The common theme amongst many Executives and Leaders is that we do not have enough time in the day. We have many competing priorities and always seem to be in meetings. And yet, there is increasing talk about “being agile”. How can we manage this, be effective, and embrace agility as an Executive or Leader? How can we save ourselves time?
The answer — Personal Kanban.
This technique alone (if used on a daily basis), can create up to 60 days of increased productivity per year!
Throughout this blog, I will briefly cover what Personal Kanban is and why you should care (while providing links for more in-depth blogs that cover these points), before providing a few practical examples of how I use Personal Kanban to save myself time as an Agile Executive and Leader. I will explain how that kind of productivity increase is possible.
What is Personal Kanban?
Personal Kanban has two rules:
1. Visualise your work
2. Limit your Work In Progress (WIP)
It is a system that was developed by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. A Personal Kanban system can look as simple as below.
Why should Executives and Leaders care?
You may be asking, why should I care about a system like this when I just don’t have the time? The answer is that Personal Kanban will make your limited time in the day more effective and efficient to focus on the things that really matter to you!
Personal Kanban helps you understand your current workload through visualisation and reduces the number of items you are working on at the same time. By doing this, you reduce context switching between tasks and your cognitive load. This results in reduced wasted time and more time on being productive.
It also allows for a more effective method of managing and prioritising your workload — meaning you work on the items that matter most (short term tactical and long term strategic tasks) and not just the latest urgent matter. This concept of prioritisation is discussed further in-depth in the following blog: How to Master your Priorities with the Urgent-Important Matrix and visualised below:
How have I applied Personal Kanban as an Agile Executive
I have been using Personal Kanban for the last 4 years since I’ve taken on the executive role of Group Manager — Queensland for Elabor8. I have used it in a variety of formats:
- Physical Personal Kanban board with Post-it Notes
- A To-Do List in my Notepad — While applying the rules of Personal Kanban
- A virtual To-Do list in my Calendar — Again while applying the rules
The current format I use for Personal Kanban is a combination of a virtual To-Do list in my Calendar and a structured approach to how I plan and prioritise my day. Below is what this process looks like in practice:
- I start with writing a detailed to-do list. Each task ranging from 1 minute to an hour — This is recorded in “all-day” calendar event that I review throughout the day.
- I categorise the tasks into themes —Themes for me include “Business Development”, “People Leadership & Recruitment”, “Strategy” to list a few. This assists me with grouping similar tasks together, in order to focus on one theme at a time. I will even group Emails together, and Phone calls together to keep even more focused on a single type of task. This reduces context and cognitive load switching.
- I prioritise the tasks in each category — This is from most to least important for that day — I re-prioritise each day.
- I block out time within my calendar to have focus on a category of tasks — During this time I try to avoid distractions like new incoming emails, Slack messages, desk drop bys (you can find a quiet space if this helps).
- I delete items from the list once complete — This assist me with keeping the list (i.e. my Personal Kanban system) up to date and only contains tasks I need to focus on. I avoid the clutter of what I’ve done in the past.
- Rinse and repeat — I move the “All Day” calendar event to each new day, and start the process again.
The principle is that I control my day, rather than letting my day control me
The results — Up to 60 days increased productivity per year
Brian Tracey, a Productivity expect states that:
For every 10–12 minutes you invest in planning, you save up to 2 hours on the execution.
I have found this statement to be true. If you do the math, this adds up to 60 days of increased productive per year. This is simply achieved by planning each day and using productivity techniques like Personal Kanban.
To give you an example, one day recently looked like: 4 meetings, a weekly report due by the end of the day, and a raft of business development phone calls & emails.
By using this system above, it helped me to be focused and know exactly what I needed to do for the day in and around meetings. It even helped me handle a few unexpected phone calls and desk drop-bys and still get on with the day.
The end result was that I was able to complete everything on the list for that day and leave work 15 minutes early to get home to my family.
Personal Kanban can be a powerful tool to help save you time as an Agile Executive.
Let me finish with another example of how I used Personal Kanban in my personal life to demonstrate that it really works.
Moving 1,800kms on time by using Personal Kanban
In late 2016, my wife and I were in the process of relocating from Melbourne to Brisbane with a toddler running around. Plus I was preparing to launch our Queensland office, as mentioned above.
There was a large number of jobs to do to pack up our lives and move 1,800km north and we were feeling overwhelmed. So we decided to create a Personal Kanban board to organise our lives.
Everything became much easier to manage because we could see what we needed to do (And not remember it all!) and we limited our Work In Progress by only doing the job one at a time.
Very quickly we progressed through our list with far less stress and were able to move on time.
Use Personal Kanban to save you time
As I hope that I’ve demonstrated, Personal Kanban is simple and it’s highly effective at saving you time. When I apply the rules of Personal Kanban to my work or my life, I am far more productive and in control of my workload.
Take the first step in taking back control and save yourself time by using Personal Kanban. You will be glad you did.