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When I switched to a system where fewer things were getting done at a time, it made sense as I felt that my to-the-hour scheduled days just weren't working.

The problem here is this. I have my Kanban system in place with my projects. Some of my projects are: prepare car for sale this month; empty out desk drawer, start research into PhDs; continue with phase 2 of cover letter, etc. Some of them are even ideas I am yet to breakdown into manageable chunks

Some of those projects take so long that they can hang around in the 'Processing' column for a number of weeks. This might be due to the fact that they are dependent on other people sometimes. And, other times, procrastination sets in - do I really want to be working on my cover letter all the time until it is done?

Another issue is that I have smaller tasks to get done, which don't make it to the KB system, such as, post letter, or get a haircut. These go in my daily diary and I cross them off. There are other repetitive tasks I get done like make sure I read for at least an hour daily.

This is my take of the Kanban system: it's great if you want/have to focus on one thing at a time, but it make your progress have the perception of going nowhere, especially when things are on your list for weeks and have an ever-going To-Do list within the system.

What am I doing wrong - is there a reason why my projects aren't moving to the completed column as fast as they should? Do they need to be broken down further, like GTD method?

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By the way, just saw this question that addresses one of your questions abotu Kanban: productivity.stackexchange.com/questions/1765/… –  Aymeric Gaurat-Apelli Jul 15 at 0:57

3 Answers 3

It looks like you may have 3 issues that are important for Kanban -

  1. You have a high WIP issue.
  2. You may have a prioritization challenge.
  3. You also have a 'sizing' problem.

Let me elaborate on each -

High WIP. Clearly, you have a number of well-defined and not so well-defined projects that you have to do. The projects seem sizeable enough to manage on a Kanban board. So, like Aymeric suggested, you need a "Backlog" (waiting list) area prior to your "Ready" column - where you should keep your 'just ideas only" projects - so you don't lose sight of them - but don't move them to the Ready or In-Progress lane before they have been reasonably well-defined.

For the well-defined projects - like prepping you car for sale, you may want to break them down to smaller tasks that you can better see progress on. A single "prepare car" project might take days or weeks, but smaller cards like "get smog check", "Detailing the car", "get new tires", etc. will be shorter - and you will be better able to get a sense of progress, better define your project for your own clarity - and better sequence/ prioritize individual tasks. Dealing with tasks at this level also might help reduce procrastination!

Most importantly, breaking down projects to more 'equal sized' tasks across different projects will give you a clear picture of really how much work you are dealing with - and thus force you to start only one (or a fewer) things at a time, work on those with the highest priority AND complete them before starting others. Kanban is all about "Stop Starting, Start Finishing!" as you probably well know :-)

Second - Prioritization is key - and certainly not easy. Hopefully, the above approach helps you do it better. Also, it helps to not try prioritize everything you have on your plate - just the top 3 or 5 things - and MAKE SURE you finish them before starting on something new. If something more important DOES come along, it is important to move one of the In-Progress items back to the Ready or even the Backlog column - so there is no clutter on your KB.

Third - Sizing - The project breakdown to tasks of course helps sizing. The other thing is the really small stuff that doesn't even make it to the KB. It would help to keep aside some time for these tasks - and be clear that for the tasks on the KB, you only have the remaining time in your typical day. So, if you think you need 3 of your 8 hour day for the small tasks, keep 4 or 5 hours only for the KB tasks. Again, this helps you better understand what your real capacity is and so what your throughput can be. Most of us are guilty of believing that we have more time at hand than we really do.

And I agree with you and Aymeric - that for repetitive tasks, Kanban really does not serve the purpose.

Hope this helps. You didn't say what tool you are using for Kanban - but if you need one, you can take a look at SwiftKanban (http://www.swiftkanban.com) - it has a free version that you can use for up to 10 boards/ 20 users (so you can get others in your friends and family circle involved as well) PLUS it gives you some of the key Kanban metrics to track your performance!

Cheers!

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Thank you for your comprehensive reply. One of the problems that I found breaking bigger tasks down is that when I am ready to do them, they clog up my "Currently Processing" column. So my cover letter, or my examination prep that is currently taking bulk of time has to be put to one side as I now have to change the tires on my car for example. Arguably, that might even be small enough to be on my daily to-do list. I use Kanbanery. It has a feature which allows your create sub-tasks of a larger task, but it's not the same because you don't see those unless you open the card itself. –  User_2313 Jul 15 at 21:45
    
To also add, the current column: To-do lists, Ready to Start, Processing and Completed. I have recently also added 'The Dismantler' which sits just before the Read to Start column so larger tasks can be broken down before being moved ahead. I am yet to try this. I think there is also a time management issue which is part of the problem. For instance, I know the idea of the Kanban is the work on the set items at a time, and if I actually did this, keeping in mind to create smaller chunks, I would get more cards moving forward but it'll mean I'll be committing to it all my waking hours. –  User_2313 Jul 15 at 21:50

I assume you are familiar with http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/ I am not an expert in Kanban personally but here is how I solve your issues:

  1. I have a "Waiting for" list for things that I can't work on but should be reviewed regularly.

For example, any email I send and I expect a reply would go in that list. Therefore, if the person doesn't answer after a while, I can remember to send a reminder to the person.

  1. For recurring stuff, Kanban sucks. So I use a combo calendar / lists. Check out http://weekplan.net for the tool I use.

WeekPlan allows me to set daily / weekly tasks (and more sophisticated repetition rhythms) that will repeat automatically. I also have an option to move to today any task I have not completed in the previous days. Managing repetition and automatic forwards makes using WeekPlan easier than pen and paper in my opinion.

Screenshot: http://weekplan.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/ipad1.png

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I will look into Week Plan, but perhaps it is just an online version of my pen and paper version I used to plan my days ahead. I'd be interested to know how it facilitates repetitious tasks. Please also expand on point 1 –  User_2313 Jul 14 at 12:51
    
I have edited my answer with a bit more details. –  Aymeric Gaurat-Apelli Jul 15 at 0:55

If you like the Kanban as your productivity system there are some creative ways you can address the issues you are finding. Kanban works great for single action items, but when it comes to projects with many steps and daily repeating task (rituals) there can be some challenges.

You issues made me think about how I would solve this problem with http://GTDNext.com - and although the name suggests it's a GTD app, it is based on an outline, so it's really very flexible and can be used for almost any productivity system you want to use or create.

Here is an example of how I would setup a kanban style system in GTDNext. Notice that you can have projects in your backlog, and then drag the specific item you are working on right now to the doing area.

Also, notice that your have a way to show all your daily to do's like posting a letter and haircut can easily be added, but still hidden in a folder if you want to focus on the bigger picture.

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I'm not sure it would work for you, but it does feel like it at least partially answers the issues you are struggling with.

Good luck!

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