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Episode 12:

What 1 simple thing can I do to improve my coaching & scrum mastering?

I’ve been meditating daily for around 3 years, which has hugely improved my skill as an agile coach due to the focus it helps promote. In this episode my friend Hala asks for tips on how to get started. Since I think every agile coach and scrum master can benefit from setting aside a few minutes of time each day to practice mindfulness, I outline my tips and tricks for getting started here.

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Adam: Welcome to Agile Answers. I’m Adam Weisbart, your Certified Scrum Trainer and agile coach. Each week, I get your questions about Scrum and agility, and I answer them, here on Agile Answers.

Happy 2016! This is the first episode of the New Year. And I’m so thankful you all are joining me here again today in the New Year. I hope your New Year is turning out to be fantastic, even though we’re only a few days into it. I was looking back at last year’s episodes. We didn’t have a ton of that, because I started late in the year. But I was wondering to myself, “Hey, which one of these is my favorite?” We have a year’s worth of episodes under our belt, even though there’s not that many, because we started towards the end of eh year, but which one was my favorite? And I got to say, Episode Number 2, even though it was one of the first episodes, was definitely my favorite. It was when my friend Luke Walter, a Certified Scrum Trainer friend of mine, joined me to answer Marcy Damasa’s question about when stakeholders should get involved with the Dev team to get items ready for work. And I loved her question. It was a fantastic question, and I really liked answering the question with Luke. I just had so much fun recording that episode. So I got to say, that was my favorite out of the year. If you haven’t listened to it, you can give a listen to it after this episode, because you’ve got a time machine, called a podcast feed.

Anyway, thanks for joining me this episode. And this episode, I’m going to answer a question, actually, from another friend, strangely enough. My friend Hala submitted a question. She submitted a question because we were talking about this, as the New Year rolled around, and I said, “Hey, that’d be a fantastic question for the podcast.” At first blush, it might not seem like it applies to agile coaching or Scrum or agility in general, but I think it certainly does, because it’s helped me immensely. And I will tell you all about it after we listen to her question.

Hey, Adam. It’s Hala. I know you meditate daily and you say it’s improved your agile coaching. I’m thinking of starting to meditate in 2016. Do you have any tips for me? Thanks.

Adam: Before you turn off the podcast, because she mentioned meditation and you think this is going to be some weird, hippy dippy, spiritual thing, don’t. Here’s the deal. If the word mediation bothers you, you can change the word to something like concentration or mindfulness. All right, now that you haven’t turned off the podcast, let me tell you a bit about why I have found meditation super helpful, then I will tell you just briefly about how you can start meditating with just 5 minutes a day, and get some of the huge benefits that I have seen for myself, for yourself.

Hala, thanks for submitting a question. You have been a guest on my webinar. It’s always so much fun to have you on the webinar and great to have you on the podcast now. So to answer your question, yes, I meditate daily and have been doing so for the last several years. The reason I have been doing that is, I don’t know about you, but as an agile coach, I have found that agile coaches often become lighting rods for organizational dysfunction. I’ll tell you what I mean about that.

If you go to help an organization and you go start helping them through good facilitation and coaching, discover impediments that they’ve been running into for a long time that are painful to them, that they’ve been brushing under the rug, they might point the finger at you saying, “Hey, before you got here, we weren’t having these problems. Clearly, you’re the problem.” And this comes out, usually not overtly, but it comes out in different ways. It seeps out. I have found it to be a relatively stressful position to be in, from time to time.

So I think anything you can do to help focus your mind and improve your concentration and help you be more present with people who might be agitated, because they’re running into these impediments, is very useful. And I will say that meditation is one of the main things that has helped me do that, help me be present with coaching clients, to help people through hard conversations.

If you’ve never meditated before, I’ll give you the very simple approach, and I’m by no means an expert in meditation, but I’m going to give you three tools which will help you with meditation after I give this brief introduction.

So the way I meditate is I fine somewhere hopefully quiet, as best I can, though I will tell you, I’ve done this in the middle of very noisy rooms, if I have no other choice. Since I do it daily and I don’t want to miss a day, I’ll do it wherever I can. But usually, I will find some time, first thing in the morning or right before I go to bed at night, anywhere between 5 minutes and half an hour. Honestly, if you haven’t done this before, 5 minutes is great. Just start with 5 minutes. You can totally do 5 minutes.

I sit down somewhere quiet and I focus on my breath. I close my eyes or sort of point my eyes towards the ground, maybe 40 degrees in front of me, with a really soft gaze. I’m not focusing on anything in particular or I just close eyes, to stop that sensory input. I focus on my breath. I take a breath in slowly, and let it out slowly. When I do that, if you’re like me, I suspect you’ll run into this as well, my mind quickly wanders. I think, “I’ll focus on my breath, no problem.” And then after a couple seconds, I’m no longer focusing on my breath, so I’m thinking about the dishes I need to do or the class I’m teaching the next day or some I don’t know, my bank account, I don’t know, I think about whatever pops into my mind, or someone I met two years ago. You never know. Stuff just pops in your mind like crazy.

Then all you do is focus again on your breath. Oh, my mind wandered, focus on my breath. And you’ll do that successfully for a couple seconds as well, and then your mind will wander again perhaps. The key here is to not get frustrated with yourself, but just to notice that your mind is wandering. When it wanders, you see that it wanders, and focus on your breath again.

Now if you’ve never done this before, 5 minutes might seem like a really long time. It’s all right. If you’re a little uncomfortable, it’s all right. If it seems frustrating, it’s all right. Just focus on your breath. And I would recommend doing this every day. If you started with 5 minutes, do that for a few weeks, then maybe bump it up to 10 minutes.

When I am regularly meditating, or regularly making myself find enough time to meditate, I meditate for half an hour. I certainly didn’t start out that way. I started out with 5 minutes and kept building on that. So no need to say, “I’m going to be the most advanced, best meditator ever. I’m going to sit down and do it for half an hour or 45 minutes or an hour.” It’s just important that you actually take some time to do it, not really the length of time, just focus on your breath and bring your thoughts back to your breath when they start to wander.

There’s a bunch of resources for helping you with meditation. I’m going to tell you a few of them now. The first one is free. You’ve got it on your iPhone or your watch, if you still own one of those, your Android phone. It’s just a timer, just set a timer for 5 minutes. Sit somewhere comfortably, sit up straight, focus on your breath, when your minds wanders, bring it back to your breath. When the timer goes off, you’re done. No big deal. Easy.

There are other tools to help you. If you feel like more will help you. I’m a people over process person, individuals and interactions over processes and tools, I would say that more tools can be helpful, but really all you need to do is find 5 minutes per day to start doing this.

What might be helpful is a bit of coaching. Speaking of coaching, you can get some coaching on meditation. The easiest way to go do that is go sign up for a free 10-day trial of Headspace. Go to headspace.com, that’s headspace.com. They’re not sponsoring the episode or anything. I just happen to like them. Go sign up for an account there. It will give you a 10-day challenge where you meditate for, I think, 10 minutes a day, and it’s a guided meditation. They tell you what to do, so you get a little bit of coaching while you do it. If you like it, you can sign up for an account. It’s a few bucks a month, I think. It could be a great way to get in the habit of meditating and give you some coaching around that, much better than I can do in a brief podcast, and much better because they’re more advanced than I am in the whole meditation thing. So that’s the first thing, headspace.com.

The next thing you could do that I got for myself and absolutely love, but it’s a bigger investment, it’s this thing called the Muse sensing headband. I will put it in the show notes as well. It’s a few hundred dollars, I think it’s $299. It’s a biofeedback device that you put on your forehead. It’s a little headband and it links to your iPhone via Bluetooth. It walks you through meditation, and the way it walks you through meditation is you start a timer, you set how long you’d like to meditate for. And you put in your earphones, and you have this cool, cyborg thing on your forehead. And it monitors your brain waves.

So if your mind is very calm, you will hear this great scene of birds chirping and waves lapping up on the beach, and you’re laying there on the sun and everything is peaceful and wonderful. And if your mind is all over the place, which mine often is, you will hear a lot of lightning and thunder and rain and crazy stuff going on. The weather gets insane. So it gives you biofeedback via your ears, and it’s telling you how calm your mind is or not. It gamifies things a bit. It will give you how many birds you heard during your meditation, because birds only come out when things are calm. And it will show you for how many minutes of that time you were really focused, your mind was calm and peaceful, etc. So that’s a Muse sensing headband.

The other thing that I really liked that’s in between Headspace and Muse is this iPhone app called Insight Timer. The Insight Timer is well, just a timer for timing your meditation, but the thing I like about it is it shows you who else is meditating with you, so can you see that you’re not alone sitting there for 5 minutes or 10 minutes or 30 minutes. I like the bell sound that it makes as opposed to an alarm on my iPhone. Lastly, it’s got some guided meditations, so if you’d like to sit through a guided meditation facilitated by somebody who teaches meditation for a living, for example, someone more advanced certainly than me, there’s a bunch of those recorded on there as well. I don’t remember how much Insight Timer was. I think it’s a few dollars. It’s a one-time fee, so unlike the other two, not as expensive as the Muse sensing headband and not a monthly fee as Headspace is, I believe.

So those are my three suggested tools for meditation at varying levels of expense. But really, all you need is a timer and 5 minutes to sit and watch your breath.

Hala, I hope that was useful and that you start meditating. Give it a try. I think it’s totally worth it. It has helped me immensely with my clients, with my coaching, and just in my life in general. I think it’s a fantastic thing to do. And you know there’s a saying that says, “If you don’t have half an hour to meditate, meditate for an hour instead.” And I think there’s something to that. I know it’s hard, in our busy lives, to find a chunk of time to sit and seemingly do nothing, you’ll be surprised to find out that doing nothing is actually very difficult and you’re not really doing nothing. What you’re doing is focusing your mind. Without some practice, this is pretty hard at first. So if it seems hard at first, don’t worry, just do it again the next day, and the next day, and the next day. And pretty soon, you’ll be like me. It will be a few years, you’ll have done it every day, and it will help your daily life, I suspect.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Agile Answers. Next week, I’ll be answering something probably more directly related to Scrum and agility. I’ll guarantee it, actually. So this is a bit of a tangent, but it’s helped me so much in my agile practice that I wanted to share with you guys and help out Hala. If you’ve got a question about Scrum or agility and you’d like it answered here on the show, you can go submit it at GetAgileAnswers.com, that’s GetAgileAnswers.com. Right there on the home page, there’s a little widget where you can record a message that will get answered on a future show. If your question is top secret, you don’t want to out yourself or have your boss hear your question, you can also submit it by email, and I will read it on the show, no problem. I’ll put a link or there’s a link there on the home page, you can click on it to shoot me an email, and I will maybe select it for a future show.

Thanks so much for tuning in. Until next time, stay agile. Never change.

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Episode 22:

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Episode 21:

What agile practices can you recommend to our game development studio?

Episode 20:

How do we remove silos when doing government contract work using Scrum?

Episode 19:

How should we form new Scrum teams?