Personal Kanban for task management

28 June 2010

For several years I’ve been using the various task management techniques created by Mark Forster. The most recent has been DWM. But life and work got sort of crazy and I spent a few weeks doing nothing but putting out fires. I ignored my task list in my DWM planner. These task lists are calendar based, so I needed to figure out how best to get back in the saddle.

A week ago, I went to the discussion forum on MarkForster’s website to see if I could figure out the best way to rejuvenate my list. In this thread and I stumbled upon the concept of personal kanban. I didn’t do a lot of research into it before jumping in, but I gather that kanban was originally designed to help teams of software developers. Then someone adapted it to work personal task/life management.

There are two overriding principles in personal kanban, both of which appeal to me.

  • Visualize your work
  • Limit your work in progress

The photo of a personal kanban board that I saw on Personal Kanban 101 was immensely appealing. It was a white board, divided into thirds with the headings Backlog, Doing, and Done. In each section were sticky notes. I had to try it.

I spent about 15 minutes setting up the system. I dusted off a white board I’d been storing in a basement, pulled out my Super Sticky Post-It Notes and combed through my DWM task diary to create my Backlog. I limited the number of tasks I could be working on at any one time to 5 (the maximum recommended number) and put them in the Doing column. Then I got to work. When I’d finish a task, I’d move it to Done.

I colored coded my sticky notes into three categories. Green notes for an e-course I’m working on (my major focus at the moment), blue notes for tasks related to my various volunteer activities and orange notes for everything else. I also created a horizontal category at the bottom for daily activities (exercise, getting my email down to 15 messages, etc.).

I had three work days at my desk last week and I found my personal kanban board to be really effective. I plowed through the tasks and enjoyed moving them through the process.

This weekend, I treated Saturday as a workday. (But boy did I take Sunday off.) Here’s a photo of my personal kanban board at the beginning of the day:

My personal kanban in the morning.

And here’s how it looked at 7 p.m.

Here's my board at the end of the day.

(I wrote this blog post on Saturday but decided to wait until today to post it.)

I love the low-tech nature of the white board and sticky notes. But, of course, there’s software you can download to help you do the same thing on your computer. Leankit Kanban is just one example.

I love how the personal kanban board is. And tactile. I also love that it keeps me focused and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.

I’m going to stick with this for another week or two and see how it ends up working out. I’ll report back!

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Very glad it helped! I like the movement of the green, against the orange, showing that in that burst you were optimizing for the ecourse – but still threading important things when necessary.

Nice post! Thanks!

Jim Benson 06/28/2010 09:22 AM

Thanks, Jim! Your website was so helpful and made setting up this system easy as pie. Glad you liked the post. Love your analysis of my workflow!

Janine Adams 06/28/2010 10:10 AM

That is an awesome link, thank you! I have been paring back my planning methodology in self-defense for a while now. For years I tried various complicated systems for keeping track of stuff, reminding myself of stuff, etc. They were all too process heavy.

I like how light this is. Trying to decide now if I actually want to invest in the personal kanban with effort. I can already see some complexities I would be tempted to incorporate, but the more you track the more time you spend tracking.. Dunno, still mulling it over. But the personal kanban site is a terrific resource. Thank you!

shris 06/28/2010 02:11 PM

Shris, one of the things I like about personal kanban is that it is so easy to start. My advice? Keep it simple. Personalkanban101 has more in-depth looks at how to use it.

Thanks for your comment!

Janine Adams 06/28/2010 03:30 PM

Hi Janine!

Looks like you’re getting into LEAN concepts with the kanban approach—that’s exactly what we use at work. Look at ‘5S’ on google for more ideas. By the way, using my placemat to mark off a ‘nothing but food’ zone on my kitchen table has really worked! now I need to mark off other zones!!

Hope you’re having a nice summer even though it’s so HOT!


rebecca wallace 07/16/2010 09:42 AM

Thanks for a useful post. I a big fan of personal kanban. A year ego, I started to use a white board that I put on my wall. Recently, I’ve switched to an online one – Kanban Tool. It’s really simple and it allows me to keep everything together- task and documents.

Regards, Eve

Eve 06/20/2014 03:53 AM

Very interesting topic. I will share this blog. I think we must Prioritize the Tasks to be Done .By prioritizing the tasks which require immediate attention, the destination will come closer. You have list down all the things and tasks, however you should give extra care to those tasks and things which are very crucial in the whole scenario.

Jaret 06/08/2016 06:27 AM

For everyone who is trying to work with kanban method i suggest trying Kanban Tool. It is really helpful with organising your work, especially for someone like me (I’m a freelancer), who often has to deal with a lot of tasks by himself. At just one board and with just one click I control all of my work. If you don’t believe me, at least try it for 14 days for free.

Jeremy 06/22/2019 09:11 AM

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About Janine

Janine Adams

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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