Getting organised with Personal Kanban

As someone who suffers from chronic procrastination, I have always struggled to organise myself and keep going.  I go through flurries, but often lose momentum and get distracted by something else, or the sheer magnitude of what needs doing becomes overwhelming and I revert to old habits.  This seems to be a common trait for procrastinators, the downside to having a wide range of interests and activities and the ability to see “useful diversions” everywhere.

A few years back I made a go of implementing the Getting Things Done workflow, a simple process for dealing with things as they come in, and preprocessing them ready for action, either on a specific day, or when the moment arises in a particular context.  I highly recommend it, despite not getting further than a week before finding my desk covered in bits of paper and broken PC, as per usual.  The fault was definitely mine, a combination of not getting everything into the inbox, not following a discipline, and not being honest with myself about the different demands on my time.

In the last couple of years, whilst looking into service management for our team, I’ve been aware of methodologies such as Agile, Lean Sigma Six and Kanban, but they’ve always seemed beyond the ability of someone like me.   But last month I had a couple of gentle nudges in the right direction.

Firstly, a friend’s comments about how he kept control over his work schedule by planning the week into two hour chunks. Maybe not for me, but the fact that you can think about how you work and improve it.  Secondly, the excellent post by Tim Urban on how Elon Musk organises himself according to a vision for what he wants to achieve.  I realised that I needed to get a grip on my own self-organisation before even considering starting the projects I hoped to develop from the ITIL training.

Right tool for the job
I’ve used a number of apps for tasks and keeping notes but never quite got them working for me consistently.  ToodleDo and Google Keep synchronise well between phone and PC, but I still found myself overwhelmed by the volume of work, and found it hard to keep to date-scheduled tasks with the daily routine of people knocking on the door with service requests.  Scheduling is also complicated as I shared calendars with my wife (for obvious logistical reasons), but that’s not 100% because we’re at different institutions and privacy & sharing policies have not quite been resolved.  Trello came up as an alternative organising tool, which led me to read up on Personal Kanban.

Day Zero: Preparation
After some light reading on Thursday to understand the principles, I resolved to lose Friday morning to clearing the area around my desk, and to start making storage spaces and bins for all the debris, loose cables and flaky PC hardware.  This went well, getting rid of a good amount of rubbish and putting a whole chunk of equipment nicely stored in the cupboards.

I had a collection of different coloured post-it notes ready for Monday, and spent some time over the weekend looking through other people’s boards, thinking about colour schemes and value streams.  Two friends who already practised kanban pointed out that I was oveeranalysing and reminded me that these would change over time anyway.

Monday morning: Day 1
Armed with all my post-it notes I started to prepare the board.  I’d identified the colours I wanted to use to identify six different aspects of my work.  I assembled these on the left hand side for quick reference.  These were:

  • Yellow: Technical Support.  This is my main role, and most activities, especially the ones that randomly come through the door, fall under this area.  No need to break down further at this point.  Because it’s the most common activity, I chose yellow as these are in abundance, and available in lots of sizes.
  • Orange: Service Management.  Where I am trying to improve areas of our technical service, such as the request tracking system, these are related to Technical Support, so kind of make sense to be a similar, but distinct colour.
  • Purple: Women in CS. One of my side projects, which already has a purple theme on the website.
  • Green: Health & Safety.  I was not surprised to see that there were a lot of these activities, mainly ways of organising information about H&S, that got neglected because of being on a long list.
  • Light Blue: My own personal organisation methods and personal development planning.  Starting with the Kanban board!
  • Darker blue: Domestic, Family and School.  As a school governor there are often courses to schedule, research for meetings.

I also have a neon pink, neon green and red pile for reserve, probably for specific projects such as the request system.  These will have their own separate stream which I’ve seen done on a few other boards.

Next, I cleared the whiteboard of all the scribbled notes and tasks that had sat there, writing them down on the correct postits and putting them to one side.  Once this was clear I marked out the areas, and populated them with the existing postits.  I still have plenty of space for projects, and the sketches we do when planning a task or discussing an issue.


So after 2 hours, this was my board.  Note that there are already several items in Done as I was able to resolve several requests whilst preparing the board.  I was also able to quickly stick some new requests in the appropriate place as they came in.

I’ve used the following boxes:

  • Backlog – I don’t like the name but until I can think of something else, I’ll stick with it.  This is far from complete as I have a ton of tasks in ToodleDo to carry over, so this area might need expanding.
  • Shopping – I’ve always used this area to keep tabs on things that we need to buy “next time we do an order”, but these small postits are a much neater way to save them.
  • Next Up – A way of prioritising the next activities without explicitly numbering them on the side, and overloading my “Doing” box.  As we’re on several sites there are some tasks that can be quickly resolved at the same time, so these can be stuck together in preparation for the time I’m ready to go over.
  • Doing – I kept this down to 4 items for now.
  • Waiting For – I learned from GTD that this is a useful bin for being able to respond as soon as something comes in, providing you already have in mind what you’re waiting for and what you’re going to do.
  • Done – not sure how often I’ll archive this, possibly weekly?
  • Numbers at the top – a quick glance reminder of the days that week.

I found that the board was becoming useful even as I was filling it in, with people coming to ask for equipment, or going to pick up deliveries.  Several items moved between Next Up, Waiting and Doing during the day, and I got a heck of a lot done, and prepared for later in the week.

Next steps are to ensure I capture all the loose items in email, request system and ToodleDo, and setup Trello so that it matches the board.  This will allow me to organise tasks, review and plan while I’m away from the office.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Update: not bad actually, follow the rest of the journey here:
Day 2
Day 3
Day 5 and the end of the first week.




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About loidon

Technical support in an IT-centric academic department. Jack of all trades, master of none. Able to bluff on most subjects!

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Personal Kanban – Day 2 | Mediary - December 10, 2015
  2. Personal Kanban – Day 3 | Mediary - December 10, 2015
  3. Personal Kanban – Day 5 | Mediary - December 10, 2015

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