Simple practices that will enable you to do twice as much in half the time

Talking about Agile most people are thinking of Scrum, Teams, Kanban, and Sticky Notes. The team focus within agile is foundational and is the core building block building an Agile organisation. But there are also many small but yet powerful practices on an individual level that can actually drive a radical impact on your personal productivity. Agile is a different organisational mind-set, a different organisational setup, and a different organisational toolbox. But it is also a continuously growing productivity toolbox for individual use that consequently will have impact on the total team performance.

Today I want to share about a practice that we call ”Clean Room”. A practice that actually is made up of many small practices and, as important, a shift in mind-set. The idea behind Clean Room is to establish a clean and undisturbed environment where you and your people can focus. The Clean Room term comes from industries where highly clean laboratories are needed to perform certain types of work. I am sure you have all seen the pictures of people in white rooms.

For them it is of crucial importance that NOTHING enters that room that can disturb whatever they are busy doing. There is just no room for disturbance and interruptions.

Today most knowledge workers live in an organisational environment and culture that not just allow disturbance but are actually built on disturbance and interruption as an unconscious strategy. We tend to be like the Fire Guards, always ready to extinguish whatever fires that comes our way. A lot of knowledge workers come to work every day with no single focus and awareness of what to do today. Your entire carrier can be made up of fire extinguishing, responding to whatever happens to pop up in your mail inbox. The sound of your smart phone and your laptop mail inbox dictates your work and continues to interrupt you throughout the day with new fires to deal with.

Get back to the laboratory scenario. Imagine if that would be the pattern for their work. It would lead to a total disaster.

Other organisation is so driven by meetings that there are no actual room to do the real work. If that is your scenario, you as an Agile Manager need to deal with that and create room for real work and for the focus that Clean Room can give.

In a Clean Room you as an Agile Team is setting up times and hours where you are ”not allowed” to read emails and be online on other communication/social tools. This is so different to many of us, that it almost seems impossible in many organisations to achieve. Of course if your job is first line support, this is not a practise that would work for you. But for knowledge workers working with complex issues, such as problem solving, product/business/organisational/software development and you name it … this can actually be a simple practice that can enable you to do twice as much in half the time. During these Clean Rooms, the point is to find your creative spot – whether it’s in a quiet room, at home or in a café. If you believe that your work, and the things you work on is important (as the laboratory personell) than you need to create a working situation and culture that is in line with how you view your work.

The goal with Clean Room is to minimise interruptions and context swathing which will enhance focus and productivity. Clean Room techniques will also help you and your organisation to more and more focus on mid- and long term values and goals instead of just dealing with ”urgent” and ”important” fires that happens to arise. (And as you know, these urgent fires viewed in retrospective to often is proved to be neither urgent or important).

For Clean Room to be successful you need to focus on short deliveries (which you should anyway), having an ordered Backlog in place with well-defined tasks and clear goals. And most of all, you will need loads of discipline and a strong desire to become more focused and productive at work.

Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro technique? If not, stay tuned. 

/Jakob Rönnerfors
Organisational Coach @ mPeira