Personal Kanban: A Guide

Personal Kanban:  A Guide

Do you need to keep track of multiple projects?  Are you a visual person?  Personal kanban is a great project management method that allows you to visually track your projects.

As I mentioned in my last post, my two favorite productivity tools are Evernote and Trello.  I mentioned briefly how I use Evernote to keep track of progress in achieving my goals.  Evernote is great for journaling and keeping track of current progress in achieving your goals.

However, to set goals, I prefer a more visual method.   I use Trello and personal kanban to set my life goals.  Trello is my dashboard to keep track of my personal projects.  I also use it to plot the next steps on my adventure.

For the next few weeks, I will be discussing visual goal planning and how Trello is a great tool to keep track of many different kinds of projects.

This will include:

  • How to use Trello to create a visual storyboard of your life
  • How to use Trello to manage foreign language studies
  • How to use Trello for managing a novel project
  • How to use Trello for maintaining a blog editorial calendar

This week’s post will discuss kanban and a basic visual framework for managing any project.

Kanban:  An Introduction

I have several personal projects going on at the same time.  I am guilty of following a cyclical pattern where I focus heavily on one project (the most urgent one) and leave the others on the backburner.

I study two languages: German and Japanese.  I studied German formally in college.  My main priority is  improving my fluency.  To do this, I need to have continual German input.

I am also teaching myself Japanese.  My current goal is to learn the 2,136 jouyou kanji.   Knowing these kanji will give me a high school reading ability.

I am writing a novella which I hope to have finished by the end of the year.  I have a second novella which is now in the planning phase.

I also have several blog posts in various stages of development.

Enter kanban which means billboard in Japanese.   It is a visual method of project management.

Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota.   Originally, kanban was designed to address bottlenecks and inventory management problems in Toyota’s assembly line process.  Ohno wanted a simple method for workers to understand upcoming projects.

Kanban treats a project as a series of processes both large and small that need to be completed. By breaking down each process, kanban lets you visualize materials needed for the process to be completed.

Materials are very important in a production setting.  If you don’t have enough of an item, you can’t make a product.  If you have too much of an item, you are wasting money on inventory.

For personal productivity, knowing what you need for a project is also important.

Let’s say that I have to take my car in to get the oil changed.  I have an hour of dead time.  I can use this time to work on another project.

I look at my kanban board.  I have two projects that I need to finish this week:  my Japanese lesson for the week and a blog post.  I see that the blog post requires bringing along several materials.  I also need a quiet environment to focus on writing.  My time estimate for writing the blog post is two hours.

For my Japanese lesson, all I need are a tablet and headphones.  My time estimate is one hour.

I decide to study Japanese.

How To Set Up A Personal Kanban Board

The simplest way to set up Kanban is to take a whiteboard or sheet of paper and break it down into three sections: Backlog, Doing, and Done.


The backlog section has all of your tasks that you need to finish for your project. In this section, you list each process as well as any notes needed, materials needed, deadlines, etc.

Here is an example:

When I decided to add this blog post, I created a project entitled Kanban Blog Post on my blog editorial calendar board.

Under notes and materials needed, I listed the following:

  • my notebook
  • a quiet environment
  • Google Play Music
  • Internet access
  • Evernote
  • Reference articles on kanban tagged in my Evernote
  • my photo folder
  • my template for writing blog posts

I also assigned myself a deadline for completing the post.  I also include a time estimate for how long it will take to complete the project.


The doing section contains the tasks that you are working on now. One of the most important aspects of kanban is limiting your work in progress. When you set up your kanban, analyze how many tasks that you think that you can work on effectively in one day. Your analysis doesn’t have to be perfect- another aspect of personal kanban is incremental improvement.

In my experience, I have found that I am much more likely to overestimate instead of underestimate.  When in doubt, aim lower not higher.

Limiting your work in progress improves your focus. Kanban emphasizes doing a task right the first time. By setting strict limits on the number of tasks that you can accomplish in a day, you are more likely to be efficient.  Your mind focuses much better on one task at a time!


The done section contains the tasks that you have finished. Seeing in the tasks that you have finished is good for several reasons:

  1. Noting what tasks you have completed and what is still in progress can help you find potential bottlenecks. Visualizing and noting inefficiency fits in with another Japanese production philosophy- kaizen or continuous improvement.
  2.  It integrates well with your weekly review. At the end of the week, you have a list of tasks that you have accomplished.
  3. Physically seeing what you have accomplished is a powerful psychological motivator. It’s easy to stress over what you still haven’t accomplished while forgetting what you have accomplished.

Combining Kanban With Trello

Instead of using a physical kanban board, I have a virtual kanban board with Trello.  Trello is a virtual project manager.  Projects are organized by lists and cards.

a sample trello board for basic personal kanban

Here is a sample kanban board setup in Trello.  There are three lists:  backlog, doing, and done.  Projects are assigned cards.  You can see the some projects have colored bars above them.  These are labels.

I use labels to mark progress on my project.  You can personalize your labels for your project.  The board above is a generic board which has several different kinds of projects in it.  With labels, the labels can only be customized for each board.  If your process differs wildly depending on your project, I recommend setting up multiple boards based on project groups.  For example, you can have a family vacation board, a blogging board, a knitting board, etc.

Trello is also great for collaboration.  You can add team members to a group project or family members to a family vacation board.

Over the next few weeks, I will describe how you can use Trello to manage several kinds of projects.

Have you used Trello before?  Do you have a personal kanban board?  I would love to see pictures!




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