How to use SCRUM to fight procrastination

Danny Spina

Danny Spina

TL;TR I use a modified version of the SCRUM method and I apply it to my personal life and TO-DO App to get things done. You can do the same with every app you want (I use TickTIck) and build your personal Jira for your personal life.

I’m a web developer, and that means I deal with AGILE work systems.

What I’m most in contact with is surely SCRUM, used together with Atalassian work tools (see Jira) that all the developers out there who are reading this post know, even if maybe they don’t use them personally.

What I want to explain in this post is how you can effectively use the SCRUM methodology to manage your personal life (and I don’t mean personal software projects, but just the management of things to do in your life).

Disclaimer: of course there are a lot of methods to complete the tasks. Tons of books have also been written and each personal growth blog has its own specific method. Obviously this happens because there is no method that works in itself, but each of us has different needs and the systems have to be modified in order to adhere to our needs.
This means that what I’m about to explain is a method that I have experimented with, modified, and that works FOR ME. It does not mean that it is the right or the final method.

What SCRUM means

First of all it is better to say a few words about what SCRUM and the Agile method is for those who do not know it.

The SCRUM method is part of that category of agile workflow adopted especially in software development. We assume that the normal non-agile workflow for completing a project is the so-called waterfall method, since all processes are executed one after the other.

By Peter Kemp / Paul Smith – Adapted from Paul Smith’s work at wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10633070

This model brings with it several problems. For example, what happens if customer requirements change during the implementation phase? Or if the design is changed during the verification phase?

It can remain an efficient model, for example when the project is small or there is no danger of requirements changing, but an agile method brings several advantages.

Basically, it can be said that the agile method generally consists in breaking down tasks into smaller tasks and working in an iterative way, unlike the cascade method. This brings several advantages in terms of work efficiency and time management.

This explanation is not very precise and too short to give an idea of what it means to work with an Agile methodology, but it is a complex topic that is difficult to summarize in a few lines. If you want to go deeper I suggest you to start from Wikipedia and continue the deepening on Google. There are tons of articles useful to understand the basic concepts of Agile methodology.

Within the Agile methodology there are several frameworks that can be applied, one of these is SCRUM.

By Dr ian mitchell – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44894952
By Lakeworks – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3526338

This method is often used in combination with the Kanban system, a method to manage tasks by distributing them on a table and moving them from column to column according to the status of the individual tasks.

By Dr ian mitchell – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20245783

As mentioned before, one of the advantages of the agile method is to break it down into smaller tasks.

The methodology used in SCRUM is to divide tasks and divide them into a hierarchy and define different categories: Themes, Initiatives, Epic, Stories.

  • Stories, also called “user stories,” are short requirements or requests written from the perspective of an end user.
  • Epics are large bodies of work that can be broken down into a number of smaller tasks (called stories).
  • Initiatives are collections of epics that drive toward a common goal.
  • Themes are large focus areas that span the organization.
from https://www.atlassian.com/agile/project-management/epics-stories-themes

You can go directly to Atlassian.

As you see it is a method that applies perfectly to teamwork. But how to do it if the team is just you and you don’t have a software project but just a list of things to accomplish?

This is how I do it, modifying the SCRUM method to my needs.

How do I apply it

First of all I delegate all my tasks and all the things I have to remember to an app.

It doesn’t matter which app it is, you can choose the one you prefer. What’s important is that you can categorize the tasks, create subtask and set reminders.

In essence, this to-do app must become your personal Jira, and your commitments are basically tickets.

I personally get along well with TickTick, but it’s just one of many.

Tickets

As already said, the tasks to be completed will be the equivalent of the tickets in Jira, which will be categorized according to the SCRUM model.

In my case, Themes and Initiatives were useless, and I decided to divide my commitments into Epic, Stories and single-tasks.

The difference is the complexity of the task: if only one single 5-10 minutes action is enough to complete the task, then the “ticket” will be a single-task.

If instead a single action is not enough, or the action lasts more than 10 minutes then it means that the action can be broken down into smaller actions ( it doesn’t have to be a dogma, evaluate case by case) and then it becomes an Epic with Stories.

Categories

The categories in which you will have to subdivide your “tickets” then are:

  • Open: an Epic still waiting to be started
  • In Progress: Epic started or does not require action by a third party to be completed (the response to an email for example)
  • On hold: Epic paused, for example because you are waiting for feedback from the outside that is not up to you (always a reply to an email)
  • Done: Epic completed
  • Single task: Task that can be performed with a single action lasting less than 5-10 minutes

TickTick allows you to assign “Tags” to tasks. These tags are the ones I use to assign these categories to my tasks.

Priority

TickTick allows you to prioritize each Task. It is a system that I use, and I always prioritize the task so that I can always keep an eye on how important something is.

It’s not fundamental for the purposes of the method I use, but if your app allows it, I suggest you to do it (if your app doesn’t have this feature specifically but you can assign tags, then you can create tags to assign a priority. Be smart 🙂 ).

Reminders

The reminders are fundamental to fight procrastination and especially to complete tasks emptying our minds. The purpose of setting up a reminder for EVERYTHING is to be able to write a single-task or an Epic with its Stories and then not to think about it anymore, until the notification arrives.

Without setting a reminder, we will surely forget to check the status of a task or complete it.

Daily

Part of the SCRUM framework is also the Daily. It is nothing more than a daily meeting of maximum duration of 15 min (in theory, if you are a dev you know what I mean 😅) in which there is a comparison on what was done yesterday, what will be done today and the solution of possible obstacles for the development of the day in a profitable way.

Of course when there is a team. But in our case?

Well in our case it is a reminder (TickTick does it automatically but you can set a reminder with each app) that sounds daily, and reminds us… to check the app.

Every day, at a certain time (I set it for 10 a.m.) the app reminds me of my to-do list, and I quickly take a look at it to get an idea of what I will have to do today and what the current to-do situation is.

I recommend it, it seems redundant but it is an important habit to fight procrastination.

Epic and Stories

Which is where we get into the thick of it.

TickTick allows you to create “subtasks”, and is the function I use to give Stories to Epic.

Another nice function of TickTick is to set the percentage of completion of tasks, which I always use when I complete a Stories. It is not a must though.

Here is an example of Epic:

The fundamental function that TickTick has is the creation of subtask, which can be managed exactly like normal tasks. It means that they can have their own description, their own reminders, etc.

This allows me to set reminders for each Story I am working on.
Fundamental.

Single Task

Singletasks are those tasks that can be done in less than 5-10 minutes with a single action.

In this case I’ll create a task without subtasks and assign the tag “single-task”.

How I use it in practice

I’ll give you a practical example of how I move to manage commitments:

Let’s say you have to complete a task, such as taking the car to the mechanic.

I start by creating a task on TickTick with the title “Take the car to the mechanic”.

I don’t know any mechanic. Then I have to find one first!

This already makes my task an Epic, because I have to find a mechanic (then do a search online), then I have to contact him, make an appointment and physically take the car there.

As you see, the stories are already defined. So I create subtasks with these tasks and give Epic high priority (the car is broken and I need it) and set a date for Epic. The date, in this case, is dictated by how long I can be without a car. Let’s say two weeks. This will be the date of my Epic (in TickTick you can see at a glance how much time is left until the set deadline, so in my case in the date I will have “15 Days”) so you can see how urgent is the Epic itself. I also change the title of the Epic to “Fix car”.

Now however I can’t look for a mechanic, so I enter the story “find mechanic” and set a reminder for this afternoon.

For now, I’m assigning the “open” tag to Epic.

The afternoon arrives and the “find mechanic” notification sounds. I look for it online and find 2 interesting and close to home. I mark how completed the story and update the description of the second story, “contact mechanic”, with the necessary information to contact the 2 mechanics found (name, address, tel, email and website).

Once contacted, sign completed the second story and update the description of the Epic with, for example, “contact 2 mechanics, see related story, I await response” and set the tag on-hold.

As soon as I receive the answers I go ahead with the third story, mark the reminders, update the information, and replace the tag in “in-progress”.

And so on, until I have completed all the stories and the Epic is complete.

For single-task, such as “shopping” then simply set the task and when it is completed the sign as done.

The tag “Done” would be technically useless, I use it anyway when I finished the stories of an Epic, just to keep it documented and in a clean way, but it is not necessary.

Extra tips

Loop

What I use are also the recurring Reminders.

In this case, I create the tasks set with a repetition and place them in a different section of the list, called “loop” so that I have a division between the tasks I have to do and the tasks I have to do regularly.

The tasks to be looped in can be for example reminders to take pills, or things to remember every week, etc.

Focus

An interesting function of TickTick is the “focus” mode. Other is the tomato technique, which can be activated for each task, in order to stay focused for that period of time on that task.

Why I have complicated my life in this way

It may seem absurd to manage the tasks of one’s private life in this way, but I assure you that it is much more complex to say than to do, and in the end the task management is much faster than it seems.

In addition, I am by nature a chronic procrastinator, and this system reminds me of the same system I use at work helps me to avoid procrastinating.

I want to see the tasks that go on, I want to see the completion percentages that grow, and in addition the system leverages on something I know well at work, which pushes me to take a ticket and complete it, just like in the office.

The satisfaction of seeing the tickets closed is addictive, and that’s just what it takes to stop procrastinating: to become addicted to completing tasks 😂.

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