Monday, February 25, 2013

Personal Kanban Week 2

Up Jumped the Devil

Robert Johnson
I been studyin' the rain and
I'm 'on drive my blues away

  Robert Johnson "Preachin Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)"

In the second week of this experiment I added a separate post it to the board with specific goals I had for the week. These are things that in some cases included other work elements on the board, but in some cases not. To me, this was bigger picture stuff I wanted to accomplish. Being as I was on vacation, these were 50% work related and 50% personal. I didn’t accomplish all the goals initially, but this was my first step towards that. (And hopefully someday soon I will finish learning to play that Robert Johnson song.)

One of the “benefits” of Agile is not that it makes things go faster, but that it makes things you might otherwise overlook much more obvious that you can’t avoid making a choice about them one way or another. For me, this whole process has involved learning a lot about how I (personally) get things done, what motivates me, and as I’ve already mentioned, some of the dysfunction I have built into my work routines.

I should also mention that, for better or worse, I don’t keep a very strict distinction between work life and personal life. I love what I do, so none of what I do is WORK in the sense that it’s stuff I don’t want to do, but there are things that provide me with greater personal satisfaction than others. And at the same time, there is also a kind of negative weight that gloms on to the work items are inherently pleasure-neutral, but become negative because they sit around too long. (This is something I’ll be coming back to in a few weeks when I start digging more into value.)
So, my top observations I have noted for week 2…

  1. Prioritize the Personal - On the days when I did the things that provided personal satisfaction first, I was much happier. This is something I learned in mid-20s living in NYC. If I got up early enough to practice my guitar and hit the gym before going into work, I was pretty much okay with wherever the day took me. I’d seen to my personal stuff and that was not sitting around competing with work, waiting to be done. Understanding that this is important and actually doing it are very different things. I have found that I have to actually force myself to do (some of ) the personal stuff first. My tendency is to just dive right into the work because I perceive that need as being more important… which is not always the case.
  2. Naps are good – In the grand scheme of things I’m definitely in the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” camp. Generally I average about 4-5 hours a night. It is not a healthy way to live… but it is a choice I make happily each day. I don’t stay up because I have to, I stay up because there is just too much I want to do. There are, however, many negative side effects to living like this and if you make a choice to live functionally sleep deprived, you have to learn how to deal with it. For me, the mid afternoon has always been a dead zone… unless I find a way to sneak in a 20-minute nap in there somewhere. It’s like hitting CTRL-ALT-DELETE on your ability to focus.

    Also, on the sleep topic, I am finding that meditating for 20-30 minutes before going to sleep at night is having a massive impact on the quality of my sleep. The only hitch is I have to do this before I am too tired to meditate without drifting off to sleep.
  3. Down Days – In tracking how I am working, I’m becoming more aware of something I have suspected for quite awhile… I have some days of very high productivity, but they are often followed by days of very low productivity. I’ve not tried to measure this, but I’m noticing, on average, I have about 1 day during the work-week where I am far less productive than the others. Typically, this happens after one of those days where I work into the wee hours and am amazed at my productivity. Since I’m not tracking it, I can’t say for certain, but it does seem like an ebb and flow kind of thing. I’m okay with that for now.

So the most important things I learned in the second week have nothing much to do with Kanban. As far as my practice of using the board, I’m getting better at not obsessing about the cards, but I am maintaining discipline with moving them. I’ve abandoned my attempts to keep them all color coordinated because it doesn’t seem to matter right now – a card is a card.

One issue I do have is that I’m still depending on Things and I’m still working items I enter into Things that I don’t have on my board. This should not be necessary, but I see three main reasons for it:
  1. My Kanban board is not always with me, my iPhone (with Things) is.
  2. Over the past few years, Things has become a deeply ingrained part of how I work. I’m habitually and emotionally invested in it – as much as Evernote.
  3. I’m still afraid things will slip through the cracks. Things is part of how I mitigate that risk.

I’d like to break myself of the Things habit and just do Kanban, but I’m going to have to find a way to do it that is as simple as my use of Things.

I am reprioritizing my board every morning and every afternoon. This is probably overkill, but I am still becoming familiar with the work.

I have accomplished some major work items that were not on the board or in my goals. I would like to become better at making sure everything is on the board.

There is one other major change I have noticed since I began using the board. I added a post it last week to remind myself to spend time playing Dungeons and Dragons with my daughter each day. At first, that seemed horrible to me – what kind of crap father must I be if I have to make a task card to play with my kid. But you know what… since I’ve put that card up there. She and I have played every day for 1-2 hours. And it’s awesome. We spend time together, having creative fun, I’m not working and she’d not lost in some video game. So, while my original goal of taking Personal Kanban on was to get better at managing the things I have to do at work, what I’m finding is that it is helping me get better at managing the things I have to do that are not work. This is resulting in me enjoying my life more, making more time for the things I need to do keep sane and making time for my family. My expectation is that this will also have a much greater positive impact on my life as a knowledge worker than I would get from just having a better way to juggle too much at once.


  1. I really enjoyed your articles on personal kanban. I wrote a similar article for on hacking Scrum for personal productivity. I look forward to future posts by you.

  2. Thanks Don. I read your post right when it came out and really enjoyed it. This blog also appears on in my drunkenpm blog there.

    So, are you still working on using Scrum for personal productivity? If so, woud you possibly be up for letting me interview you for a podcast?

  3. Hi David, sure I'd be up for doing a podcast w/you. Let me know what the next steps would be. You can always contact me direct at Thanks!

  4. Have you tried/looked at the Kanban for 1 app? Or do you prefer and/or "recommend" using a physical board?
    My current foray into this, which has been accidental up to this point is an array of sticky notes across the front of the shelf above my computer. Baby steps?

  5. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I've been trying a number of different apps as well as using a physical board. I'm going to be posting about that in the coming weeks, so I don't want to give too much away now. But in general I almost always prefer a physical board whenever possible.

  6. Hi David,

    What a great reflective post on the kinds of lessons you learn through using Kanban. You say the things you've learnt aren't about Kanban, and that's exactly right. Because it's not about the process or the tool, but how it helps you see the patterns in your own behaviour and your own psychological response to your work.

    And with work I mean both the personal and the professional, too. Like you, I love what I do professionally, and I tend to live a very interconnected life between the spheres of my life.

    I've been writing about my own journey with Agile and Lean to manage life for almost 3 years now at my Scrumfamily blog. I hear echoes of some of the lessons I've learnt in a few of the points you made in this post.

    Again, like you, I have always prided myself on sleeping 4 to 6 hours per night and moving mountains. But about 2 years into my journey, I eventually came to the conclusion that by continually exceeding the natural constraint that the need for sleep applies, I was actually robbing myself of quality of life. I wrote about this in Goodbye to Doing More with Less.

    I also recognised your point about "up" and "down" time. I had a very similar experience, except that for me it was across weeks. It turns out I have a natural sine curve going in my psyche where I will push very had one week, and run a more average pace the week after. And the moment I try to push back against that cycle, I pay the price for it, because quality (work and my own happiness) starts suffering.

    I really look forward to hearing more of your reflections. You're looking beyond the mechanics of the board, and that is ultimately what this approach is about.