Dennis Groves on Agile Results

What I have learned from practicing Agile Results, and how I implement it.

Before I met JD, and he introduced me to Agile Results. I would pick one important thing for the day and do it.

Because of my incubatory (some would say procrastinatory) nature, it would be a major accomplishment if I achieved the ‘one’ task by days end.

So many ‘fires’ would happen during the day; and I would never get around to ‘me.’

I would end the day emotionally exhausted, and resentful of the others around me who kept me from my daily goal.

When I met JD he was reputed to be doing 15 projects a year where as his peers at Microsoft did 3-5.

I was a bottom 10% guy; I did 1 project a year.

So JD, was not just a top 10% he is one of the top 1%.

What initially worried me about meeting with JD was that in the past the people like JD I had met were all workaholics, they have zero life balance; and I did not really think I would gain much from the introduction.

What I needed was more time alone to do my incubating, but also needed more time with my family.

Advice about working harder was not what I needed.

This fear was put to rest the first time I spoke to JD: The first thing he talked about was balance. I knew JD was a 1%er and so I was lucky to have been in the room with him, let alone have him investing his time in me; so I was paying attention; but as soon as he started talking about “Hotspots” I was as alert and attentive, I was hanging on every word.

He was not another workaholic advocating I work longer, harder, faster. He was talking about reduction.

Less is more. Buckets, flows, and frames.

This was strategy not tactics. I was hooked.

JD showed me how I was doing way more than one thing a day, and that I was doing the wrong things.

I needed to ‘do less’ of the things I was doing and more of the things that added congruence and value to my life.

I needed to set boundaries. I needed to manage my plate.

It was about this time I had learned about Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero; that was enlightening and I started doing it.

I had learned a useful tactics, and I shared it with JD. JD showed me how to simply that even more, with one email rule and Do it, Date it, Delegate or Delete.

No more hours and hours of reacting to emails. I learned to batch email to 30 minutes twice a day, and always have an empty inbox.

I now had a giant chunk of time to get work done in.

I started “the power of three” & “scalable outcomes” each morning I would create a text file with today’s date.

I then write down 3 things I needed to do that day (JD highly recommends doing this the night before; this is just an example of how I don’t follow instructions and experiment to see what works for me).

I then type a line under it… as in the example below:

  • Outcome a
  • Outcome b
  • Outcome c


  • yesterday todo a
  • yesterday todo b
  • yesterday todo c
  • yesterday todo d


  • new todo e
  • new todo f
  • new todo g
  • new todo h


  • could a
  • could b
  • could c

This is my ‘todo’ list – under the line I put all the things people ask me to do that day – either by email, phone call, or speaking with me. (my should list)

They will not be done until I complete my three outcomes for the day (my must list). Most of the time they will be actionable the following day, but sometimes they do get done same day.

The outcomes are a closed list; it has boundaries, it is achievable.

If I do those three things I have had a good day and accomplished all I set out to do. If I get more done, it is even better. And if I don’t that is perfectly ok.

The list under the line I allow to grow without bounds – this is an open list.

Actually, there is another open list, ‘the could list’ that is separated by a blank line after the should do or ‘todo-list’. This is a list where I record ideas, this is an incubation area. This should and could list is often the list from which I choose the three outcomes for the day.

But sometimes my outcomes are generated by my needs or desires, as necessary.

When a thing gets done I change the font to bold. This allows me to see what I have done and what I haven’t at a glance. (more recently I have been experimenting with various ways of doing this system with emacs org-mode)

Additionally, the ‘should do’ and ‘could do’ are carried over from day to day.

As a rule, I do my best to get all the should dos from the day before done each day. This forms another closed list; and is almost like a fourth Must do item.

I have noticed that open lists never get done – it is important to close them off so you can call them done; reward yourself with the feeling of having accomplished them. Open lists are a recipe for failure, because by definition you can’t successfully complete it.

As a result of these few practices; and Agile Results contains so much, much more that I haven’t put into practice.

I routinely not only get my 3 most important outcomes done and stay in balance with my life; I get another 9 things done.

This testimonial is a perfect example of the power of Agile Results.

JD emailed me during one of the busier times in my life, and I agreed to this task. I had 3 birthdays, two job interviews, full time school, part time work and homework.

In the past I simply wouldn’t have committed to the task, it would have overwhelmed me; and I wouldn’t have gotten it done.

Agile Results has allowed me to scale up to the demands of life, and scale back down and incubate.

—Dennis Groves