See Part 1 here!
In the picture above is my entire dissertation's line of argument, written out on whiteboard paper across our living room wall. Tangible!
Research on a cadence
In Agile, cadence means that there is a constant rhythm to how you do things, usually in the form of some set number of days you will plan your work for, do it and then reflect at the end. This is especially useful in large undertakings where you don’t know how much there is to do, how long it will take, or even if you want to do it all. Working on a cadence also involves creating routines and ceremonies on a regular schedule, so it is just a perfect fit for working on a dissertation.
I’ve been working on a one-week cadence for four weeks now and it seems to work for me. My week starts by setting weekly objectives (see previous post). I try to do this on Fridays because I usually have a discussion with one of my supervisors on Friday afternoons and I can often make “promises” on what I want to focus on next week. I write my objectives as a checklist so that every list item is a statement on the lines of “X is done”. Once the objectives are written, I’m ready to plan my week.
On Sunday, I take a picture of my weekly calendar (see previous post) for last week for record keeping, and wipe it clean. The format of my weekly plan is essentially two block of work including everything else, trying to be as specific as I can while having as few items for each block as I can:
Preparing this helps in two things: I get serious about what I have time for on the following week regarding my objectives, and I have something to start working on every morning. I use the Kanban board to track what thought-out work item I’m working on at that moment so I can flexibly follow leads and inspiration to tackle tasks in the domain I’ve set in the calendar. This helps me keep myself in maximum productivity and minimum context switching.
To motivate myself to keep writing, I use tracking and accountability. Tracking means that I mark a tally for each 25-minute interval I have spent working during a day, which gives me some sort of metric how well I could to stick to my schedule (good day is around 7, all time high is 10). Accountability means that I must send that week’s results (usually the dissertation document with tracked changes) by noon on Thursday to the supervisor who will give me feedback on Friday. I have been very lucky to have two supervisors who have agreed to take turns commenting my work on alternating weeks. It really keeps me working for the extra mile so I can get the most feedback, and writing for clarity because I know someone will read it. Now if only you could write automated tests for your dissertation…
Enabling a sustainable pace
A sustainable pace means that the team must be able to keep a steady output by keeping their work hours reasonable, avoid damaging their morale and make sustainable decisions in their work so that they aren’t overwhelmed by e.g. bug fixes or major refactoring.
For me, sustainable pace means keeping my health and sanity intact through this three-month window:
- Exercise – keeping my posture and support muscles healthy. Before the writing leave started, I got a gym membership with personalized instructions that I go to three times a week for general aerobic health. I also have 30 min Pilates on Wednesdays for guided exercise on core muscles and 30 minutes of daily yoga for balance and coordination. Sounds like a lot but it has worked wonders on my stamina and I’ve had zero back problems even though I write all day.
- Mediation – focus and stress management. I’ve been doing 10 minutes of app-guided meditation with a 10-day free trial for. Mostly it helps me orient myself and get writing every day, but I’ve been happy to find that some of the practices have stuck with me.
- Rest – ensuring I have enough time to recover from writing. No working after 5 pm. or on weekends, and going to bed by 11 pm. This was less of a challenge for the first three weeks since I’ve been exhausted from writing my 2 pm when I’ve been writing since the morning, but having more energy and drive for writing means that I have to set boundaries for myself. Burn-out isn’t Agile.
- Calendar management – learning to say no. I’ve had to turn down so many interesting meetings, breakfasts, lunches and more to protect my writing time. Obviously this means that I won’t have meetings during the day, but also that I won’t be out late or drinking if I intend to write the next morning. On the other hand, discipline with working times has enabled me to dedicate Friday nights and weekends for staying in touch with my wife, friends and family.
That’s my Lean and Agile research routines in a nutshell! Do you have questions about my research practice? Did I leave something out? I’d love to do Part 3 as a Q&A so leave your questions in the comments here, on Twitter or on Facebook!