Tag: personal kanban

5 steps to a happier, more effective you (Part 1)

Meet Nancy, a new client of mine. She wears many hats. She manages a support team, coordinates and defines work for the software development team, and works on many internal improvement projects. Oh, and she’s constantly interrupted by a barrage of emails, phone calls and in person visits, making it a challenge to get anything done.

Her days are long, and it’s common for her to sit at her computer on weekends, just to try and keep up. Stress is affecting her health. On top of it all, she rarely finds time for the work she really wants to do. Life is tiring.

We can all relate to Nancy in some way.

Guess what? That was Nancy a month ago. The Nancy of today is

  • going home from work on time
  • completing less urgent, more valuable stuff
  • feeling on top of things
  • smiling lots more
  • dropping fewer balls, and more relaxed
  • feeling more satisfied with her efforts

And here’s the thing. What she did is simple, straightforward, and does not demand a lot of time. What she did was follow 5 essential steps that emerged from my work with hundreds of individuals getting started with Personal Kanban™, the most effective tool I know to manage work and navigate life.

Today I’ll introduce you to the first step, through Nancy’s journey. Read how she learned to make better decisions about her work, and have fewer 3 am jump out of bed freak out moments. Learn how to apply it to your own situation right away.

Step 1: Set up your new workout routine

Tools like ToDo lists, email and calendars don’t help us see the full picture. When we don’t understand all of our options, we feel anxious and stressed that we’re forgetting something, and from not fully knowing just how much stuff there is to manage.

My first step with Nancy was to get all of her work visible. We set up a board like the one below. The work flows from left to right as follows:

  1. Options are all of the possible work items that may be chosen to be worked on. I prefer the word Options instead of To Do to emphasize that not everything here has to be done. Context changes all the time, we don’t have to feel obligated to do something just because we’ve added it to our list.
  2. Today holds all of the work items she plans to start today. Having a Today list provides her greater focus so we minimize the time looking for options. We can spend more time simply doing, which brings us to
  3. Doing are all of the work items she’s already invested time in. It doesn’t mean she’s working on it right now. If Nancy started on a report 3 days ago, that report is in the Doing column until it’s finished.
  4. Waiting On is a subset of Doing, holding any item that Nancy can’t work on until something else happens. Waiting for someone to provide feedback on a report is an example.
  5. Done contains all of Nancy’s accomplishments, everything completed, the place where she can celebrate what’s she done and learn more about the nature of her work.
Personal Kanban starter board design
This board design satisfies the majority of people – start with it.

Visualize what matters most. We then figured out what she needed to see most about her work. Since Nancy wears many hats, she opted to use a different coloured post-it for each hat. In her case, we had colours for Development Features, Development Issues, Customer Support,  and Investments. Investments are the items that have a lot of value in the long term.

Now, Nancy could write out all of her work. She looked through her emails, documents, calendar and mental notes to identify everything. The dump process took about 30 minutes.

Have a purpose for the board. We also made an explicit goal for the first week, and posted it beside her workflow. In the first week, it’s all about incorporating new daily habits, and building awareness, namely to visualize all work. This means not working on anything that isn’t already on the board. I recommend anyone getting started to have this as their first goal.

We also discussed what that means in daily life, to increase odds of success. She agreed to begin each day by updating her board before starting into work. We also placed the board directly behind her desk, so it’s in plain view and easy to access. It’s hard to ignore.

Sticking with it. Often I recommend adding a daily habits tracker to the board, to make those intentions more explicit, to measure progress and to learn how to be successful through experimentation. I’ll explain more on this in an upcoming post. With Nancy, we opted not to, partly because I work right beside Nancy so my presence creates accountability and we usually checked in at the start of the day. Since I can’t be with you at your office (sorry!), you might want to try the daily habit tracker trick.

Once everything was in place, Nancy was pretty excited, though a bit overwhelmed by the vast number of post-its on her wall! That’s normal, even expected when seeing for the first time everything that she was trying to manage. At least now she felt more confident that something important wasn’t going to slip through the cracks.

In summary, Nancy got started by:

  1. Creating a board using the recommended workflow.
  2. Deciding on what she wanted to visualize most, and used colours to support that.
  3. Wrote out all of her work items
  4. Added an explicit goal
  5. Decided on a routine to keep her board updated

Next time, we’ll see how Nancy’s first week went, what she learned about her work and where she went next. We’ll explore the power of retrospectives and goals to drive improvement.

1 simple step to more satisfying work

Completed work, what is it good for?
Completed work, what is it good for?


How often does someone say they are really busy when you ask them how they’re doing?

It’s like a badge of honour. If we’re not busy, then we’re wasting time, right?

It’s easy to get caught up in being busy, forgetting where the time has gone. Imagine discovering one day that everything you’ve been doing you didn’t enjoy! That’s exactly what happened to Jackie.

When I met Jackie she was using Personal Kanban™ for a few weeks, and feeling good about the amount of work she’d gotten done. The board helped her to stay focused on what needed doing, and avoid forgetting important tasks.

Then, everything changed with one simple question – what was satisfying about her accomplishments?

Satisfying? Jackie hadn’t thought of evaluating her work in this way. And now, because all her work was visible on the board, she had the means to do so.

Looking at her board, my eyes were drawn to one area – the Done column. Her Done was overloaded with stickies, perhaps 50 or more. She was getting lots done, but she didn’t know what to do with her tasks once they were completed. This is a common scenario, unfortunately. We get caught up in the act of doing and miss out on improving what we choose to do and how we do it. We settle for being busy, even productive without considering the value of our time invested.

I showed her by simply asking ourselves a few questions, we can uncover some important truths about our work. Questions like:

  1. What was satisfying?
  2. What was frustrating or disappointing?
  3. What did I avoid doing?
  4. What was easy? Difficult?

At first Jackie wasn’t sure what to do, as if she didn’t have permission to consider these questions. After all, this was the work she simply had to do, what did it matter if some of it was enjoyable and some of it wasn’t? Then, as she looked through her completed work she was disturbed to discover that there wasn’t one task she had done in all that time which she particularly enjoyed. Knowing this now, Anna saw her work in a new way. It wasn’t okay to just “do work”. She wanted satisfaction, a greater sense of joy and now she had a way of knowing what part of her work really meant something to her. That was a big aha moment!

We made one adjustment to her board.  We divided her Done column into 3  categories: satisfying, average and unsatisfying. Now as she completes her work she can evaluate how she feels about it in real time h. She can instantly see the pattern of her finished work and choose to do something about it if she wants to. Now her done work has an influence on what she chooses to do next. It’s not just about being productive anymore, she’s choosing to bring more joy into her day-to-day work life.

Jackie goes from disappointment to happiness :)
Daily work, now with 100% more satisfaction 🙂


To sum up:

  • We do our best work when we have motivation.
  • Use Personal Kanban™ to gather data on how you feel about your work.
  • Adjust your Done column to make it easy to see patterns.
  • Do regular reflections on your work.

Don’t settle for being busy. Move towards doing more of what you love.

What are your tips and thoughts? Share them in the comments below.

Are you new to Personal Kanban™? Anyone can use it. Here is an intro to Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, creators of Personal Kanban and some simple steps to get started.

Personal Kanban Sault College meetup notes

Today I met with some of the workshop participants from last May’s Personal Kanban workshop. I was curious to see how people have been experimenting with Personal Kanban and learning about themselves in the process.

Notes from session. Click image to view larger.

What’s worked:

  • High value in using Today / Waiting On columns to stay focused on what is important right now.
  • Visualizing all the options saved missing some important deliverables on a number of occasions
  • Using Pomodoro to get work done. Pomodoro helps with large tasks by breaking them down and forcing oneself to get up and take short breaks. Experimenting with putting a Pomodoro symbol on the office door and closing the door more often led to increased productivity. Use Outlook calendar to create Pomodoros.
  • Using PK for individual work, haven’t tried for projects yet.
  • Taking time at end of day to plan for next one.

What’s hard:

  • Focusing on limiting WIP. It’s easy to put up activity cards, harder to stop starting more tasks before finishing others. 
  • Taking time to reflect. Kanban being used mostly for deciding what to do, not about continuous improvement. This is unfortunate, as a Kanban board can teach us a lot about how we work.

Other topics:

  • Options for tablet computing. The request was for something for Windows. I did some looking around, there aren’t a lot of options that work across multiple platforms. There are a couple of apps that have reasonable touch interfaces in the browser:
  • Offline Kanban boards. Not much luck on this one, other than tools that require downloading source code. Dmitry Ivanov has a Windows tool that requires a simple download to use. All the pre-packaged tools seem to need an online connection. For myself, I use Evernote to jot down new items to add to my Kanban board later when I don’t have access to it.
  • Team vs Personal Kanban. Team Kanban has more structure, more layers to support teams, though it can be kept simple like a Personal Kanban board. The workflow will be different, and the work items tend to be larger. The web site Everyday Kanban has a good summary of what the bigger K Kanban is all about – What is Kanban?, including 3 basic principles and 5 core properties. Henrik Kniberg created an example of a Kanban board for teams (image below):
Kanban team example