≡ Menu

Managing your constraint – Part III – Personal Kanban and your calendar program

Managing your constraintsIn previous posts, I shared the Personal Kanban approach for getting the most out of your constraint – the 86,400 seconds you are limited to each day – and also some free web based approaches for automating your Kanban board. This post share’s my approach to integrating Kanban into my planning, calendar, and follow-up systems.

Almost immediately after creating my Kanban, I realized there was a potential for duplication and even conflict with my Outlook calendar and tasks After all, managing tasks in two places is a missed deadline waiting to happen. The same is true whether you’re using Google Calendar, Palm Desktop or some other App.

To minimize conflicts, I primarily use calendar items to remind me about events that occur at a specific times and dates such as meetings, phone conferences, flights, Bears’ games., etc. I also use my calendar for blocking out time, such as my morning workout, and recurring reminders like checking email at 9:00 and 4:00 or my planning for the next day.

I try not to put calendar items on my Kanban. However, if a calendar item requires significant preparation, I will add the prep to my Kanban. For instance, if I’m giving a talk, I create a card called “Prep for XYZ Talk” which would have the following subtasks:

  • Interview sample of attendees to understand needs
  • Develop new or modify previous slides
  • Practice presentation
  • Prepare note-taking handouts
  • Pack everything needed for presentation
  • Give presentation
  • Follow-up with attendees that request more info

Since speaking is a regular activity, I can recycle the card when I’m done. Previously, I recommended using a Recurring column to store these tasks, but since then I’ve found it easier to just put them in the Backlog and set a new deadline for the next occurrence.

For items that repeat regularly but take up a chunk of time, I block time on my calendar, but also create a Kanban card to help me stay focused on getting that task done. An example would be blocking a few hours every Monday for writing and posting that week’s blog.

Sometimes there are activities that need to start on a specific day but not a specific time such as circling back with a potential client that has asked me to call back next month. For these types of activities, I create a card and place it in Backlog including the due date in the description (e.g. Call Bob (9/21) and setting the deadline for the Friday prior. That way it will turn red and remind me to move it to an active column when I do my Friday planning for the next week. Agile Zen also allows you to record notes or attach files that you may need for the task.

Another helpful feature of the software is the blocked function. Let’s say that I have a client proposal to develop and I’ve done so, but need to get another colleagues input. I can put the task as blocked with a note saying that its waiting for input from Dave. After sending the finished proposal I can either create a new task called proposal follow-up or just mark the task blocked again with a note saying its waiting for client feedback. If this is a regular part of your work flow, Benson suggests a waiting pen for these tasks.

So these are really just intended to be some ideas to get you started, but like the ads say, your mileage may vary. One of the reasons they call it Personal Kanban is because we all work differently, and you’re going to want to modify it to work for you instead of the other way around. If you find other approaches that work for you, please share them as comments so others can try them out.

Thanks to everyone for their great feedback on the series so far. Special thanks to Jim Benson who, after reading my first post, was kind enough to reach out and share some of the initial chapters of his forthcoming book Mapping Work – Navigating Life . I look forward to providing a review of the entire book here after it comes out next month.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Bill September 5, 2010, 6:13 pm


    Thanks for the excellent Personal Kanban postings. They were very useful transforming a nearly impossible to-do-list into a very manageable project. I really like the AgileZen software you recommended too.

    After trying a few features, I have simplified the process in a way that works very well for me. I have deleted the “Recurrent” column. I found that you can replace the recurrent column by recycling the recurring Kanban cards into a column to the left, after completion.

    I also deleted the “Waiting” column and replaced it by using the “blocked feature” and adding a comment, stating the reason for waiting and a due date in the respective fields.

    After reading your previous blogs, and knowing that I will not multitask again, I decided to merge Working and Today (into a Working-Today column).

    So, now the columns are: (Idea Bucket), Backlog, This Week, Working-Today, Complete (and Archive).

    The key is to keep the Working-Today column’s workload realistic. To do that, it’s very important to assign Priority and Size to all cards.

    I found that it’s more intuitive to use numbers to fill-out the Size field (estimated number of hours to complete). In this way, when you are planning your day, all you need to do is move tasks into “Working-Today”, so their estimated hours to completion add-up to the capacity of your working day (normally 8-12 hours, depending on the nature of the project).

    I also found that using words, instead of numbers, for Priority prevents confusion with Size in the card. In this way, Priority can be: MUST, SHOULD, COULD, WOULD and MAY.

    I’ve also streamlined the color coded categories to a few less: Marketing, Selling, Client Work, Infrastructure, Learning and Personal.

    These changes make the project quickly visible on the screen with no need to scroll to the sides, and the workflow becomes obvious. Hope this helps.

    Regards, Bill Cabiró

    • Mike Dalton September 6, 2010, 9:53 am

      Thanks Bill – The simpler the better I always say. That's part of the beauty of the approach – if your work flow right now doesn't include a lot of your work cycles back through draft and approval stages, then you can nix the waiting pen. Thanks also for the suggestions on AZ's priority and size functions – I'll have to give those a try!

  • Marty September 7, 2010, 5:36 pm

    Apologies, I didn't realize that the three stack horizontal bars in a lane allowed drag and drop; this is pretty nice and simple to use after all! Mia culpa! :0|

  • Mike Dalton September 9, 2010, 10:04 am

    For those of you wondering about this, iKan is a Personal Kanban app for the iPhone. I can see where it would be useful to have your board in the palm of your hand. Marty, maybe you can verify this, but as far as I know, it only imports data from web apps like Agiloe Zen and doesn't Sync with them. Maybe having it on your phone would be enough, but access on my desktop/laptop would be nice too.

  • Michael A. Dalton October 28, 2010, 9:15 am

    Thanks Bonder – I’ll give that a try!

Leave a Comment