Meaningful Work/Life Balance through Kanban

October 3, 2012

Like a lot of people, I face plenty of urgent demands each day – both personal and professional. And like everyone else, I feel overwhelmed at times by the continual onslaught of demands and requests for my time. Lately I’ve felt that I’ve been extremely busy, but not anywhere near as effective as I should be. I was feeling unsatisfied at the end of the each day (and week).

I wanted to do more than simply suck it up; to work endless hours to finally – which never happens – catch up. What I really needed to do was to get a grip. And this meant more than checking off tasks on a to-do list. I wanted to be both efficient and effective, addressing both the urgent and the important, to make sure that I gave myself those meaningful accomplishments – whether they are of a personal or professional nature – that provide us with that satisfied, rewarding life and career.

So what’s an agile practitioner to do?

Since I view lean and agile as two sides of the same coin, I implemented Personal Kanban. If you are used to using sticky notes or task lists, there are some distinct advantages to using Personal Kanban.

Visualization is one of them. With Personal Kanban I can readily see what I’m concentrating on each week and each day, balancing the urgent with the important. If something new comes up, I quickly add it to my backlog. I can delegate tasks, seeing that I’ve requested information or a response from someone and I’m not getting it in enough time to complete a task by the end of the week.

I have three “swim lanes” on my Personal Kanban board, one for personal tasks, one for professional task and one for recurring tasks. I need personal and professional tasks visualized in once place because my life is not so neatly organized that I can compartmentalize m work and personal life. For me, the lines are blurred together all too much!

I prioritize my tasks as follows:
  • No asterisk = normal priority
  • One asterisk = high priority
  • Two asterisks = urgent, must do now
I size my tasks as small/medium/large/huge:
  • Small = 15 min or less task
  • Medium = 30 min or less task
  • Large = 60 min or less task
  • Huge = greater than 60 min task
I also follow the cardinal rule of limiting my work-in-process to drive greater throughput. And I plan for slack – which can be used for interruptions or the simple fact that some tasks may take longer to complete than expected. Slack is important because – as any Kanban practitioner will tell you – there is a difference between throughput and capacity.

If you attempt to fill your day to capacity (driving your personal utilization rate as close to 100 percent as possible) you will be disappointed because events will conspire to prevent you from completing something during the course of the day. This will have a cascading effect on every other subsequent task that will add to your stress levels and lead you towards potentially counterproductive behavior, such as short-changing a task (and inviting possible re-work later) in an effort to make up time. You will also feel less productive and successful if you end the day failing to accomplish what you set out to do.

Throughput, on the other hand, is accomplished by focusing your attention on specific, important tasks, giving yourself enough room to handle them and any other issues or problems that arise throughout the day. If you happen to have excess capacity at some point, you always have the option of pulling in more work.

My Personal Kanban board is laid out as follows (with WIP limits noted and space for recurring tasks that I can check off):


If you want to learn more, I recommend visiting the Personal Kanban web site, and I also found the book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry to be a great resource.

14 comments

Grace Estrada said...

Very good thing to adjust our life from business and to schedule the work or life from rigidness.I like the way you are scheduling your routine life.

October 17, 2012 at 3:51 AM

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October 17, 2012 at 4:13 AM
Dave Moran said...

@Grace,

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October 17, 2012 at 6:23 AM
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November 18, 2012 at 3:27 PM
Dave Moran said...

@Kumar,

Thank you, and thanks for reading!

November 21, 2012 at 2:29 PM
Mickey Blue said...

I've been looking for a free accounting software for quite some time lately and I'm losing my social life. That's the perfect term, I need to get a grip. My work is killing me lately.

November 22, 2012 at 3:28 AM
Farham Erikson said...

I hope they actually make a small business software that can tell workaholic people that they have to go out and have some fun. I need that. Badly.

December 3, 2012 at 3:51 AM
Ray Ashton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. December 5, 2012 at 10:02 AM
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December 26, 2012 at 4:28 AM
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December 29, 2012 at 8:32 PM
Dave Moran said...

@Mickey, @Farham, @Ahmed, @EdwardBurgess,

Thank you for reading and thank you for your comments! Have a great New Year!

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