Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

my own private Kanban

Screen Shot 2014 09 03 at 11 54 04 AM

What you see above is a picture of an approach to task management I’ve been using lately — a simplified and individual version of the Kanban model used in software development and manufacturing/distribution. I dislike the rah-rah cheesiness of the Personal Kanban website, but I have to admit that it gave me the idea that this could work for me. (Larger version of the image here.)

Kanban is supposed to be done with sticky notes on a whiteboard or wall, but that poses a problem for me: I work about half the time in my office, about half the time at home — so where do I put the board? An insoluble problem. So I decided to do it digitally, using the good ol’ Stickies app on the Mac.

Here’s the system as I have developed it so far:

  • Just three stages of action: To Do, Doing (i.e., In Process), and Done (Completed)
  • Three colors of notes: green for teaching, yellow for writing, blue for personal stuff (and a different color for the category titles, I guess)
  • They’re arranged in rough order of priority, with highest priority tasks at the top 
  • Occasionally I might use text styles (color, bolding, sizing) for emphasis

That’s it. When I know I need to work on something I put it in the To Do column. When I start working on it I put it in the Doing column. When I’ve completed it, or think I’ve completed it, I put it in the Done column. Eventually I delete those, of course, but I keep them around for a while in case it turns out that I haven’t finished a task after all but must revisit it, in which case it goes back to one of the earlier stages.

Why do I like it? Because it uses a very simple structure to convey lots of information. At a single glance I can see what’s coming up, how much of it involves writing or teaching or personal stuff, what I’m (supposed to be) working on now, and what I’ve recently completed. Also, I can easily write in detail when I need to and minimize that note to it doesn’t dominate the screen.

What don’t I like? Really, only one thing: it’s not portable. I can’t export my data very conveniently, or view it on other devices. Not sure whether that will be a problem or not — that could end up being a feature rather than a bug. In any case, here it is, in case anyone is interested.


  • Have you tried out Trello? I'm using it as my personal and professional Kanban board, and I quite like it. It has some export functionality as well.

  • I've looked at Trello, but it has way too many options, bells, and whistles for me. I like to keep things simpler.

  • You could always use a google spreadsheet with three columns.

    Or a trello like app called asana.com

  • Nice. I like it. Always interested in hearing what others do. In general I love OneNote. But it's a bit much just to keep track of to-do lists. I might try this approach for a while.

  • I'm still at the stage where I keep my to do list in my head, but I've moved my calendar onto my (nonportable) computer, though only partially so far. The reinforcement and awareness provided by to do lists might work for some, but I was curious to learn from an acquaintance a deep dislike of making lists and realized I share the aversion. It never really occurred to me that my not doing such lists had an intuitive motivation.

    Considering how your blog discusses media ecology at some depth (which is why I'm a reader), it seems worthwhile to point out that solutions offered by your readers amount to choosing which app (tool) to accomplish a task. The bias runs toward pixels, not paper, but in either case, the result is off-loading memory to an external system, which ends up forcing organization (prioritization) of the task list. These extra steps are clearly advantageous to some people. Why have I resisted all my life?

  • On mobility--would a whiteboard mobile app solve that?

    An alternative low-tech possibility: an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper with post-its, slipped into a transparent file holder. Easy enough to slip into one's laptop clamshell. Extra details written on post-its underneath. And about the same size as one's computer screen.

    One advantage is this brings the board the realm of codex. Increasingly, I'm getting frustrated with the limitations of screen view, with clicking back and forth between pages, programs, and views [which makes my life its own hypertext]. Yes, my desk and wall surfaces can become cluttered with paper, but I'm beginning to think there is some happy medium [pun intended].

  • Best system that I used for many years: http://gettingthingsdone.com/

Post a Comment

[Basic HTML tags can be used in this comment field.]