a blue banner with the words "prioritizing your day" accompanied by illustrations of sticky notes, a calendar, and a pencil

by Elisabeth White | 2 Minute Read

Efficiency! Productivity! Effectiveness! Organization! Completion! Success!

Life is complicated... And busy! There is always more work to be done than there is time in a day. Change is also inevitable and constantly happening. So how is it possible to achieve efficiency, productivity, effectiveness, or organization throughout a day??? Prioritization, my friends. Let us prioritize your day using Kanban!

What is Kanban?

a sticky note with a question mark in itKanban is a lean method that can easily be applied to daily prioritization. Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry and PK 101 offered by Modus Cooperandi, Inc. are wonderful resources for learning how to use Kanban in your professional and personal life.

How Can I Prioritize My Day with Kanban?

Start Simple: Visualize Your Work for the Week(s)

three sticky notesStart by creating a visual representation of your work – this can be done physically or virtually with your in-person or online tools of choice. It can be color-coded to represent types of work, critically level, or other indicators that are helpful to you. I prefer to use virtual stickies that represent one action, a to do, or a task per sticky. I use three assorted colors that have specific meaning to me. This approach allows me to vividly see the work that I need to get done.

Create a Kanban Board

an illustration of a pencil writing a lineThe Kanban Board will start with a Backlog, which will receive all potential options of work that needs to be done. Load your visual representation of your work for the week into the Backlog. I use Trello as my virtual Kanban Board to house my virtual stickies, although any physical or virtual Kanban Board will work!

Prioritize the Backlog

one columns labeled "backlog" with three sticky notes in it and a hand moving one of the stickysUsing relativity, compare the actions, to dos, and tasks that you have visualized in the Backlog of your Kanban Board. What is the highest priority? What is time sensitive or critical? What has been committed? What must be done before other work can start? What has an immediate due date? What can be done quickly? What will take extensive time to complete? These considerations should all be factors as you stack rank the Backlog. I look for quick wins and upcoming due dates for the first 3-5 priorities in my Backlog.

Create the Remaining States of the Kanban Board

three columns with a label of backlog, doing, or done; the backlog column has three sticky notesFrom the Backlog, work will need to be pulled forward into working states. The simplest states are “Doing” and “Done.” As you are ready to start work, you will move it from the Backlog to the first working state, which is where you will start applying capacity. Keep it simple and stick with basic states. I use “Doing” followed by “Reviewing” with “I got it done!” as my last Kanban Board state. “Doing” is the visual representation of what I am actively working on, “Review” is for anything my Team is looking at before it can be completed, and “I got it done!” is my visual celebration of work that is complete and no longer requires my capacity.

Define Work in Progress (WIP) Limits

the text "WIP LIMIT" with the word "work" in the w, "in" inside the I, and "progress" in the pThe Backlog state of the Kanban Board welcomes all potential options for work to be done. There is no limit to the Backlog, but too many options available can lead to disorganized chaos. Make sure to visualize your work in the Backlog, but also look for opportunities to remove “noise” (anything that does not represent priorities you need to complete). The working states of the Kanban Board need to be limited. The goal with Personal Kanban is to focus and finish – stop starting and start finishing. To do this, only a few actions, to dos, or tasks should be actively worked at a time. It is recommended to start with a lower WIP Limit because it can always be increased. My “Doing” state WIP Limit is 3 because I usually have time throughout a day to focus on and complete 3 things. My “Reviewing” state WIP Limit is 2 because my team usually only has capacity to review 2 things for me within a day. Now I know to only pull forward up to 3 stickies from the Backlog as I start working.

Keep it Simple: Start Working Your Priorities

three columns with a label of backlog, doing, or done; the backlog column has two sticky notes; a hand is moving one sticky to doingOnce your actions, to dos, and tasks have been visualized and prioritized within your Kanban Board, it is time to start working. Pull the first priority from the Backlog into your first working state. Focus on that priority to completion. If work becomes blocked or paused, start the next highest priority in the Backlog. Remember to stay focused and finish! Avoid starting too many things. Celebrate the completion of actions, to dos, and tasks!