Do you use Kanban for personal productivity?
December 26, 2012 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Do you use Kanban as your personal productivity system?

Greetings, everyone!

I'm curious to know if you use Kanban. I just started working as a senior manager with five direct reports in a Fortune 100 company, so getting a handle on both my task and project management skills has become critical.

Over the years, I've used various systems like FranklinCovey, GTD, and Total Workday Control. Although no particular system has stuck, I've picked up various techniques over the years from each that have become part of my routine.

I'm not a developer, but I'm fascinated by Lean, Agile, etc. and want to try to apply them to marketing knowledge work. What especially interests me the most about Kanban is the idea of simplifying task management down to its barest essentials (backlog, doing, done).

Right now, I'm most interested in personal task management using Kanban.

  • How do you manage all that email and keep your kanban updated?
  • I get how Kanban is used for managing projects. But what about individual Next Actions that aren't necessarily tied to a project (e.g., "Answer the phone.")

    Any assistance would be gratefully appreciated.

    At your service,
  • posted by zooropa to Work & Money (4 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
    I'm a developer, and manage my personal workload using a tool called Scrumy. It is a very simple, kanban-esque planner. The full extent of it is tasks (about 50-60 char post-it notes) inside swimlanes (for the major project said tasks belong to), and 4 vertical columns: To Do, In Progress, Verify, Done. That's it. No points, no user requirements, nada.

    I log only atomic tasks, of varying granularity -- real examples: "test new version (2.7.1)", "add a mysql replication monitor", "web server setup in config mgmt". I tend to err in the direction of big instead of small when it comes to tasks. If a task proves itself to be logically split once I dig into it, I'll just do that on the spot and turn it into the two split tasks.

    I don't use it for time management, I would never put 'Answer the phone' in it. My email is totally unrelated to it as well -- other than 'got new project via email' or 'notified that project was completed via email'. I view it as a super-sane way for me to keep track of the neverending list of things that need doing, and an easy way to get a good overview and prioritize the doing of said list.

    Bit of a braindump, hope it's helpful!

    posted by wrok at 5:25 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

    I've worked on several Agile projects over the past couple of years that have used kanban is different ways, and have just (in the past two or three weeks) started using a personal kanban board at work to track what I, and the people who are working with me, are doing. It's exactly the system I need to keep me going, especially because I'm one of those people who can spend a whole day working and then, at the next standup, forget what I've done and stand there looking a bit foolish. I read Personal Kanban and found it useful, although it felt like it could have been about a third shorter. If you get it, don't give up in the middle as I nearly did, as there's some really useful content in the final couple of chapters.

    I've also just picked up David J. Anderson's kanban book as it's currently $9.99 for the kindle version. I'm part-way through it and there's some really useful content in there (unless you want to look at the pictures, which are over-optimised and tiny to the point of uselessness).

    I find that online kanban-like tools are a distraction as it means opening a browser to use them, and then I'm checking email, MeFi, etc. I used to use a large piece of paper and post-it notes, but have now moved onto a small whiteboard and post-its. If I'm going to a meeting, I'll either take a pad of post-its with me to write out new backlog tasks as they arrive, or make myself write them out as soon as I get back to my desk. Low-tech also means you can add swim lanes as the needs arise, and have a lot more flexibility in exactly how you design your kanban board to suit you.

    For tasks such as "answer the phone" or maybe "email that spreadsheet", the Personal Kanban book suggests a two-tier "today" or "doing" column: one has N amount of space for bigger items, and N amount of space for those smaller items that you still need to do. IIRC, there's also advice in there for using kanban with productivity tools like the pomodoro technique.

    I'm still at the early stages of using a personal kanban, but for me it's incredibly useful. I'm keeping track of the work I need to have ready for two development teams, I know who is blocking me getting my work done, and also what I've achieved. I'm also getting a good sense of the tasks that I take longer to do and have started asking myself why that's happening and what I can do about it.

    I hope that's of some use.
    posted by TheDonF at 5:42 PM on December 26, 2012

    Best answer: I use it. I am not a software developer. I am an academic. For emails, when I read them (which I try to limit to a few set times a day), I answer them immediately if possible. If they require the completion of a more complicated task before I can answer them, I add that to my kanban. If they require me to wait for someone else to respond, I add that to the most distant column of my kanban, or don't add it at all if I trust that the other person will do what they should. In the latter case I wait and use the eventual response from the other person as a trigger to remind me to do my end of the task, or to add something to the kanban column at that point.

    My columns are "to do sometime", "to do in the next few days", "doing" and "done". I try to limit myself to five tasks in the "to do in the next few days" column and three in the "doing" column, but that is wishful thinking some weeks. I colour code tasks by importance too, so that I don't fall into the trap of doing all the urgent stuff instead of the important stuff.

    I try to make each "next action" its own task, which means that I get to move things across columns pretty quickly and often, which makes me feel good. But I would never have a next action like "answer phone" because that is not something I choose to do as a task, but something I am required to do in response to something happening to me. So there's no reason to put it on a to-do list. It will happen anyway.

    My current tasks in my kanban lists, in case this is useful as an example, are the following. ("Doing" is what I was in the middle of when I finished work for Xmas, and those things should get finished within a couple of hours of starting back on Jan 2. Almost all the tasks in this list are things that can be done in an hour or less. I especially make sure that is the case for anything in the "do soon" or "doing" columns. Some things like "transcribe interview" or "redesign website" might get broken into smaller tasks when they are moved to another column.)

    "to do some time"
    redesign professional website
    get microfiche materials from PMB
    enter agricultural story into notes
    transcribe Dan's interview

    "do in next few days"
    submit receipts from grammar workshop
    read grant application 1
    make measurements for Tegan


    remove redundant features from sample for creole paper
    figure out what 0 means
    write teaser paragraph for grant application 2

    prepare spare room for Xmas
    revise and resubmit historical paper
    get three quotes for large equipment grant.
    [this column goes on for ages, of course, but that's the most recent three]
    posted by lollusc at 10:58 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

    zooropa: "I'm not a developer, but I'm fascinated by Lean, Agile, etc. and want to try to apply them to marketing knowledge work. What especially interests me the most about Kanban is the idea of simplifying task management down to its barest essentials (backlog, doing, done)."

    Where did you get the idea this is part of Kanban?
    posted by pwnguin at 1:05 PM on December 27, 2012

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