Using Personal Kanban to get organized

Visualizing your workflow makes it easier to see what needs to be done.

It's easy to become overwhelmed with all the things we need to keep track of each day - especially if you also run your own business and you're managing your client workflow as well as personal tasks.

If you're one of those lucky people that can juggle lots of different things without thinking about it, great. If not, you need to find a system or tool to help you to manage everything.

One such tool is Personal Kanban.

What is Personal Kanban?

Personal Kanban is actually based on a slightly more complicated productivity system (called Kanban, oddly enough) designed to help Toyota manage their industrial resources (and apparently inspired by supermarket inventory management).

The personal version is pretty much based on two simple concepts:

  1. Visualize your work
    You should be able to visualize your overall workload at a glance - you should have some way to easily see all the things you need to do in one place, to make it easier to sort them into some kind of logical order.
  2. Limit your Work In Progress
    By controlling how much you're working on at any given time you know how much progress you're making and you avoid feeling snowed under by trying to do too many things at once.

The system was adapted from the full-scale industrial version by productivity gurus, Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. They explain it in full in their book: "Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life".

To be honest, you don't need to read the book if you don't want to. I use a simple version of it that I'll explain below but they do build on the simple concepts to help the system grow as you become used to applying it.

How it works

The idea is pretty simple - you have a board with three columns; to-do, in-progress and done (complete).

You write the tasks you need to do on post-it notes or bits of card and stack them in the to-do column in order of urgency starting at the top and moving downwards.

Take the first card of the top of the to-do list and put it in your in-progress column. That's the task you're working on. You can move more than one card at a time to your WIP stack - you might be subconsciously thinking about one of the cards as you work on the other but the important thing is to limit what you're working on at any given time. I usually restrict myself to a maximum of three.

When you've completed a task in the WIP column, you move the card to the Done column. And that's it. You just repeat the process with the other cards in the To-do stack.

In the simple example I've sketched on the right, you can see that I make sure that I call the dentist to make a new appointment.

Then I need to go shopping for some groceries before I can finally tackle cooking dinner.

Why it works (for me anyway)

By only focusing on one task at a time, I don't feel overwhelmed by all the other things that I need to get done.

As I move each card to the Done column it gives me a warm, rosy glow because there's a tangible sign that I've accomplished something.

The geek method

You don't have to use a physical board on your wall to use Personal Kanban.

The physical method doesn't work for me because I'm not always looking at the same set of walls when I'm working.

I use an online tool called Trello at It also has applications available for most devices but the browser version is good enough.

For simple use, it's free - and for basic Personal Kanban use, you won't need more than the free version.

  1. Sign up for a free account at
  2. Create a board (or use the default one) to represent your Kanban board
  3. Create a list for each column (To Do, WIP and Done)
  4. Create a card for each task in the To Do list and drag them between columns as necessary

Any thoughts?

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