The best productivity methods keep your to-dos in front of you and prioritized so you never wonder what to work on next. Some are complicated, but others make it easy to see everything, organized by priority—so easy you could use Post-It notes if you wanted. Let's talk about one of those systems: Personal Kanban.
What Is Personal Kanban?
Personal Kanban, put simply, is a simple system for managing your to-dos. Its biggest benefit is that it helps you avoid taking on too much at once, and always gives you a visual, at-a-glance look at your work. It's related to—but not the same as—the Kanban lean scheduling and delivery method, often used in manufacturing (specifically auto manufacturing.) The idea of "Personal" Kanban came about when productivity experts Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry wrote the book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life in 2011. The basic premise of Personal Kanban as a method of visualizing and prioritizing your work, is much older, but the book lays out how the system works, and offers specific tips for people struggling with overwhelming workloads and competing priorities.
Personal Kanban stands on two major "rules:"
Visualize Your Work. In short, you should be able to, at any time, look at your overall workload, be able to determine quickly what you should work on next, have visual cues for priority and time to complete, and that system should be easy to add, remove, and re-organize. We've highlighed a number of ways to visualize your to-do list, including Personal Kanban.
Limit Your Work In Progress (WIP). In other words, limit the number of things you work on at the same time. This does two things. First, it makes it easier to visualize your work, because you keep a lid on how much you have going on at one time. Second, it also helps you avoid the dangers of multitasking, not to mention burnout. Managing your workload carefully also teaches you how to say no without wrecking your career.