In this blog post I describe my approach to organize my daily work using Personal Kanban.

Starting with answering:

Why Personal Kanban?, followed by the structure of my board, an explanation of my daily planning session, tooling and how my day using PK looks like. 

Have fun reading it and maybe it opens new levels of productivity for you too?!

Why using Personal Kanban?

It really motivates to see my progress of work items. It makes my achievements visible. 
I avoid multitasking by limiting my parallel work explicitly with an WIP limit of 1-2 for my Doing column.
I’m able to get a fast overview about current topics I’m working on and next topics to start.

The structure of my Personal Kanban board explained

This is how the board looks like:

and these are the columns I’m using:

Ideas

A collection of topics I will address in future. It’s a pool to pull from and it’s for me not WIP limited. As soon as something comes to my mind that could be of value to work on, to blog about, to read, to do at home,… I put it in this column. 

Todo

As soon as a work item is concrete enough to be worked on, I add it to my Todo column. I try to keep it clean enough that I’m able to fast grasp it. Every morning I use this column to plan my daily work.
Weekly I check for items that did not move for a long time and decide whether they already got outdated and should be removed or how to continue with it. 

Today

Every morning (it’s even recommend to do it the evening before) I plan my day and fill my today column. I try to limit it to 8 work items. For planning I check my mails for new topics, scan my calendar for todays entries and most importantly pull next items from the Todo column. 
Currently I have more streams (mail, ad hoc, todo, calendar) that fill my Today column… not yet according to the book, I know.

Doing

As soon as I start working on something I pull this work item in my Doing column. It’s limited (mentally) to 2 items in parallel and mostly just filled with 1 item. Together with the Today column it helps me to stay focussed and to avoid multitasking. I can steer my way.

Blocked

If I need input by external dependencies I put an item to my Blocked column. To further specify what I’m waiting for I always add a comment. This really helps me to remember later on why it’s blocked and to see the progress e.g. if a ping/pong game was necessary to clarify dependencies. I try to keep entries limited to less than 5 items.

Done Today

Usually immediately when finished I move done items in the Done Today column (it’s filled for sure in my morning planning session). It helps me to reconsider my last day activities for updates in my daily StandUps. In addition it’s a fast check in daily planning how it worked yesterday. And … it really motivates at the end of a day to see that I achieved something.  

Standups

Items worth to mention in my daily StandUps (I join dailies with my teams and my agile team). Moved to this column in my morning planning when cleaning up my Done Today column. 
In addition I add questions for the dailies (labeled with #question). Also a side channel but it used to be practical to avoid the need for another medium to transport messages.

Done  

Finished work items. Currently I collect these items to retrospect on it from time to time.  In some cases I can search for work items and remember when it was done. Combined with comments it gives me the possibility to answer questions. 

My daily planning session

As mentioned I use a daily morning planning session to plan my day and close the previous day. It takes about 5-10′ and is for me of high value to:
  • prepare a valuable update for my team members about my progress and raise important questions for my planned items
  • reconsider blocked items and check how to get it to done
  • get an overview about my day (including scheduled meetings)
It works this way …
Let’s consider the following board setting at the beginning of our morning session:
  1. Cleanup the Standups column (it’s maybe still filled with yesterday’s items and I move items to Done)

  2. Cleanup current Doing and Today columns and move all finished items to the Done Today column. (After this step all items Done yesterday should be in this column)

  3. In Done Today – select items to mention in the Daily StandUps and move them to the Standups  column

  4. From Done Today – move all other items to the Done column … Now your Done Today column should be empty

  5. Pull work items to your Today column by

    1. Check blocked items and decide if you need another PINGGGG or activity to get it done
    2. I check my calendar for planned meetings – every meeting/working session is one entry on my Today column.
    3. Scan mails if urgent topics appeared and add it to the Today Column. Other items go to ToDo or Ideas
    4. Pull work items from the ToDo column
  6. If ToDo gets empty – pull from Ideas column and refill Todo

Finally your Today, Doing, Blocked, DoneToday (empty), StandUps columns are updated and hopefully in good shape.

Tooling

I use Trello. It’s a kanban board, available as a free version + paid version with additional features. 
It’s simple, fast to use and for me really important, available on all necessary environments. This way I can access my board at my workplace and at home. New ideas on my way to work or home, captured immediately.
Trello provides strong filtering and search possibilities. This way I can easily switch between work items relevant for my working environment and private environment.
I label all job relevant work items with my employers name. Simply add an #labelname and it’s automatically added while writing your entry. In addition I can classify work types by label.
The newly added unlimited labeling is great for flagging (and later filtering) work items. This way I organize e.g. all my upcoming blog posts (following an advice how writing blog posts makes fun).
To be really efficient I highly recommend learning the shortcuts and get familiar with the search functionality. You get so much faster with it.

How I use it during my day

  • As mentioned – a planning session in the morning to start my day with prepared and with high visibility
  • With my pad in my Daily StandUps to update my team members and add new items if they appear
  • During time on my desk I use the browser version on my desktop. As soon as I have capacity to start working on something I pick the next item on my Today column, move it to Doing and try to finish this item
  • In conversation with my team members. Sometimes I label work items for pairing sessions to share knowledge. Or when to distribute information. Often I get new hints that influence a work item. I try to add this information immediately to work items.
  • Ideas for next blog post, books and articles to read are immediately added as new work items and can appear everywhere.
  • Private topics, labeled this way for faster filtering get added.

Plans for further improvements

Currently long term planning is not yet in best shape. I will start a MindMap for high level topics and use it with a cadence of 2 weeks to check progress on those topics. It enables a broader overview that can get lost if just working with the Kanban board.
It’s not really Kanban yet. As mentioned for some columns there are multiple entry points (e.g. my Today column). I’m not enforcing WIP limits that strictly, but rely on my gut feeling instead.   
Sometimes Work Items are lingering in my Today column. And I pretend to not see them. But you know – day by day I’m remembered and my guilty conscience kicks in.
All in all – I’m happy to have my current way of using Personal Kanban. It’s really a huge improvement. Instead of using ToDo-Lists – I discovered a highly visible and easy manageable way to organize my daily work.
What methods are you using? Can you recommend other ways or additions to my way? 

Further readings