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Ready, Set, Sprint: How to work fast and loose to improve your work

I spent last weekend helping out a group of college kids take over the second-largest homeless newspaper in the United States. They swooped in without knowing each other, the community or the issues within it, and they managed to produce a robust website and print edition from scratch in just a couple of days. Helping with the project was nerve-wracking and exhausting, but I left feeling invigorated about my own day-to-day journalism work and with a good list of new story ideas. That’s the power of a sprint.

Working fast and loose on something outside of your normal job duties every now and then can elevate what you offer your users. Writers can use sprints to shake off writer’s block or launch new projects. NPR recently gave their developers a single day to fix problems and create new features.Google builds employee’s pet projects and ideas into their company culture, because doing so ultimately makes their company better. Dan Pink sums up why setting aside a little time for pet projects is good business in a great TED Talk:

Even if you can’t get support from higher up the corporate ladder in your organization, here are a few tips to help you start innovating with a sprint of your own:

Set a goal. If you have a big idea kicking around, set a specific goal to accomplish. If you can’t dedicate long periods of time to it, break that big goal into smaller increments that can be tackled more quickly.

Stick to a schedule. Whether you set aside 30 minutes or a day to the goal, stick to a schedule. Outline. Plan. Research. Write. Develop. The only rule is that you have to use the entire session to work on your goal. No exceptions.

Shut out the world. Forward your phone to voicemail, close the browser and exit your email program. The fewer distractions you allow in, the better you’ll be able to focus on the goal.

Stop. What makes a sprint really work is a limited time frame. You’re forced to simplify and drop dead weight quickly. Stopping your sprint on time is as crucial as starting it on time.

Repeat. If you make sprints a regular part of your work process, you train your body and your brain to be more efficient. Accomplishing a goal in a short amount of time is its own reward, but doing it regularly reinforces positive behavior, and makes you better at the rest of your work.

Want more specifics? Check out this helpful guide to setting up your own 20 percent time.

In Basics, Best Practices, Career tips, Featured.

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