Using Personal Kanban To Organize Your Workflow

My journey of discovery into time management to date has introduced me to many techniques and terms I was unfamiliar with previously. But both kanban and personal kanban were names I’d neither seen not heard before, so I was quite intrigued.

Could this be something I could use to improve the way I am organizing and managing my time currently?

Possibly. Read on to find out more!

What is personal kanban?

The easiest way to describe personal kanban is that it’s a “simple system to efficiently manage your To-Do list.”

The key benefit being that its structure enables you to visualize your work and discourages you from taking on too much at once or multi-tasking, which as you will know from my other posts, is not usually the most efficient way to handle your tasks.

Kanban (看板) is the Japanese word for billboard or sign and refers to the use of visual cards in the lean production workflow system, a system used in the Japanese manufacturing industry to track inventory and control production in a way that minimizes waste without reducing productivity.

Personal kanban is exactly as it sounds, and that is a version of kanban designed for individuals, rather than an entire manufacturing process.

The idea of implementing a personal form of kanban was developed by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, authors of the book, “Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life“.

How to use personal kanban

To manage your workflow and tasks, all you need is a simple board, known as a Kanban Board, comprising three columns (your kanban list) with the headers, “To-Do”, “Doing” and “Done”.

The “To-Do” column will consist of all the tasks you aren’t working on yet but need to get started at some point.

“Doing” holds the tasks you are working on currently and when each task is completed, it gets moved across to the “Done” column.

A “Done” column may seem redundant at first, but it is important to have a visual representation of what you have accomplished, as this is great from a motivational perspective.

You can use a physical Kanban board, which could be a whiteboard, corkboard or even just a white wall with post-it notes (your kanban cards) for each task. If you like, you can use different coloured post-its to organize your tasks by priority.

Maybe red being high priority, yellow medium and green low priority.

It’s up to you really.

You now have an excellent visual “big picture” overview of everything you have on your plate right now, but broken down into manageable tasks.

If you have colour-coded, you can quickly see which tasks are most urgent and whether it looks like you’re doing too much currently.

Limiting your work in progress is an important principle of personal kanban and you should implement a hard limit on the number of tasks you can have in the “Doing” column at any one time.

You could also extend this to limiting the total amount of post-its in your “To-Do” and “Doing” column at any on time, which will help you to keep the board organized.

If you prefer to do things digitally, you have the option of using one of the numerous apps available to support you, a few of which I will outline next.

Apps that can help

There are at least a dozen kanban apps out there currently, most of which I am yet to try. However, three I am familiar with and have tried and tested are:

  • KanbanFlow
  • MeisterTask
  • Trello

Trello is a web-based project management application built around kanban and is probably the most well-known of the kanban apps around.

Although I don’t use it currently, I used it extensively when I was working at a start-up company and found it extremely useful to manage the numerous projects across our small team on two continents and several different time zones.

It made it easy to see how far we were moving with each task and prevented duplication of effort since we all had access to the ‘live’ data and could quickly see any progress made by colleagues in Asia while those in Europe had been asleep and vice-versa.

Trello screenshot / Time Hack Hero

It’s quite a simple and intuitive app and very fast to use.

Cards are customizable and you can add notes, attachments, checklists, due dates, etc., which is great because having this sort of functionality allowed the whole team to communicate through just Trello and minimized the use of multiple-recipient email communication and prevented everything from becoming fragmented and disorganized.

Overall, it’s a nicely-designed tool that will make short work of your project and time management and is particularly useful when collaborative projects are involved. It’s easy to learn and the free version is more than sufficient for the individual needs of most people, but if you need to expand on some of the core features, you always have the option of upgrading to one of the premium versions.

KanbanFlow is an app I use mainly on my phone and have found it useful at times when I’ve been managing some projects involving a lot of hands-on tasks which meant that I was out and about and so not always at my computer.

This interface has an additional column by default, which is “Do Today”, but you are free to delete it if it does not serve your purposes.

KanbanFlow screenshot / Time Hack Hero

One of the things I like about this one is that it has a Pomodoro Timer. It’s hardly cutting-edge technology, but given that my main focus is on time management and one of my most favoured strategies is the Pomodoro Technique, I find it to be a useful touch.

Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique? >>>

I have MeisterTask on my MacBook but haven’t used it that much lately.

It’s a decent tool that shares similarities with Trello, but with a more attractive interface, in my opinion. This is another one that has a couple of levels of paid service, but the basic plan should be adequate enough for most needs.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

The beauty of personal kanban is that very little is required to set up and learn it and it is very compatible with a lot of different productivity techniques, such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done method.

It’s very intuitive and enables to get your workflow out of your head and into a format that allows you to clearly visualize everything you have going on.

Anyone who has a number of varying tasks to complete will benefit from using this personal kanban technique.

More reading

Time Management Tips For Work

How To Get More Out Of Mondays

Does Inbox Zero Work?

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