How to Use a Kanban Board for Ultimate Productivity

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Starting and running a home business is a bit like plate spinning—there are several moving parts that need attention beyond creating and delivering a product, or providing a great service. The challenge to the solopreneur is in making sure that all the tasks in different projects get done on time and in the right order.

There are many productivity systems, but the Kanban method was designed specifically to assist with task flow to ensure that things are done when needed and on time.

What Is Kanban?

Taiichi Ohno is credited for developing the Kanban system for Toyota after watching how supermarkets were always able to replenish store shelves as items were sold. One of the issues Toyota had was that various sections of the production line weren’t communicating to other sections, which meant assembly flow wasn’t as efficient as it could be. Ohno developed visual signboards known as Kanban that transferred information between each process so that tasks could be fulfilled more efficiently.

Today, the system has been adopted from production flow systems to personal productivity.

What Is a Kanban Board?

A Kanban board is a visual tool to manage the flow of your project to-dos. It allows you to see, in a glance, what stage your projects are in. Each to-do is listed on the board, and is moved to the corresponding action section of the board as it’s worked on.

Generally, Kanban boards are set up to flow horizontally. On the left, is your to-do list, and as you work on them, they move right depending on where they are in the stage of completion.

There are various ways to label your flow processes, but in general, it’s:

To Do > Doing > Done

Depending on your needs and how you work best, you might have different or additional labels.

For example:
To Do > On Deck > Waiting > In Progress > Completed

While Kanban boards can be customized, there are a two basic rules for creating an effective system:

  1. Visualize Your Work: The board is designed to be visual and therefore easy to reference. Having your Kanban board in a different place from where you work, isn’t helpful.
  2. Limit Your Work-in-Progress: You don’t want to have so many tasks that no progress is made.

What Are the Benefits of a Kanban Board?

Kanban boards are visual representations of what you need to get done. They are ideal if you’re a person who needs visual cues (out of sight = out of mind) to get things done. However, even if you don’t need visual cues, Kanban boards offer a way to have a quick glance at the status of a project, from what is done, to what is in the works, and what is waiting for attention.

Other benefits include:

  • Easy task management
  • Stay on top of important tasks
  • It’s flexible and customizable to how you work
  • Know what your collaborators have done or are doing, if you’re working with others on a project.

How to Create a Kanban Board

One of the nice things about Kanban is that you can design it in the way that will help you most. Because it’s a visual system, what you use should be something that you’ll see on a regular basis. Here are a few options:

Board Hanging on the Wall: The board part can be anything from a bulletin or dry erase board, to a window, poster board or other items that you can tack paper, use sticky notes, or write on to move your to-dos through the process.

Page in Your Planner: If you use a paper planner you can draw a grid and use small sticky notes on a piece of paper. Depending on the size you need, you can use a fold out paper.

Digital Kanban: Today there are many apps that you can adapt or are specific to creating a digital Kanban board. For example, you can set up Trello as a Kanban board. Another option is Kanban Flow, which has default process labels of “To Do,” “Today,” “In Process,” and “Done,” or you can set up your own labels. Both offer mobile versions so you can take your to-dos on the road with you.

Because the Kanban is designed to be visual, a digital option may not be best unless you’re used to referring to digital tools in your daily work.

Using a Kanban Board for Max Productivity

Follow these tips to setup and use your Kanban board:

Set up your board. Once you’ve decided what type of board you’ll use, gather needed tools (i.e. whiteboard and sticky notes) to set it up.

NOTE: Traditionally, Kanban boards are set up for a left to right progress flow. However, if you work better vertically or if space for your board is limited to vertical space, you can flow from top down.

To Do

Doing

Done

Decide your flow labels. If you’re working on more than one project, you can have the basic labels, such as To Do > Doing > Done. However, if you’re working on something that has specific labels, you can create your flow labels based on that specific project.

For example, if you’re a blogger, you might have:
Blog Ideas > Write Post > Edit Post > Create Post Graphics > Post Article > Share Article

List your project to-dos. Make a list of the tasks for your projects. Because Kanban urges you to limit the amount of works-in-progress, don’t have more than two or three projects at one time. If you use a Kanban board to manage a couple of projects at once, consider color coding tasks to each project, and/or creating lanes for each of them.

For example:
To Do        >     Doing         >     Done
Project 1 Tasks      task 2                      task 1
Project 2 Tasks      task 1

Put all your tasks under the appropriate label. Tasks start out under To Do (or whatever your first process is) and then when you’re ready to work on it, move it to the next step in the process (i.e. Doing). When process #2 is done, it is then moved to the next step, and so on, depending on the number of processes you have.

Again, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by putting too many tasks in the Doing process. Try to limit active tasks to 2-3.

Refer to Your Kanban Board. Tools only help if you use them. While you check your daily planner, also check your Kanban board. Be sure to keep your tasks up-to-date. If you’ve finished something, move it to the next stage of the process. The idea is that it’s a tool to keep focused and moving through a project, which can’t happen if your project tasks statuses aren’t up-to-date.