Did you know about personal kanbans?

In my experiment to ship faster by focusing on the basics, I’ve come across a classic task management technique I’ve always loved: the kanban.

What is a Kanban

The idea of a kanban is very easy: First tasks are divided into not started yet, doing, and done. Secondly, and most importantly, there is a limit to how many tasks are allowed in the doing bucket at one time. Third you cannot move tickets back in the process. You either delete them, or move them to the done bucket.

How is a personal kanban different?

For a personal kanban the recommendation is that you can only work on three tasks or projects at any one time. Seems simple enough.

Why is this interesting?

What I didn’t appreciate until I read Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks is that this simple limitation forces you to adopt good task habits:

If you get interrupted, or you need to urgently work on something else, what do you do? Well because you can’t move things back, you have to finish them. Which means you need to split tasks down into things you can do in a short amount of time. They need to be small, and clear, so you can move them forward.

This forced clarity is not a part of the kanban system. It’s just a side effect, but possibly the most productive part of the system.

My take away

I think I’m going to stick to this rule. Even though there’s no way to enforce the limit in Things, which is my todo list of choice.

Have you used a personal kanban?