“Plans are useless, but planning is everything”

Regular productivity books focus on doing more, Personal Kanban is a productivity method that wants you to focus on doing BETTER. Despite our best intentions, life has a way of becoming complicated. People, tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, and even recreation all compete for our attention. The human brain however, simply does not respond well to the stress of juggling multiple priorities. That’s where Personal Kanban can help us visualize the amount of work we have, and how it progresses each day.



As explained in my previous post Week 0 – How I decided to learn something new every day, I registered a few months ago to the Blinkist App on my mobile, which allows me to chose among thousands of book summaries every day. Every morning I also receive a  Blinkist Minute that suggests me a reading for the day. And today I was  positively surprised to listen to the “blink” about Personal Kanban, a book by Jim Benson & Tonianne DeMaria Barry (the book is expensive but you can listen to the summary or check out the official blog www.personalkanban.com).


Despite our best intentions, life has a way of becoming complicated. The human brain simply does not respond well to the stress of juggling multiple priorities of our life: people, tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, and even hobbies, all compete for our attention. When you think about all the tasks on your plate right now, maybe it feels like an insurmountable mountain. Originally developed by Toyota to make their factories more efficient, Kanban is a simple productivity system that keeps your workload manageable and although there are some principles to follow, you can mold it into whatever shape or form works best for you at the time.

How does it work?

1. Start by making a Kanban board. Take a whiteboard and create three columns:

  • DONE

I personnally added:

  • READY SOON – which is the list of everything I need to do on longer term (from to be done in 2 weeks to “one day in the future”) but that I cannot handle right now
  • TO DO TODAY – this is a reminder for the morning of the very urgent stuff
  • WAITING FOR INPUT – this can be used at work if you are waiting for a signature from your manager ot a reply from a colleague to complete the task. On personal life it can be used for instance if you are waiting from some friends to confirm their availability to plan your holidays, or your electrician for it’s availability to come fix something.

2. Then, take a stack of Post-It notes and list on them every task that needs doing. These can be anything from “Call Mum” to “Book flight tickets to Brasil” or even “Quit your job and become a millionaire”. The resulting stack of Post-Its will be your backlog.

3. Now, list the most pressing tasks from the backlog in your Kanban board’s ‘TO DO” column. I also chose to use different colors post-its, Pink for Urgent, Orange for TO be done soon enough and Yellow for long term tasks (i.e. “Move to the Bahamas”).


4. Next, pick no more than three to work on, move them to the “ONGOING” column and start working on them. Once an item is completed, move it to the “DONE” column. Only then you are allowed to pull another task from the “TO DO” column! It is also important to keep the completed tasks on the board at least until the end of the week, in order to evaluate the amount of work done.

5. You can even use Personal Kanban to monitor the amount of time you spend working. Just add a start date when you pull a task into READY, add another when you move it to ONGOING and yet another when it goes to DONE. By monitoring your progress in this way, you’ll gain a realistic sense of your productivity.

The TODAY column also helps you determine your daily capacity. If you put a certain number of tasks on the column and at the end of the day you realize you completed just half of it, you then know how much work you can realistically complete in a day!

 And just like that, your personal Kanban is good to go.

“Plans are useless, but planning is everything.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower


Way further

This method is also scalable – it can work with just you, or with your family, or even with work groups: in fact it is very often used in start-ups as it makes the work interactive and visual and tasks are bound to move fast on the board or else to be split into smaller tasks!

Same for you: this method helps you to realistically estimate your workload by accounting for hidden tasks. Once you realize how many sub tasks there are for one specific goal, you can cut complex tasks into small, manageable chunks and can stick the new tasks on the board. Then you will see some movement which will help you get your motivation back!


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