The Power of Personal Kanban to Get Unstuck, Unlock your Productivity and Get More Done

“Like traffic, work does not fit. Work flows.”  Jim Benson

Busyness creates blockages.  Too much to do creates a mental traffic jam where the ideas and productivity just stops flowing.  So how do you get unstuck and back in flow?

There is a simple system for getting things out of your head so you can start to think clearly again.  Without forgetting what needs to be done.  It’s called Personal Kanban.

Personal Kanban is a practice, a system for creating a visual work-flow. From it you can see what’s swimming through your life so you can start to manage it.  You can clear your head, without losing what needs to get done.

The premise behind Kanban is like David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) system.  There are ‘containers’ or columns for items in different stages of completion.  You can categorize different types of activities using colour or different ‘lines’.  This way you can see your tasks in context.  And you can see your entire workflow.

There are 2 key premises behind Personal Kanban:

  1. To visualise your work
  2. Limit your work in progress.

How do you do this?  To visualize your work, record all your activities on Sticky notes.  You can then move these through a workflow chart that you create on a whiteboard.  You can also use different coloured Sticky notes to visually show different activity groups.

The most basic Kanban is one with 3 columns: To Do, Doing, Done.

Kanban Board

Most people do like to add a few more columns, lines or swim-lanes to make it more suited to their workflow.  An extended Personal Kanban might include:

  • Goals : This helps you keep your goals visible and up-front.   Out of sight is out of mind.
  • Projects: This area is for those projects you need to get to or don’t want to forget about.  Keeping them visible helps you get to them faster.  When you’re ready to start a project, you can use dedicated swim-lanes to move it through. (For an example of this, refer to the bottom 2 swim-lanes on my Personal Kanban).
  • To Do / Backlog: This is  for all the things you need to get to at some stage.  You can segment your common Areas of Focus to contextualize your work.  For example, I have lines for Marketing & Sales, Billable, Operations, Strategy.  This keeps me focused on the business areas requiring my attention.
  • Learning / Improvement:  This is for ideas for personal growth for myself and business improvements.
  • Ready / Pending / This Week: This column is for items that need attention this week.  These need to be within your consciousness. When items become ripe for action, move them from your Backlog to your Ready column.  This way, you can begin the process of deciding when to action them.  Remember the second rule of Personal Kanban is to Limit your work in progress. Aim to limit the number of items in this column to around 5-6.  Any more and overwhelm will start to creep in.
  • Today / Action: These are items requiring immediate attention.  In your daily planning, look through your Ready column and select those items you can move to Action. Add calendar appointments for today. And add recurring items needing attention today, or ad-hoc items that crop up.  But don’t overload this column.  You don’t want a traffic jam in your Action area!  Aim to limit the items in this column to 3.  This way, you can focus, without the distraction of too many tasks.  You can always move more into your Action column when you’ve completed these tasks.
  • Doing / WIP (Work In Progress): This is for the items you are currently working on.   Your goal is to keep these progressing through to the Done column as quickly as possible.
  • Waiting: This column is for items that need action by someone else before you can move them forward. Or items that are dependent on something else before you can progress them.
  • Done: Whoo Hoo!  You’ve done it!  This column is for completed tasks.  Enjoy the rush of excitement as you move items across to this column. Not only do you feel good, but you can learn a lot from your analysis of items in this column.  You can add lines to the Done column for Planned and Unplanned tasks to see how much of each type you are doing.  (If an unplanned task interrupts your day, add it to your workflow as soon as you get given it.  That way, you can progress it through your workflow the same as any other task).   You can analyze the type of unplanned items you’re getting. Where  are they coming from?  How much time are they taking up in your day?   You can also add lines in your Done column for your main Areas of Focus. This way, you can analyse the key areas in which you’ve spent your time. Do you have a plethora of items from one area of focus? Are you spending too much time on some areas and not others?

Kanban Board Full2-2

Kanban is based on principles and techniques of ‘Lean’ management. It is both a philosophy and a discipline to ensure responsible decision making around what needs to be done. You can consider the context of a task around what else is happening and at what stage other tasks are at.   Good decisions can be made when you can see what’s happening.  And that’s where Personal Kanban works.  It keeps the context of your life, and the activities requiring attention, right in front of you.

Sure, you can can get digital versions of Personal Kanban (and there are some good ones out there – try

Kanban Board Online

But the difficulty is that unless you’re sitting in front of your computer all day, your Kanban is out of sight. The physical experience of moving Sticky Notes across your board is both therapeutic and powerful.  It engages memory retention and unconscious synthesis, where your brain continues to work on the best way of getting the task done.

So you can stay focused and get things done!

I’ve been using Personal Kanban for a couple of weeks now and I love its simplicity and flexibility. I can instantly see what’s on my plate. And satisfying to know that my only focus is doing what needs to be done today.  Even if I only complete 3 priority tasks per day, that’s over 700 priority tasks per year.  A whole lot of important things WILL get done!

Personal Kanban can reduce and many times even eliminate procrastination.  A bold claim, but here’s the thing.  If an item is not worth putting as a Sticky note To-Do on your board, it’s not worth doing.  Once it’s on your board, you’ll feel compelled to do it.  If you don’t do it, and you see that you haven’t been doing it for a while, you can take it off your board.  It’s clearly not that important. You can then put it out of your life. Without the guilt.

People often overestimate what they can get done in a day, but totally underestimate what they can achieve in a year.  With Personal Kanban you can expect great things to get done through your next year!

So get out your Sticky Notes, a Marker Pen and clear your White Board.  Go ahead and create your Personal Kanban Board.

Experiment with a few different layouts until you find one that’s right for you.  I found it useful to map put a few options on paper first before marking it up on my whiteboard.

Have fun with using the system and post your comments about how you’ve set up your board.  Let us know what successes you’re having with Personal Kanban.

Stay happy!  Stay productive!