Personal Kanban: Three simple steps to more efficiency
How to visualize your task processing flow and tackle obstacles in a targeted manner.
Kanban is a method that was established in production by Toyota in 1947. Taiichi Ōno, a Toyota employee, looking for ways to improve manufacturing processes, developed the system. Kanban means translated “signal card”.
The idea at the time was to make just-in-time production possible by optimizing the flow of materials. The goal was to avoid bottlenecks and excessive stocks of production materials. The signal cards signaled when production materials had fallen below a defined stock level. The card visualized that replenishment should be delivered. Still today, one speaks of a pull method with such a procedure. The supply of material did not come in a fixed rhythm (push), but only when someone signaled that new material was needed (pull).
Meanwhile, Kanban is established in many areas. Use Personal Kanban to get a better overview of your tasks and process them more efficiently. By limiting the number of tasks you work on simultaneously, you don’t get tangled up and focus better on the respective task.
The Kanban Board
Setting up a Kanban board is very simple. Take a whiteboard, a flip chart, a door, a piece of wall, or a window. Then define three columns and label them with the “Backlog”, “Open”, “In progress”, “Done”. If you use a wall, a window, or a door, you can write the titles on sticky notes.
On (more) sticky notes, you note down the tasks to be done and staple them into the “Backlog” column on the left. You can also store rough ideas here.
Tasks that you have defined clearly and on which you plan to work on shortly, you can pull to “Open”.
The tasks should be neither too small nor too large.
Too small could be: “Sharpen pencil”, “Create folder”. The right size could be: “Write an article on topic xy”, “Write an offer”, “Update social media profile”. Too big could be: “Write a book on topic xy”.
If your tasks are too small, you will quickly lose the overview. If they are too big, no progress is visible. Experiment with the size and find the right size for you.
As soon as you start editing a task, drag it to the “In progress” column.
When creating your board, consider the maximum number of tasks you can edit simultaneously without losing focus. This approach is called “Work in Progress” (WIP) limit.
Write the defined maximum number of tasks in your “In Progress” column and stick to it. If you notice that you want to start new tasks even though the WIP limit is already reached, ask yourself why this is the case. Maybe you are not getting anywhere with the tasks you have started because you are waiting for others’ feedback. By reaching the WIP limit, you can identify obstacles and optimize the process.
As soon as you have finished a task, it moves to the “Done” column.
Using a Kanban board with a WIP limit is how you can visualize your task processing flow and tackle obstacles in a targeted manner.
Regularly (for example, at the end of each week), take time to reflect on your work process: Is everything going well? What has hindered me? Does the WIP limit fit? What can I do differently?
Instead of a physical board, you can also use a digital board, such as Trello. But especially at the beginning, I recommend an analog board, because you always have it in front of you.
Do you want to learn more about using Personal Kanban? My new book is now available: “Everything flows: Use Personal Kanban and get things right: How you, as a freelancer, get a grip on your tasks and use your time more efficiently.”