Zero Inbox

Today I’m sitting at a huge indoor playground, my son is here for a birthday party. I brought my laptop with the intension to ”write something” 🙂 . Earlier this week, I saw the hashtag #ZeroInbox mentioned by one of the persons that I’m following on Twitter. It seemed like a big deal, that #ZeroInbox was reached (meaning no emails in your inbox). I have that all the time, so I started to wonder why that is important, and maybe if I should write something about how I achieve it.



First of all, I’ll set you into my context. I get about 50 – 100 emails every working day. Some of you may receive a lot more than that, some of you less, but I assume the amount I get is pretty average. Many of the emails I get, are from the fact that I participate in email-lists (for example alerts of status changes in a ticket system). Maybe 10 – 20 emails per day are coming from other persons.

What are the reasons to keep ”zero inbox”? For me they are:

  1. I don’t feel any stress that there are things in my inbox that are important, and that may need my urgent attention. Checking the inbox regularly prevents that from happening.
  2. Very seldom things get ”lost in the inbox”. I have a system to keep track of the things I need to do.
  3. I have a possibility to act immediately when something pops up. There is not ”a long list of unread mails that may contain even more urgent things” that are blocking me.
  4. Overall, ”zero inbox” gives me the feeling of control, to be on top of things. I’ve also written about this earlier.

Below I have listed the rules that I try to live by, to keep #ZeroInbox at all times.

1. Use your mobile phone

You must be able to read your working email on your mobile phone (or other device you have with you all the time). Otherwise, you can’t apply my rules. But I guess most of you already do that.

2. Don’t have any filters/macros

I don’t use any filters/macros (for example moving emails in the inbox from a certain sender to a sub-folder). Why not? Isn’t that a good was of keeping #ZeroInbox? First of all, filters/macros you can (or should) only use on emails you get from systems (or email-lists). Then you can create a rule looking at the sender and then move them to a sub-folder. That sub-folder will of course increase and hold ”X unread emails”. That to me is stressful (to have unread emails). What do I do then? When I see an email from a system in my inbox I do:

  1. Delete it immediately (which is 99% of the cases, it takes about 5 seconds per email to do)
  2. I act on it immediately (for example a ticket is completed I send off ”good job”-message to the developer that fixed it).

The down part of not keeping them in a sub-folder, is that you can’t go back and search for old items. That is slightly true, but I almost never find the need to go back, and if I have to, I can check in my deleted items folder (which I don’t empty too often, maybe twice a year).

3. Checking emails all the time

Some of you may disagree with me on this one, but I check my inbox all the time. It’s the only was to keep #ZeroInbox! If you sit in meetings all day, and fall behind (emails is piling up in your inbox) there is no way to get back to #ZeroInbox (or at least that will require a huge effort that you will feel resistance to do). What shall you do if you have meetings all day then? There is always some time before, and in between meetings, clean your inbox then. Maybe someone else is talking at the meeting and you are ”out of focus” for a while? Pick up your phone and clean your inbox.

4. Emails I have to act on (i.e the ones sent directly to me)

Do I delete all my emails? Of course not. I use a system with sub-folders to keep track of them. The folders are ”in the cloud” so I can reach them all the time from all my devices. Some of you may keep an email in the inbox as a ”signal” that this is something to act upon, or keep it marked as unread. I don’t do that. All the things I have to do I keep track of using on online kanban board, right now in Favro.

5. Deleting emails (i.e. CC or from systems/emails-lists)

This may sound frightening to you, but I delete most of the emails I get. This means probably over 90%. Some rules fot that:

  1. If I don’t feel the urge, or have the time, to do something about the email I received now, I will probably not have it later either (if I keep it).
  2. If I’m on CC on the email, I got it ”for your information”, I’m not driving the discussion and therefore I can delete it (to be honest I keep CC-emails in some cases, moving them directly to a sub-folder after reading them).
  3. System emails / email lists – Just by the subject I can decide if I should do something or delete directly (see the filter/macro rule).


There you go, my rules for achieving #ZeroInbox. Are they applicable for your situation? It should be if you receive less or the same amount of emails that I get every day. If you get more, or don’t have the possibility to continuously check emails, you probably have to think about something else. Until next time, enjoy!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist


Personal Management

Recently I wrote a blog post on how I now use Favro to keep track of my personal work. I’ve done some more writing about management on personal level in the book I’m working on. I thought I should share that chapter with you here. Please enjoy reading, and get back to me with feedback!


The most important person for you to be successful is YOU! No matter which other persons you have around you, they can’t influence or ”help” you in the same way as you can do. So to become a great leader, you have to start with yourself. And since you know yourself best that should be fairly easy, right?

”Take a look at yourself, and then make a change” – Michael Jackson

When I began my first work I learned two words, the first was ”be” and the second one was ”professional”, i.e., ”Be professional”. I have tried to keep that in mind since then through my career. What is being professional you might ask, is there no time for fun and jokes? I will explain what it means is this chapter, and yes there is plenty of time for laughter as well.

”Lead by example” is a good phrase. Imagine a situation where the parents tell their child that they should not start to smoke, but they do it themselves.

  • ”Your should not start to smoke, it is dangerous!”, says the parents.
  • ”But why do you do it?”, the child replies.

I would like to see a parent with arguments enough to get out of that situation, with logical reasoning it’s virtually impossible.

So if you want your project team members to be on time to the meeting, you have to be on time to the meeting. If you want the team to put in extra hours when the deadline is coming closer, you have to do it. You can of course come up with excuses, ”The management meeting was extended” or ”I don’t work with development so I can’t contribute in the end” but those will only eat on your fund of trust. If you don’t have enough trust in the group you should lead, you will not be the leader! You can still be the ”formal leader” on paper of course, but some other person(s) will in fact be the ”informal leaders” (and they will lead).

”Treat other people the way you want them to treat you”, is another good saying. Be polite and correct to people, then they will be the same against you. To become furious over a situation may feel good in the short run (to really burst off and start yelling like a mad dog), but it will not lead to trust in the long run. There is a theory that some great leaders are psychopaths, but I don’t really believe in that.

”Keep what you promise”, it’s easy to say but harder to follow. If someone asks you to help out with something and you promise them to be ready by Friday, you should work very hard to get ready by Friday! If it’s not realistic at all to be ready by Friday, you should not promise ”by Friday”. Most people are kind and we often ”over promise”, but to what good? You will fail to deliver on time and feel bad, and the other person will be disappointed about not getting what was promised. You need to give realistic estimates of your time, if ”by Friday” is ”by mid next week”, you should tell the latter straight away. If the other person have a problem with this, it might be a conflict in priority, but then at least that is spotted.

But ok, if the shit really hits the fan (and sometimes it does, it happens to all of us) you should tell that immediately when you know it, ”By Friday will become by Tuesday next week, but this is because of this situation that has occurred”. People that never (and I mean never) keep what they promise will ultimately become impossible to work with.

”Do your best”, this is pretty straight forward. For every task you are working with, do your best! By that I mean you should always try to put a little extra effort in that will make a difference. Then you might think, ”I’ve done this a thousand times before, why can’t I do it exactly the same once more?”. The answer is when you stop to do your best, you stop to develop. And when you stop to develop, things usually becomes very boring (at least that is the case for me). When a job becomes boring, its time to change. And remember, there always something new to learn that can add extra value to the work you have done a thousand times before. ”Knowledge is not a heavy burden”, as my father-in-law said.

Now you have some guidance how you should act, continue to learn how you can keep a clear mind to be able to focus.

Clear mind

A clear mind makes you ready to act on the things that pops up when you are in charge of something. How do I get a clear mind? Well, it’s all about focus and context. When you are at work, then your focus should be work related. When you are at home, your focus needs to be with your beloved ones. This is easier said than done today when its possible to be connected everywhere, all the time.

For me it works if I don’t ”mix the two worlds” too much. At home, I seldom do work related stuff (if I’m not working from home of course). At work, I seldom do ”non work” related stuff (like reading newspapers online or looking for concert tickets).

To be able to focus, you also have to be in ”control of everything”. This starts with what you have in front of you, with what you see. For example if you have a technical report lying on your desk, your immediate thought when you see it is that you really should read it right now. But you don’t have the time right now, because of all the other stuff. If you have some receipts laying around, they will give you bad conscience of the expenses report you must do before end of the month. These ”distractions” are in the way for your focus and will clog the other work tasks you have at hand. 


Picture of my desk. Clean desk = clear mind. My colleague (whose desk is shown at the top of the picture) is using a different ”personal management”-system 🙂

”But what should I do with all the receipts and the reports I have to read?”,  you may ask. You need to have a system to act on them in a controlled manner, and for that you need be in control, more about that now.


To be able to control others, you need to be able to control yourself. Sounds pretty straight forward, but can be heck of a work depending on your personality 🙂 . If your are very fortunate you might be able to hire an assistant, but for most of us we need to find out a way for ourselves.

Personally I used text files (before switching to Favro) to keep control over everything I need (notes, tasks, meetings, etc.). All the things that I do, goes into these files. Well, it’s not 100% true, if there is something that takes less than five minutes, and I can fix right away there is no need to update the file about it, if don’t want to keep a record of it that is.

Staying in control is not something you can decide to do for a week and then skip. It’s a continuous work, that you have to carry out day out and day in. Sounds pretty boring, and sometimes it is, but the benefits you get out of it makes it worthwhile. And if you get a ”control system” up and running, it soon becomes part of your daily routines.

One last piece of advise, if you use some other tool (than text files), don’t over-trust it, it’s easy to be blinded by all the functions. But you still need to put the effort in and enter information. And if it can fetch from information from other sources, that is good, but that info is easier to neglect, since you haven’t created it. Things you write down (and repeat for yourself) is easier to remember.


To conclude, a change always starts from within. Take a look in the mirror and see what needs to be changed. If you can’t see, ask for options from other persons. Be professional in everything you do, from how you treat other people, to the effort you put into your work (do you best and add try to ”a cherry on the top”). Keep your head clear from distractions and you are ready to go!

  • Be professional means:
    • Lead by example.
    • Respect – Be polite and correct.
    • Keep what you promise.
    • Do you best.
  • Keep a clear mind to be able to be one step ahead and do active management.
  • Keep yourself under control by using some sort of control system (text files or other tools).

Personal Kanban in Favro

I have used a set of text files to keep track of my work. This personal system have been in use for many, many years and it has really served me well! How this is used is maybe a topic for another blog post. However, I have been thinking of starting using an online Kanban tool for my work for quite some time, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Not until now.

Personal Kanban in general

There is a book called ”Personal Kanban” by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry that pretty much tells everything there is to know about how to use Kanban on a personal level, focusing on two of Kanban’s core practices: Visualize your work & Limit your work-in-progress (WIP). The book helps you get priority, productivity and efficiency into your work and personal life. If you want to know more you can visit this web site.

Personal Kanban in Favro

Finally I let go of my text files and took the step over to a visual tool, and I have chosen Favro. How did I end up with the board layout that you have seen in the picture above? Let me try to explain in a step by step tutorial.


Favro has something they call collection, basically it is an ”empty space” where you can add other elements. This is how it looks right after you have created a collection.


Let’s create a board on the collection by using the ”(+)”-icon up in the left corner. First I added five columns, one for each day in a working week.

This could be enough, depending on your needs. However, I have added two more columns: ”Next week(s)” where I put work I don’t complete during the week and ”Done”, where I move fully completed work.


Favro has an element called Backlog that works as a list of things (cards) to do. From the backlogs, cards are moved onto boards. I have not used this feature that much myself, so I will leave it for now.

Fast lane

Sometimes you need to do urgent work (things that you don’t have planned for in advance). To not ”mess up” the regular planned work, I have added a ”Fast lane”. Note that there is only two columns in this board: ”Doing” and ”Done”. Why? You should plan for urgent work and if the only work you do is urgent, you don’t really have control over your situation and work load.   

Slow lane

The opposite to the fast lane is the ”Slow lane”. Here you can have work you can do if you have time left. If work in the ”Slow lane” doesn’t get done, there is no big harm.

The ”Personal Kanban”-collection is now complete to start using!

Weekly planning – Meetings

At the first day of the week I do my weekly planning. First I add all my meetings as cards in the ”Regular lane”. Why? Don’t I have my meetings in the Calendar? Well, yes I do and I agree it can feel a bit cumbersome, but I want to see all the things that I have to do in a working day in a complete picture.

Weekly planning – Activities / Tasks

Now it is time to add all the activities / tasks that I know of to the ”Regular lane”. This is work I know I need to do during the week. My weekly planning is now complete! Will it change? You bet, but now I have an overview and first understanding of how the working week will look like.


As a side note, I also use Tags (”color coding”) to separate between different type of cards. Meeting have one color, my projects others and so on.

Detailed planning / work breakdown

Before I can do a task, I need to know in detail what to do (pretty obvious, right?). Sometimes I do this work breakdown as a first thing when I start a task, other times I start to think about the task some time before and add the breakdown when it comes to mind. I’m using two different ways for the detailed planning per task: description or task list. I mix between them, whichever suits the task at hand best.

Card description

I add the work breakdown as a description to the card. In Favro you can use a simple formatting to get headings, bullet lists and so on.

Card tasklist

The other way to add work breakdown is to use the tasklist function. Now you can for example add a ”To Do”-list to your card. You can check your tasks as you complete them to see the progress.

Mid week update

How should it look after Wednesday has passed? Hopefully you have completed some cards and put them in the ”Done”-column. Work not completed should be placed in the ”Next week(s)”-column to be addressed on the next weekly planning.

After Friday all your ”Monday to Friday”-columns should be empty. Then on Monday it starts all over again with the weekly planning and new (or moved) cards are added. Note! I actually do my planning for the next week the last thing I do on Fridays, then I know exactly what to do when I get into the office on Monday (and I don’t have to spend the weekend worrying on that).

Navigate in many collections

After a while, when you have used Favro for everything in your life the number of collections will grow. You can then mark your favorites with a star and they will end up as ”tabs” at the bottom of the screen (you can see ”Personal Kanban” as starred in the pictures above).


There you have it, my personal kanban in Favro. You don’t use Favro? Why not? The principles for my personal kanban board can be used in other online tools as well, maybe not exactly the same but in similar ways. Will I go back to my text files to keep track of my work? No, I will never go back :).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

This blog celebrates one year – This is how I did it

The 11th of October 2014 I published my very first blog post ever on this blog. It was called ”Welcome” and I remember I tried to formulate what being an agileist meant. Looking back at it now, I think I have stayed pretty true to this cause. I’ve promoted adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous improvements” and ”coaches other people & thinks a step further”.

About a half year ago I published another blog post called ”How to create a mildly successful blog” and it describes how I got started using five keywords: purpose, platform, content, viewers and consistency. Since then total number of page views have grown about four times, basically thanks to two very successful blog posts:

Now the monthly page view statistics looks like this:


How to run a blog

Statistics aside, I guess you are more interested in how I did it and my thoughts about it. First of all I have limited time to spend on the blog, it’s about five hours per week. With this ”capacity” I can roughly create one blog post per week. During the time I’ve developed some sort of process for blog post writing. It’s based on two text files. One file where I keep blog post ideas and perform some planning, and the other where it write the actual texts for the posts. This have worked pretty well for me, I guess it can be done in many other different ways that are equally good or better.

My blog post process:

  1. Whenever I got an idea for a blog post I note it down somewhere. Then, when appropriate, I transfer the idea into the first text file just describing the idea with just a headline and sometimes a few lines of text. Then I do nothing more about the idea for the time being (other than a thread is spawned in my consciousness that starts to work on the idea I guess 🙂 ).
  2. At a regular interval (usually biweekly) I look at the first file with ideas and do some planning, i.e., I decide which week I shall publish one or two of them (I only publish on Mondays, that have become part of the routine somehow).
  3. Now its time to start the actual thinking about the blog posts I selected to write. I move to the second text file and I do a break-down of them, basically writing a lot of <TODO> tags. Then I wait (for more background processing).
  4. Time to start the actual writing for the blog post that is selected as the next upcoming blog post. If possible I do this in one round (a couple of hours), if there is a huge blog post (a lot of text to write), this step is split on two or more writing sessions.
  5. When the writing is done I transfer (copy) the information into I edit the blog post: formatting, adding pictures and links. If it is a small blog post I do step 4)  and 5) in one go.
  6. My beloved wife then kindly reviews the blog post by reading it and correcting any spelling and grammar errors (she is an English teacher 🙂 ).
  7. Final step, I schedule the blog post for publication. I very seldom publish directly when a blog post is finished. I think this have helped me to keep consistency, in one period I had two-three blog posts scheduled ahead in time, normally I complete the upcoming blog post the week before it’s published.

By separating the ideas from the actual writing, this process has prevented me from the feeling ”I need to write a blog post now, but I don’t know about what”, to instead be something that I do when I have time available.

How to reach an audience (channels)

In the ”How to create a mildly successful blog” post I hadn’t thought out on how to reach a broader audience. Now I have found some other channels that brings traffic to my blog:

  • – I’ve managed to get news written about my blog posts, and I’ve also done an article for them. The news have been translated to other languages than English, namely: Chinese, Japanese, French and Portuguese.
  • – They have been very kindly to re-publish some of my most popular blog posts.

However, Twitter (tweets about my blog posts) and search engines are still the two largest sources that brings traffic to my blog. I’m currently working on bringing in other channels as well.


One year celebration! First I must say thanks to all of you that is reading this blog! Without your comments and feedback it would have been impossible to keep going. Second, it’s amazing to see that people from 104 countries have visited the blog!


Since I’m a doer, I can now ”tick off” all of the following actions (taken from chapter 21 in ”Soft Skills” by John Sonmez):


What will happen now? I’m sure this blog will continue, maybe I change the frequency of adding posts and/or the direction of the content. Only time will tell.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist


I have an indecisive relationship with Twitter. Most of the stuff there just passes me by, even if it is good, impossible to consume in that particular moment. I use the star-marking function a bit, but then I tend to forget to check up on them 🙂 But every now and then I found a real gem! This tweet was one of them.


I clicked on the link in the tweet and started to read. I was immediately moved and also very inspired by the story that Cory Berg told. This guy is trying to achieve the same things that I want to do. I just had to get the book to read more!


The book by Cory Berg is called ”Software++” with the subtitle ”Must-Have Skills for Software Engineers”. It’s true that the skills are applicable to software engineers, but most of them can be applied by all knowledge workers. The book is available in Kindle format at Amazon.



The book is divided into three parts, each chapter describes a skill, and there are 21 of them in total. Each skill has a descriptive text, exercises you can do and a Real-World Tale (Cory’s own stories from his life and career). Here is the total list:

Part I: About You

  • Skill #1: Always Have a Definition of Done
  • Skill #2: Reason From Facts
  • Skill #3: Question Assumptions!
  • Skill #4: Be More Than A Coder
  • Skill #5: Build Speaking Skills
  • Skill #6: Attitude Is Everything
  • Skill #7: Lead Or Follow
  • Skill #8: Don’t Hit Send
  • Skill #9. Own Your Mistakes

Part II: Your Professional Relationships

  • Skill #10: Be Interested In Others
  • Skill #11: Practice Building Trust
  • Skill #12: Adapt To Your Audience
  • Skill #13: Handle Criticism Professionally
  • Skill #14: Manage Perception
  • Skill #15: Value Others’ Time And Expertise
  • Skill #16: Get A Mentor, Be A Mentor

Part III: Your Organization

  • Skill #17: Respect Other Roles
  • Skill #18: Understand Organizational Dynamics
  • Skill #19: Support The Business Direction
  • Skill #20: Talk To Customers
  • Skill #21: Know Your Product

Here are some of my personal reflections after reading all parts. In part I – ”About you” I found #4 to be really good, very few developers that I know of shows passion that goes beyond coding. #8 ”Don’t hit send” is also a personal favorite since I have a colleague that have a one minute delay on sending emails. After he hits the ”Send”-button it will wait 60 seconds before it’s actually sent. It has saved him from a lot of trouble he claims 🙂 For part II – ”Your Professional Relationships” I really like the opening joke in #10 (that I obviously can’t tell you here). The rubber duck in #15 is another thing that you really have to read! The last part is about ”Your Organization” and how you navigate in such a structure. If you want to advance beyond coding you have to have ”political”-skills.


I can really recommend this book, and to the current price it’s a real bargain! The chapters are short, convenient, and quick to read. You get the ”I have to read one more chapter”-feeling! I really like the ”Real-World Tales” where Cory shares his stories. This book is very good reading when you are traveling (but not driving a car I presume :). I will also keep coming back to this book to be remembered of all the tips, it’s easy to fall back into old habits.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

How to create a mildly successful blog

Today this blog reached 2500 page views. In some sense, I think its fair to call that mildly successful for a blog started less than six months ago. But if you want to know how to create a wildly successful blog, I suggest that you check out the book ”Soft Skills” by John Sonmez. You can find my review of it here. Buy it and then jump straight to chapter 21 – ”Creating a wildly successful blog”.


Are you in a hurry and fine with settling on just mildly successful for the time being? Then be my guest and continue reading! 🙂

How to start up a blog

1. First you need a purpose, why should you start up a blog. My goal is clear, I want to release a book, but without any presumable readers it’s no point of trying to write one. How to get readers? You need some sort of platform to ”send your message from”, hence a blog (then it of course also helps if you are famous or have and ”interesting and selling context”, like working for a cool company. I have neither).

2. Then you need a technical platform for your blog. You can go the easy way and start up a blog on a free service like WordPress or Blogger. They will get you started in no time, but on the other hand, they don’t give you that much control over layout and themes. If you want to have that, you should go for a paid hosting service where you can host your blog. As you may have noticed, I have, for the time being, gone the easy way with Don’t underestimate this step though! It took me nearly ten hours to compare two blog platforms against each other, learn the basics for both of them (select themes, create a blog posts with pictures. include content from YouTube and Slideshare etc.) and finally make a selection for one of them.

3. You also need something to write about on your blog. You can create content using random thoughts about your life, how to pair socks after laundry or just about anything else you can think of. For your blog to be (at least mildly) successful I think however that you need to focus on a few things. My tagline sums mine up pretty well I think: ”Humble servant in management, lean and agile”. That means I focus only to write about these areas, if I all of a sudden should feel a strong urge to write about for example root beer I would start up another blog for that.

4. Ok, so you got the content coming, now you need to attract huge amount of viewers to your blog. To be truly honest with you, I haven’t really figured out how to do that yet. Promoting the blog from other social medias (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) is the way that I have been using. What have worked best for me is book reviews. I send tweets about my blog posts mentioning the author and the publisher and they have been kind enough (in most cases) to retweet this to their much larger number of followers, which in turn has directed readers to my blog.

5. Finally is the hardest part, consistency. Starting a blog and create a few blog posts is something anyone can do, this is really simple! But to be consistent and putting up at least a blog post a week, and to continue doing so over weeks and months are much harder (I know now from first hand experience). Maybe you find a small theme and can create three or four blog posts out of that, but then? It’s very hard to sit down and write a blog post when the pressure is on. My suggestion is that you keep a list of topics that you want to write about. Then you think about what you should write when you do other things (like a background process). This could go on for days or even weeks. Finally you sit down and write the blog post, it will practically write itself (you will still have to push the keys on the keyboard of course 🙂 ).

Visitors from all over the world

One thing that I’m proud of with my blog is the fact that it has reached viewers from many countries, 74 when I counted. This is really amazing, and shows ”the power of internet”. I would almost call this wildly successful 🙂


I would like to say a few words about the top ten list:

  1. USA – The most lean and agile country in the world (except Japan that is 🙂 )? At least most of my viewers come from here.
  2. Sweden – My home country, but also very adoptive in lean and agile
  3. Great Britain – No surprise, large European country
  4. Germany – Same as above
  5. Canada – A bit of a surprise, a special hello goes out to you (I love ice hockey by the way 🙂 )
  6. Poland – Apparently I have a lot of fans here, thank you!
  7. Spain – What can I say, you have the best soccer league in the world! Last #ElClasico was magnificent!
  8. Finland – Neighbour country to Sweden, hyvvää Suomi!
  9. Netherlands – It think Swedes and Dutch is some senses are much the like
  10. France – Another large European country

At the end of the list:

  • Malta
  • Kenya
  • Malaysia
  • Moldova
  • Åland
  • Estonia
  • Morocco
  • Jamaica
  • Latvia
  • Kuwait

Big ”hello” to all of you! How did you find me? I hope you are coming back!


In fact I owe much of the success of this blog to John Sonmez. He forced me to start up this thing! 🙂 Well not him personally, but one of his strongest advice when it comes to marketing yourself, is that you should have a blog (that is in section 2 – ”Marketing yourself” in ”Soft Skills” by the way). Right now I’m working on his ”taking action”-step: ”Commit to keep your blog up for at least a year”. Thanks to this blog other opportunities have emerged for me, that I hopefully can talk more about later!

John Sonmez also has a great blog himself. It’s aimed towards software developers, but much of the content is applicable to all knowledge workers. John also offers a free blogging course (that I have not had the chance to take yet), but from what I can see is very popular!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Soft Skills

I promise this will be a book review of ”Soft Skills” by John Sonmez, but first I must tell you a story.



I just had completed reading the printed version of another physical book (pBook). Now I wanted to have it both in my bookshelf as well as on my computer, so I went to the Manning site to download the eBook version (it was included for free). I signed up and downloaded, nothing in particular about that. After a couple of days I received a newsletter which talked about MEAP (Manning Early Access Program), how you can provide feedback during the writing process of a book.

One of my goals in life is to write a book. As I’m no author and I know next to nothing about writing I must learn how. Surely I’ve been writing tons of source code and numerous documents during my professional career, but I recon that is nothing like writing a book. I needed to ”get into the world of book writing” and I figured that getting one step closer to that would be to get involved in a MEAP.

I browsed through the list of books currently in MEAP, and I immediately was drawn to ”Soft Skills – The software developer’s life manual”. I bought it and downloaded the first section ”Career”. I started reading and was super excited, this is really good stuff that can help me! Since John Sonmez is doing the same ”book journey” that I also would like to do, I thought I should try to contact him. Being a shy Swede I didn’t really know how to go about doing that, or what I ”could bring to the table”. I thought for days, then I decided to give up. But for some reason, my urge in getting closer to my goal was stronger. I gave it a try, and this is the actual conversation.


Wow! I was astonished by John’s kindness and willingness to help me (reading on in ”Soft Skills” I better understand why, but we leave that for later). End of story, let’s focus on the book.


The book is divided into seven sections and they are:

  • Career
  • Marketing yourself
  • Learning
  • Productivity
  • Financial
  • Fitness
  • Spirit

With between 7-17 chapters in each section, a total of 71 all in all. The chapters are short and to the point (5-10 pages each), and most of them can be read individually, i.e. you can read the book from cover to cover, or jump to the parts you are interested in and continue on from there.

The ”Career” section is, that you can imagine, useful tips on how to setup career goals, gain people skills, write a good resume and pass the interview. But it’s also about what different type of options you have (employee, independent consultant, or entrepreneur) and how to think if you want to switch.

Section 2, ”Marketing yourself” was a real eye opener for me personally. I never had thought about it in this way. I tried out some of the stuff mentioned, and it didn’t take long before I could see positive result! You have to read the section yourself to fully understand, but I can give you some quotes: ”marketing is a multiplier of talent”, ”a brand is a promise” and ”follower to fan”. In this section you can also find the advice that you should give away 90% of what you do for free (that personified John’s willingness to help me).

”Learning” is a very important section, given the ever evolving world we live in. I like the idea with the 10-step process for learning, though I haven’t had the time to try it out yet.

”Productivity” is another personal favorite of mine. Who don’t want to be productive? I really like chapter 37 – ”My Personal Productivity Plan”. It has a personal touch that I like, with great examples and pictures. The do’s and don’ts from chapter 41 about multi-tasking are also very good.

Section 5, ”Financial” has a very good tip on how to negotiate salary that is worth at least a 10% raise 🙂 I can’t leave this section without mentioning chapter 55 – ”Bonus: How I retired at 33”. It’s very personal, and really shows that a travel from A to B usually aren’t a straight line.

To become a good software developer, or any knowledge worker for that matter, your body has to be reasonably ”up to speed” with your brain. This is covered in the ”Fitness” section.  Maybe the most ”geek friendly” advice is the one about using a standing desk together with a treadmill.

Finally, section 7 is about ”Spirit”. Beforehand this was the least appealing section for me. But John does a good job not turning this into some spiritual mumbo jumbo.


When the book was released I got the full version and re-started my reading with the foreword by Uncle Bob. Then it all of a sudden clicked for me! This book is not about career, marketing yourself or fitness (well it is, but you understand what I mean). This book is about never giving up, to everyday make the version of yourself a little bit better than yesterday. I believe that this book will be a game changer for many software developers or  knowledge workers in general (most of its content are applicable to larger audience). At least it has been for me. I can truly recommend ”Soft Skills”, it’s personal kaizen!