Fly My Chaos Monkeys, Fly!

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I recently attended a talk by Si Alhir on Agility and Antifragility. I’ve discussed Agile many times, but Antifragility is a concept I deal with less. Antifragility is about being more resilient and adaptive, and can be a trait of a person, group, or organization. Si’s presentation was very relevant to our current lives and led me to some thoughts.

In Si’s concept, a way to become Antifragile is seeking and creating deliberate challenge. By being challenged, a person or institution becomes more resilient. Both you and I have had experiences of pushing ourselves, but within a framework of safety.

Most people I know who are resilient and creative challenge themselves. Being able to push oneself to grow – but not be harmed or overburdened – is a skill. It is also an ill-defined and ill-taught skill to judge by the overstressed people I’ve known.

But there is a helpful metaphor to challenge us (sorry) to see this Antifragility differently.

This idea of “Antifragility via challenge” made me think of the Chaos Monkey of Netflix fame. This software would randomly create problems on their network, allowing them to find flaws and build workarounds. The company had forged a challenge to their complex systems to keep them on their streaming toes.

Giving something a name is effective, so now I can ask the question, “what Chaos Monkeys do I need?” I can also ask you, my reader, the same thing – what challenges would help you?

I invite you to ask if you need a Chaos Monkey or two in your life. Your Disorder Primate may be pushing yourself to write at a different time. Your Mayhem Chimpanzee may be deciding to focus intensely on one subject more than you do. You may find you’ve already unleashed plenty of Havoc Baboons instinctively.

I also invite you to ask if you need any more Bedlam Simians right now. We have a Pandemic that is more of a Chaos Kong than anything else. It may be time to tell your personal Chaos Monkeys to go settle down for a while as they’re not required. The disaster of the moment is keeping us all very busy, thanks.

Every Chaos Monkey has its time.

Steven Savage

The Importance Of Not Doing

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Do you have a schedule and plans? Daily plans? Weekly plans? Do you do them – them decide “well, I’ve got a bit more time” and go farther? Do you then realize . . . maybe you’re overdoing it?

Then do you try to not overdo it and still fail, going beyond your plans to do even more and burning out?

I had a realization about this recently as I was trying to keep up my daily schedule. I use schedules to keep myself focused during the Pandemic, and they’ve helped me “anchor” myself in these strange times. But I noticed on a day I was getting everything done, I asked what more could I do.

Then I caught myself. Why did I want to do more? Why couldn’t I stop?

Then I realized something. Schedules are not just ways to ensure things get done – they’re ways of setting limits so you don’t burn out. Part of the reason you have a schedule is to tell you what not to do or when to stop.

And of course, this ties into two parts of the Agile Manifesto. If you didn’t think I was going to tie this to Agile, you must be new here. Welcome aboard.

Anyway, in the Agile Manifesto, the tenth Agile Principle states “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” I always liked this as it was a good reminder to avoid unneeded tasks and technology. But recently I realized this applies to your schedules and plans – there’s a time to stop and not do things.

This also ties into the eighth Agile Principle: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Good, sustainable work is at a pace you can keep up. This means not just being sustainable, but asking if you need to do something, removing things from your plans or not putting them in. Make a schedule that works for you, and remember that there is a time to not do something. Sure you may do it later, but you don’t have to do it now.

In fact, celebrate the fact you set limits! That should be one of your goals. Being able to not do something effectively is a success – you have time to rest, recuperate, and come up with the next neat thing to do . . .

Steven Savage

Productivity: When Does Your Week Start?

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I want to ask a seemingly obvious question – when does your week start? I mean for a lot of my readers the answer is “Sunday” since it’s the first day of the week we all sort of use. But that may not be the real answer – for many of us the week ends on Sunday and starts on Monday if we’re part of a normal US work week. For many of us even that doesn’t apply.

So when does your week really start and end? Why ask this? Because it’s a key to getting things done, and it’s best illustrated with two stories.

  • I use Scrum-style personal time management. Part of that is having Sprints, similarly-sized periods of work you plan and have reguarly. I used to use a month-long Sprint, moved to two weeks, then moved to a week as my life had gotten more variable. Originally my “sprint weeks” started on Sunday and ended on Saturday – which ruined my weekend. Now my “real” week is Monday to Sunday.
  • I’ve worked with development teams who use Scrum, and their Sprints are two weeks long. Despite having the usual workweek, their Sprints start on a Wednesday and end on a Tuesday. Why? Because Wednesday worked better, since no one wants to do elaborate planning Monday or Friday, and Tuesday and Thursday were basically Monday and Friday Junior. Wednesday was perfect (and worked really well).

So look at the way you plan your work for the week. What day is really the best day to end your week and make sure things are done? What day is really the best day to start your week and make sure you know what to accomplish. Your answer isn’t necessary going to be mine or anyone else you know’s – it’ll be yours.

The best day to end your week is one where you can catch up, round up, and plan for the next week. That could be a quiet Friday each week, or a raucous Monday when you figure out where you are after the previous week.

The best day to start your week is one where you can dive in and get going, knowing where you are and what is ahead of you. Maybe that’s a Wednesday, a hump-day where everything is clear and you can get energized. Maybe it’s a Saturday, and your “real” week starts with the weekend to relax.

But there’s more. Consider the other ways you can apply this “best time”:

Daily. What times of day do you work best? Are you a morning person? Evening person?

Monthly. What’s the best day of a week or a month to look at long-term plans?

Yearly. What month in a year is good to assess your big picture goals? Or to take a break from your elaborate plans.

Either way, start by looking at your week, your own personal week, and asking when it really ends and begins – in a way that’s best for you. With that knowledge, you can rethink your whole plans – and like me, you might be surprised.

Steven Savage