This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.
– Lee Iacocca
These days, thanks to a simplified personal and professional life, my task list isn’t very complex. It’s lengthy, but not convoluted; therefore, a simple list in my journal works very well. However, this was not always the case, and probably isn’t the case for many of you. To simplify your task list, one tool you can use is a kanban.
Kanban, meaning “signal” or “card” in Japanese, is a way to define and visually show the work, and components of work, in a sequence of operations. Kanban boards for personal or knowledge work were
developed by the agile software development community and inspired by how Toyota manages work-in-process . The boards have a series of columns,
with the leftmost one being the parking lot or backlog, holding tasks that are waiting to start. The next column to the right is for tasks that are ready to start, labeled as “Ready” or “This Month.” Then comes the “Today” column and, if you really want to tightly manage it, one for “Big Three.” Finally, a column for “Done” so you can see (and celebrate!) results. I often used additional columns for tasks that had been delegated, or were waiting on external input.
Although a simple whiteboard works for most people, various apps and programs exist to use the kanban concept to manage task lists. Be careful to not allow a software solution to overcomplicate a simple process. Magnetic cards, or even sticky notes, can be used for tasks, making it easy to move them around. Additional visual cues can be developed and used to indicate priority and the amount of time estimated to complete the task. I would date the cards so I could easily tell how long were aging—perhaps an indicator in itself of importance.
Kanban is just one potential tool for task management, and there are many potential variations of it. Experiment, don’t simply adopt. Figure out what works best for you.