Personal Kanban

8 Steps To Ditching To-Do Lists With Personal Kanban

Picture this: my digital to-do list, nestled in my trusty task management system, had started to repel me. The more I stared at it, the more I wondered if it was secretly plotting against my sanity.

And every day it just kept growing. Why face the list I thought to myself, when I could indulge in the ancient art of tea-making or engage in heated debates with my houseplants about office politics?

But thankfully my hero was waiting in the wings – an intriguing book and productivity system called ‘Personal Kanban‘. A tool that promised to turn my digital to-do list from a horrifying black hole of forgotten tasks into a streamlined, visual project management system. 

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Not another system to learn. I can barely handle my coffee machine’s advanced settings.” But fear not, my fellow remote work friend, for Personal Kanban is like the Marie Kondo of task management – essentially, a spring cleaning opportunity for your workload and life.

The Origins Of Personal Kanban

Imagine you’re in bustling post-war Japan, the air crackling with the energy of renewal and transformation. Among these changes, a new production system is being crafted in the bustling factories of Toyota. 

Here, a unique technique known as Kanban springs to life. Based on visual signals, the Kanban system ushers in a ground-breaking shift in work and task management, one that in the decades to follow will transcend the assembly lines into numerous sectors including software development, project management, and even personal productivity.

Although the foundational concept remains the same — visualising tasks to enhance productivity — Personal Kanban recalibrates it, leveraging its principles to combat procrastination, promote effective decision-making, and articulate a clearer work-life balance, thereby delivering the benefits of Kanban to your home office.

A Peek Inside the Kanban System 

Personal Kanban primarily revolves around three core elements: the Kanban Board, the Kanban Cards and the WIP (Work-In-Progress) limits. Let’s briefly delve into each one: 

At the heart of the Kanban system, the Kanban Board is a visual representation of your workflow, broken down into different stages, illustrated as columns. Each column represents a phase in the your work process making clear the progress, pain points, and possible bottlenecks.  

The Kanban Cards, as you might guess, represent individual tasks or activities. You move these cards from left to right on the board as you progress with work. A card can be as simple as stating what needs to be done, or you can add additional information such as who is responsible, deadlines, and so on. 

The third element is WIP (Work-In-Progress) limits. They cap the number of tasks, or cards, in-progress within each phase of your workflow. Why? We’ve all found ourselves juggling too many tasks at once, right? WIP limits aim to prevent that by enforcing focus and avoiding work overload. 

From To-Do Lists to Kanban: Revolutionizing Your Approach to Productivity

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of just how you can leverage the Kanban system to increase your productivity.

If you’re constantly battling against an ever-growing, murky list of tasks then say sayonara to your overwhelming to-do list and konnichiwa to Kanban with these 8 steps to setting up your Personal Kanban:

1. Choose Your Board

Choosing your Kanban board is a bit like picking out a wand in Harry Potter; it should feel just right in your hand (or home office)

The board is your visual depiction of your workflow, so it’s something you need to see daily. While you could use your computer (I’ll share some apps that can do this later), it’s been my experience that a physical board, such as a whiteboard in your home office really helps to keep your tasks front and centre.

2. Create Your Columns

Now, let’s talk columns. We’re not building the Great Wall of China here, just a visual representation of your tasks. Imagine your workflow as a hero’s journey – from the treacherous lands of “To-Do” to the glorious kingdom of “Done.” Your tasks are the brave adventurers on this perilous quest.

First you need a TODO column for the tasks you want to tackle next. Next is the DOING column to identify the tasks currently in progress, and for successfully completed tasks is the DONE column.

As you complete your tasks, you simply move the cards from column to column – It’s hard to explain why, but I’ve found it strangely satisfying moving the card on my board into the DONE column!

3. Setup Your ‘Backlog’

Next, it’s time to setup your backlog.

Don’t be daunted by the term. A backlog simply refers to a list of pending tasks that you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t got around to yet.

Armed with sticky notes or magnetic cards, begin by scribbling down each task that springs to mind, from something as simple as shopping errands to grander plans like getting that promotion. 

An essential strategy here is to deconstruct your projects into manageable tasks that you can accomplish within a day or two. 

4. Decide Your Work In-Progres Limit (WIP)

The final step is figuring out how many tasks you can comfortably handle at once.

For this we you need WIP limits – the traffic signals of your productivity highway. They’re kind of like the Gandalfs of your board, telling your tasks, “You shall not pass unless there’s room for you!” With WIP limits there’s no more task gridlock, just a smooth ride to task completion.

Remember, there’s only so much we can juggle at one time so I’d advise you to start with something small and tweak it over time until you find the sweet spot that works for you.

I personally don’t use a WIP limit on my TODO column as I have a small desktop whiteboard and the size of the board naturally limits how many tasks I can put there. For my DOING column however, I find that a WIP limit of three works really well for me.

5. Move Tasks From Your Backlog

Welcome to the wild, untamed jungle of the backlog, where tasks swing from the vines of procrastination. 

It’s time to dive into this jungle and select the tasks that are clamouring for your attention. In this step, it’s crucial to prioritise and move the most pressing tasks into the TODO column on your board.

6. The Pull

Ever felt like you’re playing dodgeball, with your boss and/or spouse throwing tasks at you left, right, and centre ? Well this is how you get yourself out of the firing line and take charge of your workflow. 

Begin your day by pulling the highest-priority tasks from your TODO column into DOING without exceeding your set WIP limit.

As you complete tasks and gaps open up, simply choose the next highest priority task and shift it across to DOING.

7. The Doing Column

This is where you roll up your sleeves and tackle the tasks in your DOING column.

On your quest for productivity, you may have noticed a pattern—once you start a task, it seems to stay in your thoughts until you complete it.

This underlines the psychological concept known as the Zeigarnik Effect. This phenomenon, named after the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, asserts that incomplete or interrupted tasks are more likely to stick in your memory than completed tasks. 

So giving your brain that sense of closure by moving a task to DONE is not just satisfying, it also allows you to mentally let go of that task! 

8. Assess Your Progress

Once your Kanban is in full swing, the final step is to take a step back and assess your progress.

Thanks to the visual nature of the Kanban system, this is a breeze because you can easily see every task and step. You could even use colour coding for different projects or types of work. 

This visual aspect of this system makes it simple to spot potential bottlenecks. For instance, you might notice that creative tasks are a walk in the park for you, but accounting work feels like pulling teeth.

Spotting this issue is half the battle in finding a solution. It could for example, that your home-office is just too noisy for number-crunching and all you need is a pair of noise cancelling headphones!

And there you have it, your Personal Kanban is alive and kicking. Now, the real question is, what can this do for you?

Personal Kanban: A Game-Changer for Effective Decision-Making

In the realm of productivity, it can often feel like we should seize every opportunity that presents itself. However, learning to say “no” can be a superpower for enhancing productivity. How, you ask? 

Through the Personal Kanban system. Rather than transforming your to-do list into a constant conveyor belt of tasks, it’s about improving your effectiveness by consciously shaping the quantity and type of work you take on. 

The secret? Realising a key truth – an overburdened mind can dramatically reduce your productivity.

Similar to how a congested motorway slows down traffic, cognitive load can impair the efficiency of your working memory. This is the point where Personal Kanban steps in, acting as your line of defence against mental overload.

Clearing the Mental Traffic Jam: Personal Kanban’s Key Role

Personal Kanban serves as a guiding beacon for your brain, allowing it to operate at optimum productivity levels whilst maintaining a practical workload. 

When your brain isn’t stretched to its limits, distractions lose their allure and procrastination becomes a less tempting proposition.

Time Mastery Through Visualisation: Personal Kanban’s Dual Benefit

The Personal Kanban system not only maintains your workload at a manageable level, but it also serves as a visual representation of your accomplishments. One look at your DONE column and you can clearly see the small victories you’ve accomplished today. 

The Kanban system extends beyond mere time management and effectively aids in decision-making.

Imagine, for instance, you’re tasked with drafting a comprehensive report. If several days have gone by and your DONE column remains empty, this visual indicator serves as a call for a change in tactics. For this example, you could break down the writing of in-depth reports into smaller tasks.

Pre-Emptive Problem Solving

Personal Kanban can be your secret weapon for identifying and tackling problems before they spiral out of control.

Flights are a fascinating lesson in precision: even a discrepancy as small as a few millimetres in the initial direction can lead to a significant deviation from the intended destination.

Aircraft constantly adjust their direction throughout a flight. This process, termed as ‘navigational corrections’, isn’t signifying mistakes or trouble, it’s a standard procedure to keep the plane on course.

Just like an airplane flying thousands of miles, the course of your productivity also needs frequent checks and gentle corrections. 

Personal Kanban thrives on continuous feedback, enabling you to address issues while they are still manageable. For example if you notice a pile-up of tasks in you ‘DOING’ column that’s a clear sign you need to reassess your capacity or priorities.

Using the Personal Kanban system, you’d take a moment to investigate the bottleneck, and then adjust your workflow accordingly.

Reflecting on Productivity: The Role of Retrospectives

At the heart of any thriving, productive environment lies the principle of reflection and continuous improvement.

This is where ‘Retrospectives’ come into play within the Kanban system. It’s where you look back on your activities and identify what went well, think about what could have been done differently, and put plans into action to improve your workflow.

Retrospectives are like therapy sessions for your tasks. Picture your tasks on a psychologist’s couch, pouring out their hopes, dreams, and fears. “I just want to be a completed task, doc!”

To get started on a ‘retrospective’ with personal Kanban ask yourself these questions:

  • What helped you in completing tasks?
  • What hindered your progress?
  • What can you do to improve this process and prevent those issues from reoccurring?

Reflect on your answers, and use them to tweak your workflow for a better, smoother work process. 

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your successes. Reinforcing productive routines is just as important as overcoming obstacles! So take note of tasks that moved smoothly through the process and try to replicate what you did with these tasks for future success. 

Personal Kanban: Free Yourself From Deadline Stress

Often, we start the day with the best of intentions: a to-do list brimming with tasks and a steely determination to conquer them all. But as the day progresses, unforeseen interruptions can creep in, and tasks start to pile up. Suddenly, that to-do list looks less like a map of the day’s plans and more like an intimidating wall of obligations. 

So, how does Personal Kanban combat this? 

Deadlines can often create unnecessary stress, diminish creativity, and may even lead to procrastination. Instead of setting strict deadlines, Personal Kanban relies on continuous flow and feedback, emphasising progress over perfection. 

The Kanban system prioritises task completion over adhering to strict deadlines. This leads to a consistent production of high-quality work and eliminates the stress of burnout or last-minute scrambles commonly associated with deadline-focused approaches.

Ultimately, it fosters an environment of improved productivity and reduced procrastination, allowing you to produce high quality work at a pace that suits you best. So, in the world of Personal Kanban, deadlines take a backseat, replaced by a more balanced, effective, and relaxed way of managing tasks and responsibilities.

Now that you’re familiar with the core principles of Personal Kanban, it’s time to tailor it to suit your individual requirements.

Customising Personal Kanban: Flexibility for Your Needs

When I was in Tokyo this summer, I came acroos an intriguing ‘tiny home’ design that used moveable walls. The objective was straightforward – create an adaptable space that changes with the owners needs. 

If only life could be as adaptable, right?

Well, that’s where Personal Kanban comes into play. Just like the walls of this unique Japanese home, it’s a system that’s designed to ebb and flow along with your life, reshaping itself to enhance your productivity and reduce procrastination. 

For example what do you do with tasks that depend on others for completion?

Initially I just kept them in my DOING column, but that started to clog up my system. So inspired by the ‘Getting Things Done’ method, I incorporated a ‘Waiting For’ column – a designated area for tasks that are waiting on others.

Picture this – you’ve got a task ‘Buy tickets for New Year Concert’ in your TODO column. You move it to DOING and call the ticket seller. Unfortunately, no one answers and you have to leave a voicemail.

Now, instead of leaving the task in my DOING column, I can transfer it to WAITING FOR. This simple act frees up room for another task in my DOING column allowing me to proceed with my tasks more efficiently.

Personal Kanban can even help you monitor the time you spend on your work. When you pull a task into the TODO column, you could try adding a start date. Then, as you progress and eventually move it to the DONE column, note down the corresponding dates. By tracking your progress in this way, you’ll develop a realistic understanding of how quickly you get things done.

Personal Kanban should be a flexible tool that empowers you to adapt and refine your workflow. By incorporating these tips, you can create a system that truly works for you.

The Science Behind Kanban: Where Post-Its and Brainpower Unite

You might be asking yourself, “How does visualising work tasks increase productivity and decrease procrastination?”

Well, our brains are naturally wired to process visual information. When you visualise your workload using a tool like Kanban, it gives your brain tangible data to latch onto.

You’re not just relying on abstract concepts or vague ideas; you have a clear picture of what needs to be done, how much effort it might take, and what the outcomes should be. It’s like a treasure map, making sure you know exactly where your productivity gold is buried!

In simple terms, visual cues reduce mental load.

‘Visual cues can act as mental shortcuts, reducing the amount of thinking we have to do and making it easier to get things done.’ – Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate and author of ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.

Kanban does this by using cards, colours, columns, and symbols that help you to ‘see’ your workload at a glance.

From Physical Boards to Digital Platforms – Tools and Software For Personal Kanban 

Digital tools and software have made Kanban more accessible, flexible, and convenient, ensuring that you can apply its techniques no matter where you are. But what tools are out there, and how can they enhance your Personal Kanban journey? 

Before going further, let’s clarify the essential features you should expect in Kanban software: 

  1. Visualisation: A good Kanban tool should provide a clear visualisation of your workflow. It should enable you to see what tasks you need to do, what you’re currently working on, and what you’ve already completed. This can greatly enhance your ability to manage your tasks.
  2. Limitation of work in progress: A feature that should not be overlooked. The tool should allow you to limit the amount of work in progress (WIP). This feature helps prevent work overload and enhances focus.
  3. Flexibility: Find a tool that allows you to easily move tasks within the workflow. This feature makes it possible to adapt to changes and manage priorities effectively.
  4. Collaboration: If you’re working in a team, consider a tool that allows for collaboration. These tools make it possible to share tasks with team members, as well as see what everyone else is working on.

Now that you know what to look for, here are some popular Kanban tools and software that you might find useful: 

TrelloAn online Kanban tool that allows you to create boards for different projects and add cards for each task. Great for both individual and team use.
ClickUpClickUp is a comprehensive project management tool that boasts a robust Kanban system among its many features. Designed with productivity in mind, it allows you to visualise tasks in a streamlined and hassle-free way. 
KanbanFlowA web-based application which allows for easy creation of Kanban boards and offers features like time tracking and collaboration.
AsanaOffers a Kanban view option in addition to the traditional project management features. It also integrates well with numerous other tools.
JiraOriginally designed for bug tracking, Jira has expanded into project management. It offers Kanban boards as well as various reporting and analysis tools.

Choose a tool that aligns with your personal use or your team’s requirements. Remember, the goal of using a Kanban tool is to enhance productivity and reduce procrastination, so find a solution that supports this aim.

Can the Kanban system be combined with other productivity techniques or methodologies?

The versatility of the Kanban system lends itself well to integration with other productivity techniques.

This mix-and-match approach can be particularly effective, giving you the flexibility to customise a system that truly meets your individual or team needs. Here are a few productivity methodologies you may want to consider integrating with Kanban. 


Considered a strong teammate to Kanban, Scrum is a popular choice for project management, especially in the world of software development. Scrum focuses on continuous improvement, learning, and adjustment, neatly aligning with the ethos of Kanban.

This robust pairing, often referred to as Scrumban, is particularly effective when you are dealing with complex, rapidly changing project environments. Scrum’s iterative work cycles (sprints) can be visually depicted and managed using your Kanban board, merging adaptability with visual clarity. 

Getting Things Done (GTD) 

The Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, conceptualised by productivity consultant David Allen, is a time management system that encourages you to capture all tasks and ideas that come to you, then categorise, prioritise, and action them based on defined workflows.

When combined with the Kanban visual system, GTD’s organisational approach is easier to track and manage. The Kanban board serves as the reference point showing your ‘Next Actions’ across different projects, maintaining a clear and organised view of your tasks. 

The Pomodoro Technique 

Complementing the workflow visibility offered by Kanban, The Pomodoro Technique can help deal with time management. This technique features breaking down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by brief pauses.

This concept pairs seamlessly with Kanban by way of improving focus and productivity whilst reducing burnout. Your Kanban board can track progress and help you visualise how many ‘pomodoros’ you spend on each task. 

In conclusion, the Kanban system is extremely adaptable and open to integration with numerous productivity methodologies. It’s all about finding what works best for you and your team. Remember, productivity isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach – it’s your system, so make it work for you!

Final Takeaway: Balancing Work and Personal Life with Personal Kanban

As I reflect on my journey with Personal Kanban, it’s clear to me that this method has not just been a productivity upgrade but a revolutionary shift in how I manage my tasks. In the age of digital to-do lists that often feel like a bottomless pit of obligations, Personal Kanban emerges as the calming beacon of efficiency and sanity.

Personal Kanban brings a visual elegance to my workflow. The Kanban board, with its columns neatly categorising tasks, provides a clarity that my digital lists often lacked. 

The visual appeal, the enforced focus through WIP limits, and the strategic decision-making redefine the way I approach my workload. It’s not just about ticking off tasks, it’s about taking charge of my workflow.

And the most impressive part? It works flawlessly for both work and personal life. The balance, the clarity, and the reduced stress are testaments to the effectiveness of personal Kanban. 

Deadlines take a backseat, and the stress of an ever growing todo list disappears. It’s a balanced, effective, and oddly relaxing way of managing tasks and responsibilities. 

And there you have it – Personal Kanban, Marie Kondo, Gandalf, and superhero all rolled into one. Because in the end, productivity isn’t about working harder; it’s about working smarter and having a few laughs along the way. Now, go forth, remote productivity warrior, and may the tasks be ever in your favor!

About the author, Steve

Hi My name is Steve Hall. If there are things about your life you wish were better but you have little to no idea about what steps to take to get you from where you are now to where you want to be then you’re in the right place!