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Personal Kanban: The Productivity Hack You Need In Your Life Right Now

Overwhelmed by too many tasks? Try using a personal kanban

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BY Cristina Morales - 15 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We live in a world of multitaskers, many of us inundated with a wide range of tasks that—especially for those of us in start-ups—are listed nowhere in our job description. But too much multitasking, as Larry Kim wrote in this Inc. article, can do a lot more harm than good, making you less productive and lowering your work quality.

But most of the time, there’s no going around having to contend with a long list of deliverables. How do we make our workload more bearable?

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of a seemingly endless to-do list, but productivity tools can make a huge difference in how we do our work. Take, for instance, the personal kanban, a productivity tool that helps you visualize your tasks and map out your work—making it feel more systematic and less daunting.

How does it work? “Kanban” is Japanese for signboard or billboard, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. First, you take a board and divide it into three columns: 1) To do; 2) Doing; and 3) Done. Listing your tasks like this makes it easier for you to focus on whatever’s in the “Doing” column, while making sure that you’re still aware of the other tasks that you have to do.

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

It may look and sound too simple to make an impact in the way you work, but many swear by this system. One believer of the personal kanban is Venchito Tampon, founder of Manila-based digital marketing company SharpRocket, who has been using a personal kanban for two years. “By knowing what my ‘to-do’ tasks are, I'll be able to prioritize which one of them should go first,” he says. “A personal kanban allows real-time monitoring of tasks, so you won't be left behind with urgent/more important activities. It also enhances your focus on a certain hour or time period as you'll only check your ‘Doing’ mode/section.”

The trick to making the personal kanban work for you is to limit the items under the “doing” column. That way, you get to focus on just a few tasks instead of scrambling from one task to another. This helps you manage your workload and visualize just how much you are capable of doing without burning out.

Physical or digital?

You can’t beat that rush of endorphins that come with transferring a post-it from the “doing” column to “done”, which is why many opt for keeping a physical kanban. “Having them on the wall makes checking in much easier, and much more satisfying when I move tasks to the ‘done’ column,” says Singaporean digital marketing consultant and travel blogger Yun Qing, who uses a personal kanban to help her juggle the tasks for her travel blog and freelance business. “I started using the physical one because I couldn’t keep track of all the lists. To separate the two tasks, I use different colored markers.”

But when you’re always on the go, having a digital kanban might make more sense. “It gives me advantage in checking what I still have to do in real-time outside the office vicinity, during my time with friends and family,” explains Tampon, who uses the popular personal kanban app Trello. Other digital personal kanbans are MeisterTask, LeanKit, and KanbanFlow.