How to use Kanban to conquer to-do lists in your personal life


TO-DO LISTS. It seems like they never come to an end. You check off one task and add two new ones. The lists are constantly growing and can get really messy at some point. Worst case — they make us feel stressed and keep us from falling asleep.

✓ Laundry
✓ Grocery Shopping
❒ Organize Sam’s birthday party
❒ Get present for Sam
❒ Get an appointment at the dentist
❒ …

There are usually so many things on my mind that I want or have to do, but often this cloud of ideas in my head leads to either not doing any of them or starting to do many things at the same time. We all know that in order to achieve something – and reduce stress – we need a certain amount of focus.

Writing tasks down is already a good step, though it is not the best solution in terms of visualizing, prioritizing and highlighting how many things you’re trying to achieve at the same time.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a Scrum training. As we started talking about Kanban boards, I thought: Why don’t I try using such a board for my personal life?

Kanban was first introduced by Toyota in the 1940s. The main goal was to reduce inventory and to optimize workflows and make them more visible. Nowadays Kanban is used across various industries in departments ranging from IT to HR. The concept of the Kanban board itself is quite simple. Usually there are three columns: “To Do,” “In Progress” and “Done.”

Having a board with movable items (tasks) and an overview of what and how many tasks are “In Progress” is a big advantage of Kanban boards over the classic to-do list.

Here are a few ideas about how you can turn a Kanban board into a tool to structure your life and feel less stressed:

  1. The right place: Find a location where the board is clearly visible. A good place would be your hallway, because it’s not a room that is used to relax but is crossed often. A room that is absolutely forbidden for your Kanban Board is your bedroom.
  2. Design: Look for something that doesn’t make your home look or feel like an office. If you have kids and want them to participate, you can ask them how they would like to design it.
  3. Structure: Before you start off too quickly, think about a structure that fits your lifestyle. Are the basic three columns enough? Do you want to create lanes for different areas in your life (e.g. hobbies, administration or family) or for each family member? Alternatively, you can use different colors for different types of tasks.
  4. Use a Backlog to simplify: Do not try to fit everything you possibly want to do into the “To Do” column. Instead, stick to tasks that you can achieve within the next 1-3 months. Keep the remaining tasks in a little bucket or pocket next to the board. You want to travel the world? Make a safari? View this as a Backlog or a bucket list – literally.
  5. Prioritize: Move important tasks to the top or put a special mark on them.
  6. Review: You do not want your board to become a decorative item only. Choose a timeframe of 5-10 minutes once a week when you will check and adjust your board. Involve everyone who is part of the “team” that uses it. Consider: Did new tasks come up that you haven’t added to you backlog yet? Is everything still on track or do you need someone’s help?

Asking others for help or shifting tasks does not mean you are not strong enough. Take it as a chance to show someone — for example your kids — that you trust them.

Sure, this approach might not be suitable for monitoring events or tasks that have to be done regularly and are scheduled for certain days. The good thing is that our brain doesn’t need as much energy to think about these reoccurring events. All the things we manage to grow into a habit function on autopilot. That’s why we never forget to brush our teeth or check emails in the morning.

Meditation, yoga and other practices are good ways to reduce stress, especially to reduce stress reactions that have already emerged. But by optimizing your time management, you can proactively reduce your stress levels in advance. There are many ways and tools to do this. In my opinion, Kanban is a really good one that also allows you to involve your entire family in a fun way.

Silvia Hofmann is a business consultant at DXC. A former student of the DualStudy@HP Program, she has been working as a business consultant in the public sector since 2014.

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