being human, and I've learned that if you want to see more of something in the world, you have to be willing to start with yourself.
I posted about goal setting, time management, and planning on Sunday night. I have a plan to do more work in that space, as I love talking to people about those topics, sharing what I know, and learning from them. The past couple of days have been a reminder for me that always, always, within that conversation about working toward our goals, we need to remember our bodies and spirits, instead of just focusing on where our minds want to go.
Years ago, I read something that said that before we add things to our lives, we should think about what we're going to subtract. If not, we'll just keep adding more and more until we reach the point of complete overwhelm.
That concept has stuck with me for a long time, and I try to share it with my students, many of whom are starting their first terms in college. "You just added a 10-20 hour per week commitment to your life. What did you subtract?"
Too often the answer is sleep, which won't work. Our brains, hearts, and spirits need sleep to be healthy and strong. I have learned to protect my sleep at all costs, and I encourage others to do the same.
If not sleep, then what? Time with our kids? A social life? Our fitness routine? There are no easy answers here.
The question of subtraction applies to anyone who wants to add something new to their lives, whether it's a college course, new job responsibilities, a relationship, or a gym membership. Adding things is great, but what will you subtract?
I saw this quote from Chani Nicholas over the summer, and I think it speaks to this tension of doing the math in our lives. We are an addition culture. Do more. Be more. Experience more. If all we do is add, we're going to bury ourselves in new experiences. I'm all for adding things to our lives, but I wonder if we need to become better at exploring the power of subtraction.
I write about higher education.