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‘Kanban’ is a visual system for work management. While kanban has its roots in the Toyota Production System, it is used in a variety of applications from replenishing supplies on an assembly line to the agile approach to software development.

I enjoy experimenting with applying tools from the continuous improvement world to my personal life, and have gone through several iterations of a kanban board. The most recent version is a simple whiteboard layout with sticky notes as shown in the picture.

The notes are color-coded by category. For each category, I identify the upcoming tasks that need to be completed and write down each task on its own sticky note. The tasks are then prioritized based on time and importance. ‘Hold’ tasks are ones that cannot be completed until either another task is first finished or needing to wait for an external event. ‘Ready’ tasks operate on a ‘pull’ system – when enough ‘In-Process’ tasks are complete, a ‘Ready’ task can be started. ‘Ongoing’ are for items that don’t technically have an end but I want to make sure I remember to work on them.

What I like about this system is that it helps me visually understand my current and upcoming workload ‘at-a-glance’. It helps me maintain strategic focus and monitor progress. The kanban system also triggers me to remember to prioritize tasks, as opposed to just working on whatever I feel like or what’s easiest, which is a disadvantage of traditional ‘to-do’ lists. There’s also the kick I get from taking a completed task off the board, crumpling it, and tossing it in the trash – one done!