Personal Kanban—I Think I’m Doing It Wrong
A couple of months before going out on maternity leave, I received a newsletter containing a selection of agile and lean articles. One of these articles was the transcript of this presentation discussing the dangers of multitasking and the use of personal kanban to increase productivity.
“This is the tool for me,” said I.
If you’ve ever been seven months pregnant or know someone who has been, you will probably understand how painful coherent thought can be during this time. When you add in the additional stress of trying to prep your team to cover your responsibilities and keep the train running in your absence, the potential for a complete breakdown is pretty high.
The idea of using a visual representation of my tasks to help me stay motivated and organized and keep the work moving toward completion appealed to my fuzzy brain. So I transformed my office whiteboard from a toddler art gallery to an art gallery-slash-kanban board.
At first, everything was great. I wrote tasks on stickies and placed them in the Backlog column. Each day I would select no more than five tasks at a time to move to the Doing column. So far, so good. Then I realized couldn’t complete some tasks until someone else finished his part. So I added a Waiting section, and all was well. As each story on my pre-maternity-leave to-do list was completed, I scooted the sticky to the Done column and gave myself a pat on the back.
Fast forward to October and I’m back from twelve weeks of leave with a three-month-old baby in tow (yes, that’s a thing around here). Pregnancy brain made me feel like Einstein compared to the newborn-plus-preschooler-working-mom brain I’m blessed with now. So I went to the supply closet and got a brand-new pack of sticky notes and began committing tasks to paper.
Then things got a little crazy. My pre-baby, well-thought-out Backlog devolved into a laundry list of tasks, and from there to completely unintelligible phrases (e.g., Ken + Cathy. What the heck does that mean?). My Backlog column is a wall of overlapping yellow squares, and I am no more organized or motivated than if I had thrown the stickies on the floor and kicked them around for a bit. I’ve even started a to-do list on my desk because the chaos that is my kanban board makes my head hurt.
So, where do I go from here? I have high hopes for personal kanban. I even think it could be a great tool for organizing my crazy household. But how do I stop my kanban board from becoming a task board whenever I have a ton of work that needs to be done? How do I account for all the little tasks that weasel their way in and suck hours out of my day? How do I prioritize the work to get the most benefit from personal kanban? And most of all, how do I organize my backlog into something I can work on without being overwhelmed?
I’m looking for suggestions, so let me know how kanban has worked for you, either on a personal or a project level.