5 steps to a happier, more effective you (Part 1)

By Posted in - Productivity on November 22nd, 2013 30 Comments

Meet Nancy, a new client of mine. She wears many hats. She manages a support team, coordinates and defines work for the software development team, and works on many internal improvement projects. Oh, and she’s constantly interrupted by a barrage of emails, phone calls and in person visits, making it a challenge to get anything done.

Her days are long, and it’s common for her to sit at her computer on weekends, just to try and keep up. Stress is affecting her health. On top of it all, she rarely finds time for the work she really wants to do. Life is tiring.

We can all relate to Nancy in some way.

Guess what? That was Nancy a month ago. The Nancy of today is

  • going home from work on time
  • completing less urgent, more valuable stuff
  • feeling on top of things
  • smiling lots more
  • dropping fewer balls, and more relaxed
  • feeling more satisfied with her efforts

And here’s the thing. What she did is simple, straightforward, and does not demand a lot of time. What she did was follow 5 essential steps that emerged from my work with hundreds of individuals getting started with Personal Kanban™, the most effective tool I know to manage work and navigate life.

Today I’ll introduce you to the first step, through Nancy’s journey. Read how she learned to make better decisions about her work, and have fewer 3 am jump out of bed freak out moments. Learn how to apply it to your own situation right away.

Step 1: Set up your new workout routine

Tools like ToDo lists, email and calendars don’t help us see the full picture. When we don’t understand all of our options, we feel anxious and stressed that we’re forgetting something, and from not fully knowing just how much stuff there is to manage.

My first step with Nancy was to get all of her work visible. We set up a board like the one below. The work flows from left to right as follows:

  1. Options are all of the possible work items that may be chosen to be worked on. I prefer the word Options instead of To Do to emphasize that not everything here has to be done. Context changes all the time, we don’t have to feel obligated to do something just because we’ve added it to our list.
  2. Today holds all of the work items she plans to start today. Having a Today list provides her greater focus so we minimize the time looking for options. We can spend more time simply doing, which brings us to
  3. Doing are all of the work items she’s already invested time in. It doesn’t mean she’s working on it right now. If Nancy started on a report 3 days ago, that report is in the Doing column until it’s finished.
  4. Waiting On is a subset of Doing, holding any item that Nancy can’t work on until something else happens. Waiting for someone to provide feedback on a report is an example.
  5. Done contains all of Nancy’s accomplishments, everything completed, the place where she can celebrate what’s she done and learn more about the nature of her work.
Personal Kanban starter board design

This board design satisfies the majority of people – start with it.

Visualize what matters most. We then figured out what she needed to see most about her work. Since Nancy wears many hats, she opted to use a different coloured post-it for each hat. In her case, we had colours for Development Features, Development Issues, Customer Support,  and Investments. Investments are the items that have a lot of value in the long term.

Now, Nancy could write out all of her work. She looked through her emails, documents, calendar and mental notes to identify everything. The dump process took about 30 minutes.

Have a purpose for the board. We also made an explicit goal for the first week, and posted it beside her workflow. In the first week, it’s all about incorporating new daily habits, and building awareness, namely to visualize all work. This means not working on anything that isn’t already on the board. I recommend anyone getting started to have this as their first goal.

We also discussed what that means in daily life, to increase odds of success. She agreed to begin each day by updating her board before starting into work. We also placed the board directly behind her desk, so it’s in plain view and easy to access. It’s hard to ignore.

Sticking with it. Often I recommend adding a daily habits tracker to the board, to make those intentions more explicit, to measure progress and to learn how to be successful through experimentation. I’ll explain more on this in an upcoming post. With Nancy, we opted not to, partly because I work right beside Nancy so my presence creates accountability and we usually checked in at the start of the day. Since I can’t be with you at your office (sorry!), you might want to try the daily habit tracker trick.

Once everything was in place, Nancy was pretty excited, though a bit overwhelmed by the vast number of post-its on her wall! That’s normal, even expected when seeing for the first time everything that she was trying to manage. At least now she felt more confident that something important wasn’t going to slip through the cracks.

In summary, Nancy got started by:

  1. Creating a board using the recommended workflow.
  2. Deciding on what she wanted to visualize most, and used colours to support that.
  3. Wrote out all of her work items
  4. Added an explicit goal
  5. Decided on a routine to keep her board updated

Next time, we’ll see how Nancy’s first week went, what she learned about her work and where she went next. We’ll explore the power of retrospectives and goals to drive improvement.

  • Sue G

    I like systems and this is a thoughtful and sound starting point. I, too, "wear many hats" and need to prioritise without getting distracted, which is so easy.

    Thanks Gerry!

    • Gerry Kirk

      Your welcome Sue. Will you come back and share results of your experiments with Personal Kanban?

  • Gerry, this is a great starting point and framework for managing a large and growing workload. I plan to use software to implement it this month.

    • Gerry Kirk

      Great Michael, will you come back and share your progress with us, so we can learn from your experiment?

  • I like the way that this approach visualises the PROGRESS as well as the CONTENT. I look forward to seeing how much this enhances my sense of FLOW which, it strikes me, will likely be the critical element for making this become a habit that sticks. I will send you a screenshot of my computer screen-presented and managed version of my personal kanban board. Thanks for this, Gerry

    Nigel

  • Brilliant article. Thanks for sharing.

    • Gerry Kirk

      Your welcome John. What resonates most with you?

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  • Sherry McMahan

    I started using your training with the Kanban System in late January 2014. Changed my life and then my life changed more and I lost my way.

    A family member became very sick and everything went out if control.

    What little sanity I retained was because of my Kanban boards.

    My business suffered, my house has become a disaster, our meals have become non-existent.

    Lately I have not even been able to do items like “Pay Bills”. 2 days ago I took one Kanban board and gave it priority.

    I put it in micromanagement mode with a minimalist focus.

    I could not stand to see All the things I needed to do.

    I allowed myself to only pay 1 bill, write 1 report for my business, plan and eat lunch and take a nap. Then I spent an hour just sitting with my family in the evening and I went to bed early. Still ate no supper and have a house that is overwhelming but it is the best sleep I have had in months.

    Just lowering the expectations on myself is all I really did for this first step.

    Thanks for helping me know there is a road back to sanity… In baby steps if I need it. (And I do)

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  • Staying happy and fit in the life for longer time is a great ask. I often find it harder, and I believe just like me many people also finding it harder. However, here provided 5 steps seems to me quite interesting to make the life happier. I'm delighted to learn such tips and will wisely try these out.

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