Very few people in the world, I’m quite certain, can truthfully describe themselves as productive.

 

 

The internet has opened the door for both massive productivity and massive procrastination. Given the two options, most people choose the latter, and I don’t blame them. When nobody’s watching, it’s human nature to take the easier option.

Even so, we hate this about ourselves. People will go to pretty dramatic lengths to improve their productivity. Take, for instance, the author of this VentureBeat guest column. Maneesh Sethi found he was wasting more than half of every day chatting and generally screwing around on the internet when he was supposed to be working. So Maneesh did what any rational person would do — he went on Craigslist and hired someone to slap him in the face every time he procrastinated.

The results? With a slapper watching over him, Maneesh was productive 98% of the time, up dramatically from the 38% productivity he previously registered (according to RescueTime). Maneesh gave five reasons why he thought the Slap Challenge worked so well:

  1. Someone else, besides me, knew exactly what I want to accomplish that day.
  2. Kara (the slapper) pushed me through the cheese monster (the proverbial urge to get up and get a cheese sandwich).
  3. I finally had someone to bounce ideas off of.
  4. The Slap Challenge added a playful, silly element to working.
  5. Having another pair of eyes to go over my content drastically improved the quality of my work.

Reading that list, I noticed something remarkable. I have all of those things. And it’s not because I spend a fortune on Craigslist paying people to slap me. It’s because practicing Scrum, surprisingly, has many of the same benefits of having someone slap you every time you procrastinate.

In a nutshell, Scrum is an agile project management process used primarily by software development teams, which OpenView Labs has adapted to manage consulting projects. The core is a prioritized to-do list for each team (called a ‘sprint’). Teams meet quickly each day to review progress against that to-do list, make sure everyone is on the same page, resolve problems, and plan out the day.

While newcomers sometimes find the Scrum process cult-like and overly structured (I certainly did at first), it doesn’t take long for the advantages to become clear. Surprisingly, they match up pretty well with the benefits of having someone slap you, except without the stinging pain or bruising:

1) Someone else, besides me, knew exactly what I want to accomplish that day.

> Your whole scrum team knows what you completed yesterday and what you’re working on today. If you don’t accomplish what you said you would, nothing terrible happens. It just provides some peer pressure to make sure you at least try.

2) Kara (the slapper) pushed me through the cheese monster (the proverbial urge to get up and get a cheese sandwich, even when you’re not the least bit hungry).

> I still succumb to the cheese monster, but my moments of procrastination are shorter and less frequent. When you have a short-term goal each day it’s harder to mentally get away with procrastinating.

3) I finally had someone to bounce ideas off of.

> The regular meetings we have as part of Scrum are a great venue for this, since you know you’re not disturbing someone and everyone can be part of the conversation.

4) The Slap Challenge added a playful, silly element to working.

> I wouldn’t quite call Scrum playful or silly, but being more efficient allows me to kick back and have a beer at the end of the day without feeling guilty that I haven’t accomplished more. It makes for more relaxed working hours and a more fulfilling end to the workday.

5) Having another pair of eyes to go over my content drastically improved the quality of my work.

> Getting feedback from your colleagues during a project (instead of just after it) allows you to ensure you’re on the right path and makes the eventual output that much better.

But there’s one last thing that makes scrum superior to getting slapped.

Maneesh could only bear a few hours with Kara smacking him in the face before he called it quits. Apparently getting slapped across the face really sucks.

On the other hand, the incentive to be more efficient in Scrum doesn’t come from an external threat or reward, but from an internal desire to make progress against your goals and contribute to the team. That makes it a much more sustainable firm policy than, say, slapping someone every time they visit Facebook (also, I’m pretty sure that’s against this country’s labor laws). It has had a huge positive impact on my productivity, and if/when I leave OpenView, I hope to take at least a piece of Scrum with me.