How To Teach Students Better Productivity with Agile Results



“Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students.” — Cesar Chavez

Student success depends on productivity skills. Agile Results helps improve student productivity and helps students become more productive.

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Tom Cassidy.  Tom has been a mover and shaker in the education arena for years.  He is the creator of The Cassidy Method which is a deeper learning system for smart people. 

Tom has trained more than 100,000 people over the last 20 years, helping them to become better thinkers, better teachers, more effective communicators, happier employees, more effective entrepreneurs and even more sensible eaters.

And he has more than 100,000 students enrolled in his Udemy programs.

A few years back, Tom discovered Agile Results and has used it to help his students become more productive in school and life.

This is Tom’s story…

Tom Cassidy on How Agile Results is the Better Productivity System for Students

Tom here.

We were all teenagers once.  And some of us know teenagers now.

A few of us have teenagers still.

It’s a battle.

I’ve been an educator for nearly 30 years, focusing on the 14-19 age group and I can confirm that most teenagers have a hell of a lot on their plate.

I’m not talking merely about the amount of studying they have to do and all the activities that consume their lives.  I’m not even just including the social aspects of being a teenager…

I’m talking about the physiological and psychological changes that they’re undergoing.

There is a lot going on.

And part of being a teenager is that you know best, which makes you resistant to all kinds of non-official input.

This is perhaps why most parents have a hard time influencing their children. And that’s also why schools can be a great help. We can put things in place that leverage ‘teacherly authority’ to encourage students in the development of good habits.

There’s a lot of research that indicates that the teenage brain really is quite different from an adult brain. Yet, since their logic processing skills are often fully-developed, most teenagers give the impression of adult-level, decision-making competence. This causes much confusion to all parties but that conversation is beyond the scope of this piece.

In this article I’m going to talk about how helping teenagers be more effective in terms of getting things done is a great place to start, and what schools can do about that.

What is a “Productive Student”?

Productivity is simply a gauge of your output over a period of time.  Productivity is how efficient and effective you are at producing results.

As you can imagine, student productivity is a hot topic because the more effective a student can be, the more they can realize their learning potential.

A productive student is able to balance school and life, and to get the results they want with less time and effort, while maximizing the value they get from the time and energy they spend learning.

A productive student takes care of their mind, body, emotions, and spirit, while managing their responsibilities, their relationships, and their results.

They focus, plan and drive the outcomes, the goals, and experiences that they want to achieve while growing, practicing, and mastering their skills.

A non-productive student crams and misses out their chance to learn something better.  A non-productive student becomes physically fragile and wears themself out and reduces their output.

A non–productive student spends their time busy on urgent and unimportant things.

Better Decisions are the Backbone of Better Productivity and Better Results

How a student makes decisions is fundamental to their productivity and their potential.

Any given student has a lot of discretionary effort that they apply each day to the myriad of choices all around them.

From a productivity perspective, they have to decide what to focus on, what to prioritize, what to spend their time and energy on, who to hang with, etc.

Interestingly, by setting some simple intentions, a student can guide all these little decisions and their micro-actions to accrue to better productivity and better results in school and life.

By starting with a vision for the day and a vision for the week, a student creates a North Star to guide them through their daily chaos, challenges, chores, and chances.

But more importantly, just by practicing the art of setting simple intentions, they are practicing the skill of vision, the skill of focus, the skill of prioritization, and the skill of task management that will serve them now and for the future.

And this daily and weekly practice will help them master themselves while mastering the art of making better decisions.

The Challenge of Decisions and Now vs. the Future

One thing that seems clear is that teenagers make bad decisions because they are closer to the dog end of the scale than the ideal end of the scale, where willpower, discipline and better habits reside.

Aside from the best trained dogs, most dogs have almost zero willpower. They live in the moment. They transcend almost nothing.

Humans struggle with willpower, with most of us closer to the dog end than we’re willing to admit.

Dogs live in the moment.

They have very poor resistance to temptation. They eat whatever they can, they sleep whenever they like, they’re not big on moderation of any sort yet they don’t want to miss out on anything exciting: like going for a walk. Even putting on your coat can drive them into a frenzy.

The teenage brain is quite like this. It’s not very sophisticated in many ways, and the ability to comprehend the long term consequence of repeated daily actions is limited. This is called future discounting and although most of us do it, teenagers do it much more than we might expect.

There’s evolutionary reasons for this too. Teenagers needed to have high-tolerance for risk in order for them to try new things, to spread their wings, explore and the world and forge their own paths.

And in particular the teenage brain is wired to be ‘up for new stuff’.

And that’s a good thing, but like anything, it comes with challenges.

The Challenge of Distractions

The challenge for teenagers today is that there are simply so many more distractions than when we were teenagers.

There’s always someone who’s not studying. And you’re connected to them intimately.

So there’s always someone who’s doing something cool and the fear of missing has a powerful allure.

When I was a kid I didn’t really need to have tremendous self-discipline to complete the work I was being set.

Of course, there are always things to distract you, for me it was usually things like the sound of everyone else playing cricket in the garden on a balmy summer evening. (Yes, we had several of these in England when I was growing up. At least 5).

This fear of missing out was a big factor in curtailing some of my study sessions.

There’s just nothing harder to resist than the siren call of other people having fun.

So if you’re going to solve the productivity problem that teenagers have, you’ve got to be able to cut through all the noise.

It’s got to be simple. It’s got to be easy.

Starting the Piano is Easy, Starting the Violin is Not

And perhaps the best thing about Agile Results is its simplicity.

You can get something out of it even if you’ve only got 5 minutes. But it can grow with you your whole life.

Think of the piano not the violin.

The violin is start-intensive. It takes years of practice before you get anything approaching a decent sound out of it, whereas the piano is a lot more forgiving.

A five-year-old with no especial musical ability can still get the piano to sound reasonably good at their first attempt.

They just hit the key and boom, it makes an ok sound right away.

Compare this to a kid’s first attempt on a violin.


Mastery is a Muscle But You Need a Simple On Ramp

Interestingly, when I was about five, I came home from school declaring that I wanted to learn the violin. My parents agreed it would be a great idea, but promptly suggested I learn the piano first, to give me more options later on.

Can’t think why they did that…

Luckily for them my taste for the violin waned and I ended up loving the piano. In fact I still play piano almost every day, so maybe my parents did the right thing!

Now, just because you can get a decent sound out of a piano at your first attempt, it doesn’t mean the piano is easier to master than the violin.

Mastery of a musical instrument is going to take a considerable amount of time whichever instrument you choose.

However, when you are looking to capture someone’s attention, with an evidently good thing to try, it’s really not a bad idea to have a simple “on-ramp” that makes it easier for them to just get started.

So the first part of the problem to solve might really be this one:

How might we get students to make better decisions about doing their work?

And this is what led me to Agile Results.

Agile Results is a Simple On Ramp to Mastery

Agile Results is a productivity system created by JD Meier through his experience leading high-performance teams in the software industry. I came upon his book ‘Getting Results the Agile Way’ and I’ve been using it for work and life since 2015.

It works especially well with teenage students.

Here’s why…

Getting students to make better decisions is all about stacking the deck in their favor.

Setting the right conditions in the first place. Designing the game so that it becomes easier to make better decisions (and by better decisions, I think we broadly mean decisions that our future selves would have chosen to make).

Agile Results is a great system because it’s really simple. You can start Agile Results with no more than 30 seconds of effort.

Use 3 Wins from Agile Results to Just Get Started

In learning theory this is called a low-floor, high-ceiling system and was popularized by Seymour Papert, educational theorist, founder of MIT Media Lab and artificial intelligence pioneer.

In summary, if you want people to do something new it’s really not a bad idea to have a simple “on-ramp” that makes it easy for them to just get started, and to start getting meaningful feedback.

And this is how we did it with our students:

The best place to start is with the idea of chunking everything into 3 Wins.

And you begin with 3 Wins for the Day.

Wins, not actions. Wins are fun.

Not tasks to complete but outcomes to achieve, results to get.

But outcomes are boring. Wins are fun.

Results have an academic connotation. Wins are cool.

The Practice of 3 Wins for the Day

So, every day we get our students to share 3 Wins.  3 outcomes they’d be delighted to achieve by the end of the day.

It could be related to their studies or to do with any aspect of their life.

Sometimes it’s as simple as:

  1. Get to class on time.
  2. Have a good lunch.
  3. Plan the weekend party.

Other times it gets more sophisticated:

  1. Completed my revision schedule.
  2. Got to grips with Electrochemistry.
  3. Increased my push-up personal best.

Think in terms of simple headlines of achievements or goals.

Students get better at learning what’s valued and what wins look like, by hearing others articulate and express their goals or intentions as wins.

By sharing wins, and practicing mini-headlines, students learn how to add the fun factor to what they do and how to share the value of what they do.

And value is in the eye of the beholder, so they are really learning what they value, what their peers value, what the students value, and what the system they operate in values.

This creates clarity and ultimately improved productivity and effectiveness because value is the ultimate shortcut.

Ten at Ten Huddles to Share 3 Wins

It’s a really simple thing but it works great to set the scene for the day.

How do we implement it?

It’s a 10 minute meeting every day at 10 am in small groups of around 10 people. We call it 10 at 10.

Everyone shares their 3 Wins they want to achieve for the day. No details, just the headlines.

Teachers share their 3 Wins they wan to achieve for the day as well.

It’s quick and it’s simple.

10 am is a good time because even if you’re a late starter, you’re about ready by 10 am.

The wins don’t need to be written down, they just need to be stated publicly in a small group. Stating the wins out loud is important. There’s something magical about confessing intentions out loud in public.

And that’s about as far as we took Agile Results in schools.

10 at 10 has been one of the cornerstones of the process JD has been running for years and he finds it works well to create a shared vision especially when working with distributed teams.

In a project team you’re working to create a shared outcome, so there’s also the chance to recap what you did the previous day and ask for help but after playing with a few different iterations we settled on just the 3 Wins for the day.

We found that some students would work in 3 Wins for the Week and even 3 Wins for the Month.

In the fully-blown Agile Results we think of Monday Vision, Daily Wins and Friday Reflection as the engine-room of the system. However, for most people, most of the time, achieving 3 Wins every day is more than enough.

There’s always a trade-off between functionality and adherence. For students, getting them to stick to something simple every day was the biggest win for us. It worked.

If you use 3 Wins as your daily engine, you pick up momentum quite quickly. And the ability to get a fresh start every day is really important for teenagers.

Compiling huge laundry lists of things to do tends to overwhelm teenagers and tends to discourage them when they look at all the things they haven’t achieved.

Fresh starts every day are very empowering. You can write your story forward, one fresh day at a time.

So in terms of how to do it I would say simply this:

  1. Schedule a time for when the 3 Wins for the day meeting should happen. (10 am is a great time if you can make that work, but the idea is really to find a time in the morning to share in the morning to help shape your day).
  2. Keep the meeting to 10 minutes. (If it takes more than 10 minutes then your groups are too big.  You want the meeting to generate energy, not take it away.  Sharing intentions is fun, inspirational, and aspirational.)
  3. Rinse and repeat.

Regardless of how you start, using Agile Results to help you plan, prioritize, and focus your efforts can help instill lifelong skills that your students will thank you for in the years to come.

For more on Tom, check out The Cassidy Method and Tom’s Udemy courses.

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