Visual task management

18 August 2010

As I blogged last month, I’ve been experimenting with personal kanban for task management. It’s based on a Japanese model of project management, adapted to personal tasks.

I’ve found it to be simple and effective (though I haven’t dug into all the theory behind it) and thought I’d share my thoughts on it. It seems to me that the system is particularly good for visual people, who like to keep things in their face.

Here’s how it’s worked for me:

I took a 30” x 24” white board and divided it (using dry-erase markers) into three columns:

  • Backlog (which takes up half the space)
  • Doing (which takes up 1/6 of the space)
  • Done (1/3 of the space)

I did a brain dump of my tasks, one per Post-it note (I use 3” x 3” Post-its) and put them in the Backlog section. I add tasks as they come to me.

When it’s time to plan my day, I peruse the backlog, selecting up to five tasks to put in my Doing column. I never allow more than five tasks in my Doing column.

When I finish those tasks, the Post-it moves to the Done column. At the end of the day, I remove the Done tasks, placing some back in Backlog if the task wasn’t completely finished.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It seems very simple to me, though when you start digging around on the Internet, there’s lots of theory and jargon behind it.

Here’s today’s board, at the beginning of the day, after I took off my Dones and figured out the day’s Doing:

Daily tasks are stashed in the lower right area.

I’ve found some great benefits to this system:

  • It keeps me focused on the few tasks I’m supposed to be doing at any given time, rather than flitting from one to another or feeling overwhelmed by my backlog.
  • I use my intuition to pick the tasks that move from Backlog to Doing. I don’t do any fancy prioritizing. (I hate prioritizing tasks.)
  • I get to see my progress as the Done section fills up over the course of the day.
  • I don’t have to keep track of tasks—I just put them in the Backlog section.
  • It’s easy to color code, which gives me a sense of the time I’m spending in various arenas of my life. I use different colored Post-its to represent general business/client work, work on e-commerce, work on business-related volunteer projects and personal items.
  • The physical limitation of the Backlog section forces me to get stuff done (or throw tasks out).

Every now and then the Backlog section gets really crowded. When that happens, I follow the suggestion of Jim Benson, the personal kanban guru, and do a Time Capsule in which I pluck off a bunch of small tasks, put those notes on my desk, and power through them. That’s very effective. If I spend an hour or so a week doing that, lots of little things get done (and off my board).

The biggest drawback, so far, to this system (for me) has been the lack of portability. I’m accustomed to keeping a to-do list with me (like my Autofocus list, one of the systems that preceded this effort). When I’m out and about, I have to jot down the task and remember to put it on my board.

I just today downloaded a personal kanban iPhone app called iKan, which may solve the problem. I don’t like the the idea of having both electronic and physical boards, so I envision the iKan for me to capture tasks. But I haven’t even played with it yet. I’ll report back.

If I were into electronic task management, I could use an electronic personal kanban system, like LeanKit Kanban. But the physical one is working nicely for me.

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Thanks a lot! Very actual theme for me. As addition, recommend to use online-service “Personal goals” for managing, organization and planning of goals and tasks –

Sergey 04/18/2012 01:53 AM

Can you help me with my problem? I put things away to decrease clutter-only to have the problem with out of sight, out of mind. Then I forget to finish a project, or cannot find the thing I was working on…

Janet 06/21/2012 08:10 PM

To resolve the issue of portability, check-out the Web T Cards Visual Task Management System, it’s compatible with any Web enabled device, including the iPhone, iPad, Windows and MAC browsers. Features include:

1. Colour coding T Cards 2. Highlighting tasks with flags 3. Drag and drop tasks between Columns 4. Red / Amber / Green traffic lights on Column Headings, e.g. Red if there are more than 5 tasks in the doing column 5. Attach file to T Card 6. Free 21 day trial, at

Kishor Mepani 05/03/2013 04:12 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.

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