Personal Kanban to the rescue

15/11/2012 00:00

As the translator of "Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life" into German my view of things might be a little one-sided if it comes to Personal Kanban. But precisely this week showed me how useful this tool is to me. At the moment, my life feels like spinning around madly. The last keystrokes for the translation, a new customer at work, trouble with a pet-project at home, time between some conferences, where I will be holding talks, organizational tasks and call for papers whose deadlines come close tackle my self-organization.

When I returned home from a customer on Tuesday, I thought I would have the time on a 5-hour-train-ride to get rid of some little tasks. But when I settled in my seat, I couldn't do anything. Completely stunned by the overload of tasks that had to be done right away, I felt overwhelmed. When a colleague asked me to do something else, I could only refuse due to the workload already on my plate. I didn't feel well and slept worse. But in the morning I knew what I had to do: I badly needed to update my Personal Kanban board.

I have one stationary board in my living-room, where I collect all the tasks related to the apartment and things like preparing taxes and such. Another board is just a cardboard, which I had with me for the last 1.5 years. But this one is just a little out of date. I was sloppy when my world was a bit calmer a couple of weeks ago.

I feared that updating my cardboard would be interrupted with distractions of old tasks on the board. So I decided to bury it once more. There were still some tasks related to my private life in there but I first wanted to sort out everything related to my work. In the end I chose a plastic folder, some crepe tape and a pen as my favored tools. Why crepe tape? I don't believe in the tiny stickies. Until now I didn't find any which survived travelling with me on my cardboard and stayed at the place where they belonged. But crepe tape does.

With my tools I started to write down any task that came to my mind. I even went through my unread emails and some notes. I ended up with about 20 tasks. Later I found missing ones and added them to the board. Then I marked the four quarters of my plastic folder with TODO, NEXT, DOING and DONE. I knew I had to prioritize and that there were tasks I had to finish the same day as there were due dates e.g. for the call for papers of one of the conferences. As I know Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix and find it utterly useful, I first found the tasks that were urgent and important and pulled them into next. The others could wait. Three conference sessions waited to be submitted and three other tasks needed my immediate attention. I decided to do them alternating even if I am aware of the bad effects of context changes. But the effects on my motivation would have been worse if had done all the conference submissions in a row. 

A couple of hours later I had finished not only the tasks that were urgent and important but also almonst as many of the most important ones that were not yet urgent. Sometimes my head would wander off and try to do other things that were neither important nor urgent. I deliberately gave these little distractions some room but resumed my work very soon. My board always showed my which task I really wanted to do at the moment. That gave me the focus I needed so badly on that day. In the evening I returned home to finish even two tasks more which I just wanted to do.

In the end, I had finished more than half of the tasks which crushed me the evening before. When I look at the board, I still think it was the right order in which I worked through all the stuff. The remaining workload seems very manageable and I feel somewhat relieved.

I learned a couple of things:

  1. Existential overhead, as Jim Benson calls it, feels really bad (and I really seldom feel overworked!). 
  2. Sometimes I favor context changes over doing some related tasks in a row, when my motivation is at stake.
  3. My board gives me focus. Event if my thoughts go astray, my DOING coloumn helps me return to my work easily.
  4. If times throw too many tasks at me, the time invested to work with a Personal Kanban board is worth the effort! Many times.




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