Turn Chaos into Clarity: Stress Free Productivity to Raise Performance with James Parnell #088

Show Notes:

Are you struggling to manage your time, prioritize tasks, and avoid burnout while trying to innovate and scale your business? Discover agile coaching strategies that can transform chaos into productivity in this insightful episode.

James Parnell, an expert Agile coach, dives deep into how entrepreneurs can harness agile methodologies to maximize efficiency and drive high performance across their teams. Learn how to make agile predictions, streamline business processes, and focus on what truly moves the needle in your organisation.

James is an agile coach who helps entrepreneurs and their teams get great work done quickly.

He works with entrepreneurs and business leaders who need a highly innovative team and better systems to sustain performance. James applies Agile methodology from project management, highlighting the importance of measuring velocity and using it to predict future work. By prioritizing tasks and simplifying productivity, individuals can reduce stress and increase productivity.

If you’re worried about time, money and energy, ask yourself, are you spending too much time IN the business rather than ON it?
As James says, “if you’re driving, you cannot tune the engine”.

Topics explored:

  • Expedite work by emphasizing innovation and system optimization, utilizing historical data for accurate project predictions despite inherent unpredictability.
  • Agile coaching involves adapting to change in chaotic environments by making time-limited predictions and measuring velocity, enabling focus on execution through prioritizing top initiatives.
  • Common mistakes addressed include lack of focus, inefficiency, and burnout
  • Capacity-based planning, starting with 8-10 hours of meaningful work weekly, to improve work-life balance and reduce stress.
  • Reduce tasks on a to-do list to make it more realistic and attainable, focusing on fewer tasks at the start of the week to avoid mid-week decision fatigue.
  • Schedule meetings strategically to preserve periods of deep thinking and creativity, recognizing individual differences in productivity rhythms.
  • The challenge of feeling overwhelmed is addressed with the “DNA” (Decide the Next Action) framework to help pinpoint effective next steps in project execution.
  • The concept of “Essentialism” emphasises the importance of focusing on the most impactful tasks to simplify workload and alleviate stress.
  • Knowledge workers typically accomplish only about 2.5 hours of valuable work per week, with recommendations to focus less on quantity and more on simplifying tasks to boost success rates.


Al McBride 0:00
Great Welcome to the dealing with Goliath podcast. The mission of dealing with Goliath is to sharpen the psychological edge in negotiation, ethical influencing and high impact conversations for business leaders who want to be more effective under pressure, uncover hidden value, and build greater connection all while increasing profitability. This is the short form espresso shot of insight podcast interview to boost business performance, using our five questions in around about 15 to 20 minutes format. My guest today is James Parr. Now, James is an Agile coach who helps entrepreneurs and their teams get great work done quickly. He works entrepreneurs and business leaders who need a highly innovative team and better systems to sustain performance. If you’re worried about time, money and energy, ask yourself, are you spending too much time in the business rather than on it? As James says, If you are driving, you cannot tune the engine. Great point. James. James, welcome to the show.

James Parnell 1:02
Thanks for having me.

Al McBride 1:05
Great to have you on. And look that’s a it’s a very interesting point of I love the way you put that if you’re driving catching the edge, we’re gonna dive into that in a little in a few minutes. But let’s just get a bit of scope first, let’s just set the scene. So who is your ideal client? And what’s the biggest challenge that they face?

James Parnell 1:21
So my ideal client is someone who’s in a position of influence. So I love to work with people who are, you know, either in innovation or entrepreneurship, you know, are doing something good for the world, whether that’s through government, or climate tech or something like that, you know, I’m really, really keen, you know, I figured this year, I really wanted to focus on on that niche, I guess, because when you think about, you know, you get to a certain age and you want to have the biggest influence, or the biggest legacy you can, I thought a lot about my skills, and what I can bring to the table, and who I want to work with. And if I can help those people, and by association, their teams, that is the biggest ripple effect that I can have. So it’s it’s changemakers, as I call them, but action takers as well, like people who are keen to translate ideas into action.

Al McBride 2:17
Very good. So arms dealers and villains need not apply some of those challenges that they’re facing just if if anybody’s listening out there, what are some of the things that you tend to be very effective at helping people? What are some of the symptoms you might say that they’re suffering from? Before they meet you?

James Parnell 2:35
Yeah, well, I guess, when you look at entrepreneurs, and innovators, you know, they’re humans as well. And what they tend to be good as often is big ideas. And that environment can be chaotic, depending on what stage the businesses that so and chaos is a great thing for new ideas, brainstorm, and, you know, diverging. And the skills that I bring are the organization piece. So at some stage, you’ve got all these ideas, and you converge on on best one, hopefully, what I find with with entrepreneurs in particular solopreneurs is like, they’re often overwhelmed, they’re heading for burnout, they’re working on too many things, or the wrong things, they find it difficult to decide on what the highest value is. And then they may have inefficiency. So they may be building a team or they may have a new team, and in efficiencies will cost them time energy work. So you know, it’s great the energy that these ideas bring. But there’s a danger there that if you have lots of different things and lots of different options, you don’t narrow your focus. And obviously, some of that chaos at the start of a startup or an entrepreneurial journey is very useful. But at some point, when you’ve proven things work, you need to be very clear on what your processes are, who’s doing what. So I got, that’s where I come in on a very organized, you know, my background as a project manager. So you know, I studied design thinking, agile experimentation, all those innovation techniques, but also project management methodologies. And, you know, I’m very organized. So I bring that organization I bring that, well, let’s look at your whole business. Let’s look at the engine, how do you tune that engine? What are the pieces that are core to that? What are the processes, who’s who’s needed for that? And we look at how to make that really fine tuned and efficient and productive. That’s

Al McBride 4:28
very good. It’s very interesting. Because the, you know, I was going to ask you, what are some of the common mistakes that that your clients make? But I think you’ve covered quite a few of them that they’re spread too thin. Yeah, I’m just Could you could you give us another insight there onto how you apply? Because it sounds interesting. As I said, I haven’t seen too many coaches, who mentioned the agile approach. Could you just give us an idea for those who may be might be, first of all, hugely were exactly what Agile is. They’ve heard about it, but maybe they’re not sure exactly what it is. Even in the overview how you work with clients and applying the data, John?

James Parnell 5:04
Yeah, sure. So, I mean, like, at its at its core, agile is about adapting to change in a chaotic environment, right. So rather than trying to make a plan and predict a year out, which were notoriously bad at, yeah, like, you know, even if you try and predict the next two weeks on your own, you know, you’ll do a lot less than you think you, you’re gonna get done, right? That’s a fact. But we don’t like to deal with that in projects land, right. As humans, it’s a there’s a dissonance there, right? So what Agile, one of the advantage advantages of using Agile is that your predictions are time limited. So you will only say plan two weeks ahead. Now, that doesn’t mean you have a roadmap, you don’t have a roadmap for the future, but you don’t make crazy predictions. So you pick your planning cadence. And let’s say it’s one month or two weeks ahead, you pick what the top priority is for that time period. And then you focus on execution. And it makes it actually a lot simpler. But the other key element of agile, which is really useful, is that you You be you measure your velocity, okay, so you estimate everything that you’re going to do in the next two weeks, let’s say, and you give, you’ll give it a number of points, not hours. So you’ll give it a number of points. So you might say this, this is a big piece of work. So this is 100 points, this piece of work is half that. So it’s 50 points, this is a small piece of work. So it’s 10 points, and you fix the time period for two weeks. And you see at the end of the two weeks, what have you got done. So you have a metric, so you now have a model of velocity. And so that can be on an individual level, I get 200 points of work done every two weeks, or a team gets two points of work done, it doesn’t really matter. And then that can be used to predict what you can get done in the future. And that the key difference there with that traditional project planning is traditional project planning, is people trying to guess how long something is going to take with no empirical historical evidence. So you know, you’ll ask a team, how long do you think they’ll say, six months, they’ll be wrong. Okay, that’s usually where the, it’s usually 12 months, maybe, who knows, okay. Whereas if you just spent two weeks measuring the velocity, you now know how much that team is get done. So they might get, say, 200 points, don’t, you then look at your next piece of work, and you and you ask them to size that work relative to past work. So you might have, you know, 1000 points where the work, you know, that’s going to take 10 weeks, even though your team think it’s going to take it should take shorter, your empirical evidence, your current velocity tells you and, you know, I do some part time project management for teams, and this is really accurate, but nobody really likes what it tells them. Right? Because it’s always longer than what they

Al McBride 8:19
do what is said even with the in the case, where people you know, in, I have a very overview background in project management didn’t really work in the field much, but it’s not a ton of slack built into it to make it more realistic, as you say, for the because it involves humans, you know, is that even with Slack built in 1020 30%, this sort of stuff. And what I love about your system there, James, is that you’re applying a methodology on the one hand, but it’s also touching into real human behavior and real human psychology there to make it far more effective. What are some of the outcomes are that I mean, other than being okay, people are on that new schedule, or at least a leader can see that his team on the metric, his or her team are working away? Yeah, on schedule, Is there less burnout? Like, what are some of the benefits there? Well, is

James Parnell 9:15
there going to clarity? One? Yeah, one of the benefits is or so. So let me let me simplify that concept of points. Because, you know, to just you next week, right, right, so So most people go into the week, and they say I got 40 hours, right? So that’s my capacity or my velocity, right? Let’s let’s just work in hours, right? So you got 40 hours. So I’m going to do 40 hours of work, right? If you actually observe the number of hours of productive work you do, you’ll find you know, so you take out your breaks, you take out say meetings and non productive you’ll probably have about 10 hours. So your true capacity is probably 10 hours, right? And actually, that’s very empowering. Because you will get high People are focused on what is the top three things that are going to move the needle for me personally in my life, right? So I use agile, you know, I across my life, you know, but you can obviously apply it to your business, right? So I know that I have about 12 hours a week to work on my business. So that really gets me focused, because you know, it’s not 40 it’s not a long list, you’ve got to really get good at prioritization. And so it solves one of those problems that we talked about working on too many things, it’s a human condition. You know, we’re, we find it very hard to say no to things. And actually, prioritization is not just making a list and saying yes to things. The hard part prioritization is saying no. And prioritization is an act of trading off all the things you could do, and narrowing it into a 10 hours, I got four things, I can do two hours on each, which ones are going to move the needle.

Al McBride 11:00
Boundaries are what will actually move the needle, because as you said, when you when you focus down, it’s the Parkinson’s Law thing. And how there’s an Parkinson’s Law as a sort of job expands to the time you give it. But the inverse is true as well. If you constrict that time, suddenly, you’re able to focus down much better. And that link leads me into the next one is what’s one valuable free action that the audience can implement that will help them along the way.

James Parnell 11:28
This is a it’s a nice segue into it, because it’s a very, it’s connected to the point I just made, right. So what I would say to people is, next week, when you’re planning next week, take Friday off even if you’re not going to take it off, take it off, right just next week is probably a bad example, right? If we’ve got one day off anyway, but whatever we get is that you decided to do this. Imagine you only have Monday to Thursday. And imagine you’re going to have all your work done by then plan Monday to Thursday, take Friday off, right. And aim to guess the key needle movers as we say, don’t buy them and take the Friday off. Now, it might be that you’ve still got a few loose ends to do on Friday, but it’s going to be a very relaxing day. And like, you know, all these business concepts. To me, they’re just a means to an end. Because you know, behind me here I’ve got live simply and I’ve got like campervan and I like to have a nice life, right, and I enjoy my work. But really, I think about this holistically, you know, you know, my priorities would be my own well being my family and adventure and that sort of stuff, you know, but the gift is just work Monday to Thursday, the free action right now, obviously, if you email me or find me on LinkedIn, I’ll give you a guide to how to plan your week. And it’s capacity based planning, right. So most people start with the demand, they make a list of all the things they have to do, and they put pressure on themselves. If you start with your capacity, and you just say, eight hours, I’m gonna, I’m gonna spend eight hours doing really meaningful work, you can actually plan your week in 10 minutes using that method, right to calculate your capacity, you know what real time you have and start with that. So start with like eight or 10 hours. You know, I’ll email people that how to plan the week using that method. And I think it would really, I’ve been using this with a few clients recently. And the main impact, which is beautiful for me is not so much about the work, they’re getting better work done. But the jobs less stressed, the feeling less overwhelmed the sleep and better the families notice it, that’s really

Al McBride 13:35
just a suggestion observation, I think there’s something very important there on the in a different way as a tertiary benefit. When people keep writing things on their inverted commas to do list for a week, and they never get to complete at all. Yeah, you feel like even if you’ve got a ton of stuff done even more than most reasonable human beings would expect, you still feel a bit let down, you still feel like, and in your head, there’s also this message that I keep breaking a promise, I keep not doing this. So what I love about your system is that you’re actually reducing the promise still hugely, but it’s much more realistic, it’s more attainable, and that clarity, can create that energy and drive to get the stuff done, and be done with us. Like actually complete your objectives in a proper project management setting, as you say, so I look directly

James Parnell 14:31
yeah, there’s no guilt and you know, this doesn’t stop you from you know, all of that the list of the top four and I’ll have bonus tracks, you know, at the bottom, if I get to them, you know, that’s fine, but doesn’t stop you bringing those in. If you have a great week, you know, but yeah, you know, one of my saboteurs you know is perfectionism, you know, and and I, I, this is a mistake I make is like I have a list and something psychological me needs to tick every day single box, so I have to fight that saboteur. And this is sort of my answer to it. And I’ve really honed in on starting less, you know, just in our even write down sometimes when planning the we do not start this until the other ones above are finished, you know how to stop myself. It’s easy to make that decision at the start of the week when you’re conscious than when you’re in execution mode and you’re running and your reaction reacting to your environment. It’s not a great environment. It’s not a great mindset to be making the decisions. So you’re trying to make those no decisions when it’s nice and quiet before the week starts.

Al McBride 15:36
Exactly, exactly when you reminded me of a few things here, not least, the story of how Tim Ferriss wrote the infamous Four Hour Workweek, as he got very ill and he couldn’t work 80 hours a week, it started out the exact thinking process you’re talking about, well, a parallel one. Like if I only have a few hours in a week, to really didn’t move the needle, what am I going to do? Yeah, because an awful they say the average knowledge worker actually works about two and a half hours of valuable work per week anyway. Absolutely. The rest is admin and all sorts of other finding information, all sorts of

James Parnell 16:14
really observe yourself during the day, like your circadian rhythms are only you know, your mental focus is only two or three hours for most adults, two or three hours in the morning, between eight and 12, you do your best work. So if you’re having meetings and stuff like that, it’s not a good use of it. That’s when you’re really and if you really look at it, that’s when you do your best work. And as you said in the afternoon, you are fine. You can still be productive. You can still do stuff around the house, or you can still, you know, do stand up meetings. And you can do things like this because your energy raises when you’re talking to people. There’s lots of stuff you can do. But deep thinking work, you’re limited to, I’d say to about eight or 10 hours

Al McBride 16:51
in the week. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s also I think your focus. And this is something when you were talking there you reminded me of Warren Buffett’s you know, that famous story where Warren Buffett, formerly until Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were the richest man and men in the world. And one time he was asking his pilot, he was there was a pilot private plane or something. And he said about, oh, you know, what are you? We’re talking about various things. And he said, Oh, what’s your goal? You know, what are your ambitions? And he took out a list of 10 or 15 things. Warren Buffett said, That’s very interesting. And they are they in order? And he said, Yeah, he said, Okay, I want you to tear off the half the page. Yeah, this is because this is that will make it 10 times more likely, it might actually hit. Yeah.

James Parnell 17:41
Yeah. So

Al McBride 17:42
it’s this idea of focusing on less, and you’re more likely to actually get it done. And who swore that that was actually a big part of his success was, as you say, focusing on less on simplifying, and hitting those markers was very interesting stuff. Yeah. So just on that resource, where can people email you to get at James?

James Parnell 18:07
You can email me at. I’m gonna keep it simple. James E. parnell@gmail.com. James, E for egg parnell@gmail.com, or just on LinkedIn. Find me on LinkedIn. James Parnell. Yeah, of course. We’ll link to that

Al McBride 18:22
in the show notes beneath the episode, of course. So that’s excellent stuff. So. And thank you for that free resource. It actually sounds great. That sounds fun. I reach out for that myself. Yeah, of course. Yeah, I’ll

James Parnell 18:35
send the link or whatever. It’s something

Al McBride 18:36
that yeah, it’s something that I’ve been looking at recently, and getting a lot more done in less time. And a lot of us do, as you said to, to when you do it in the day, you were talking about getting you know, an awful lot of your your deep thinking worked on earlier. Yeah, this is something you know, I work with clients a lot. And I talked to them about that idea of maker time versus manager time. And how is a good manager is a good leader for your team is being careful when you schedule the meetings. Because if you schedule in the middle of a maker block, if you’re working with programmers, or whoever, you can completely ruin that whole whole maker cycle, which is usually in terms of 90 minutes, two hours or even three hours, whereas manager time is usually in terms of 15 minute blocks. Yeah. So yeah, very relevant stuff. You’re also behind me they’re just on Daniel Pink’s when which was about that about you know, early birds get the work in early if you’re a night owl, a lot of your rhythms actually flipped. So you know, that people will know that inherently themselves if you’re better working on, you know, some of the deep thinking on after lunch or whatever, some people that actually works or at four o’clock or something. Yes, other people, as you said are winding down and wanting to do lighter more admin type. Exactly.

James Parnell 19:57
And it is a challenge like If the convention in corporates, you know, is probably to have the meetings first thing in the morning, you know, but, you know, we, you know, we have daily stand ups with some of the teams I work with. And we’ll try and get it done in 15 minutes, because we know if their software teams in particular, those developers, they have a window to produce their best stuff, we want to get them off into it, you know, so yeah, there can be a lot of distractions. And it’s good to be conscious of it. And as a team, talk about, you know, best times for meetings and stuff and not just sheduled them whenever in default mode, you know, absolutely.

Al McBride 20:31
I mean, the community be a consensus. If you’re the leader of your team is going well, this works well for me, but does it work well for them? And actually having those conversations even just once or twice or once a quarter? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So James, what was maybe the one question I should have asked you that I did not?

James Parnell 20:52
The good on? Okay, probably, maybe something for yourself, right? So do you ever get overwhelmed? Or do you ever do you ever get to the point where, you know, you don’t know what the what the next thing to do is? And what do you do at that point? Like, I think that’s, that’s an interesting thing. Because, you know, in terms of people who are listening, I get to that point, even though I’m pretty good at planning, I often, you know, we’ll you know, it’d be two or three times during the week where you’ve been so doing many different things. And you’d be so in execution mode, how do you decide the next thing? So it’s

Al McBride 21:34
usually to do with urgency, unfortunately, which is terrible. And because I, you know, clarify with my clients, like yourself, along the same lines, that, you know, it’s a lot easier to do important urgent work, or work that pays, you know, you have a certain deadline, and that clarifies the time allowance allocation. And also, as I said, the order to a certain extent, always the biggest problem is non urgent, but important work. It’s the classic thing. And when you do it, and of those projects, which project to focus on first, as he said, Can you do it in parallel? Does it have to be done in order? Those sorts of questions? That’s where I tend to trip myself up regularly. Well,

James Parnell 22:20
I want to give you a list. I love acronyms. Right. So I have like, tons of acronyms, right. But DNA is one that I like, and it’s decide the next action, how do you decide the next action? Right? And I don’t know whether you read there’s a book, there’s lots of books on this Essentialism by Greg McKellen is also the one thing which kind of bangs on about the same thing for the whole book, but it gets his message across, right. But, you know, in terms of a question that you should ask yourself, when you do feel overwhelmed, and I think a lot of us do this, you know, but what is the most useful single thing that I that I could do now, such that everything else would be easier, so I often view it as what’s gonna relieve the stress the most. Now, sometimes that can be an urgent thing, like, well, I’ve gotta get ready for that for a podcast, or I’ve got to get ready for a client meeting. So that’s obviously getting ready is going to de stress. But if you’re not sure on how to get ready, then you need to go away from where you’re working. And you need to just ask that question, what’s the single most useful thing? Okay, so most is another acronym, acronym, most useful single thing, such that different we’re doing everything else would be easier. Sometimes that’s gone for a walk, you know, it might feel like it’s a waste of time, but it’s actually taken five or 10. To go away and let your mind like, you know, look up to the sky for openness to ideas, rather than down at your feet, which tends to increase worry. So you’ll you kind of, you know, percolate on all the things, allow yourself some time and by the time you come back to your workplace, or your desk, you’ll be pretty clear on on what you need to do. And it might not be the most urgent thing, you might realize that actually you’re okay, or, you know, you’d be better off doing that tomorrow morning. Or whatever, boss. I think that’s a that’s a good question to ask is what’s going on, you know, reduced stress the most. At that point. You know, we’re caught in indecision. What’s going to make everything else easier? That’s a great question to ask because it’s often not what you think. And you’ll, you’ll then become more clear headed for all the rest of brilliant

Al McBride 24:28
stuff. So thank you for another great insight. They’re very much appreciated. So most of us t most Yeah. most useful things useful single thing and DNA. Brilliant stuff. Yeah. Yeah. Excellent. Well, James, where can people reach you? You mentioned on LinkedIn, just look up James Brunel?

James Parnell 24:48
Yeah, just I’m on LinkedIn. I’m actually changing my website right now. So I’ll just say LinkedIn for now. We website will be be live for jamesy parnell.com, but it’s It’s gonna take a couple more days. So that’s my priority. Yeah, absolutely did James Brown stuff?

Al McBride 25:05
That’s James D parnell.com. With the time there the website I’m sure it’ll be all about

James Parnell 25:09
a practice what I preach now right? should only take two hours. Yeah,

Al McBride 25:14
fabulous stuff. Thanks very James. Great.

James Parnell 25:17
No worries, Alistair. Thank you. Cheers.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


Amazon.co.uk Kindle Book: Essentialism, by Greg McKellen

James Parnell’s Website: https://jameseparnell.com/

Connect with James Parnell:

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jameseparnell/


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