Would you like to use Trello for Kanban?
Or are you searching for the perfect productivity system for your small business?
First the bad news: It doesn’t exist. Much like with landing page software, you’re going to have to do the work no matter what system you use.
Now the good news: Kanban is an easy-to-use and -learn system that can help avoid feeling overwhelmed by those endless To Do lists. You can use a whiteboard or a tool like Trello to do it.
Let’s dive in.
What is Kanban?
Kanban is a simple system for creating products based on continuous deliveries. This system originated from the Japanese manufacturing system, but you can use it to achieve more in work or your business or personal life.
Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry offer these two rules using this productivity system in their rather excellent book Personal Kanban.
- Visualise your work
- Limit your work-in-progress (WIP)
They said about rule one, “When we see work in its various contexts, real trade-offs become explicit. We now have a physical record of all those demands on our time. This larger view of our work and our context allows us to make better decisions.
And they added about rule two,”Limiting WIP allows us the time to focus, work quickly, react calmly to change, and do a thoughtful job.”
Step 1: Prepare Your Kanban Board
Divide a whiteboard into three columns. If you don’t have one, consider buying a Magic Whiteboard and affixing it to your wall or even dividing up a large A4 or letter-size notebook.
Label the first column “To Do”, the second “Doing” and the third “Done.”
The first column is for capturing items on your new To Do list, the second for deciding what you’re going to working on right now and the third for recording what you finished.
Remember to avoid the classic productivity mistake of turning a project into a task. It takes a series of tasks (or cards) to accomplish a project.
Step 2: Work Using Kanban
Add items or cards to the “To Do” column on your Kanban board using a marker or Post-It notes.
Use an action verb and write down the task in question. If you’re moving a house, this could be “Hire a removal company”. Alternatively, if you’re preparing a big presentation, this could be “Source stock images.”
When you’re ready to work, drag an item or task from the “To Do” column to “Doing”.
Typically, I find it sensible to keep no more than three items in the “Doing” column. This limits my work in progress and helps visualize what I’m working on. (Remember the rules!)
When you complete a task, drag it from the “Doing” column to the “Done” column. Then pull another task from “To Do” to “Doing.”
Step 3: Review Your Board
As you work, you will naturally drag tasks from the left to the right of your board.
The simple act of dragging a task from one column to the next forces you to prioritize. It also encourages regular reviews of your To Do list.
This way of working encourages a state of flow. The act of moving cards from one column to the next feels gratifying. You can see quickly the tasks easy to accomplish, those that take up a lot of time and even tasks where you’re stuck. Benson told me,
“The most common mistake would be to not limit work-in-progress…People sometimes skip the second one because there is “too much to do”, which, ironically, is what the WIP limit is for in the first place.”
Once you become more comfortable with Kanban, add additional columns to your board. For example, I created a column called “Waiting For” to capture tasks that I’m blocked on and ones where I need somebody to get back to me. I also created a “Next” column for tasks I wanted to work on during the working day but not immediately.
Pro tip: If you need inspiration, search Google Images for “Personal Kanban boards.”
Recommended Kanban Tools
When I started using Personal Kanban, I road tested a large whiteboard and a notebook. Both tools work just fine and will help you master the basics of Kanban.
Once you get a feel for how this productivity system works and it’s part of your working week, you’re ready for a digital tool.
Trello is a web-based project management application built around Kanban. You can upload files to your tasks or cards, label them, set due dates and so on.
Uploading attachments to cards is useful for gathering all of your work in one place. Similarly, I’ve used the collaboration features of Trello to work with third-party contractors.
As much as I like Trello, I recommend getting to grips with Kanban on a whiteboard or an analogue system first. After all, the tool is always less important than doing the work.
Try Trello for Kanban Today
There’s no such thing as the perfect productivity system, and if your simple To Do list helps you get the job done, stick with it.
I’ve tried a number of productivity systems. The biggest issue is that a large list can sometimes feel overwhelming.
If this is happening to you, Personal Kanban doesn’t take long to learn, and it will help you manage your day-to-day work without feeling overwhelmed. Benson said,
“The system was designed to specifically provide flexibility by having a small set of rules. That’s the main reason why we’ve seen it adopted in every country and every vertical on earth – including the home. Kids have fun completing their chores. Teams intelligently work out complex problems. Project and ambient work are both easily visualised and completed.”
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.
It’s also an edited extract of a chapter from my new book This Is Working: Focus on What Matters and Get the Results You Deserve.
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