If you want to get things done, focus is the key. Single piece flow (focusing on only one task at a time) might be too extreme, but limiting your work to your capacity is mandatory. No matter whether we’re talking about a team, an organization or about your personal productivity.
Kanban For Personal Productivity
If there are multiple things to be done (and hey, when is this not the case?) it always helps me to put it all up to a Kanban board. For my personal stuff I don’t use a physical whiteboard, but an electronic version (LeanKit Kanban or Agile Zen). By using one of those tools, I get a good overview about what’s going on and I can track my progress on all my goals.
Finding Your Capacity
One big advantage of a Kanban board is that it makes bottlenecks visible. If cards pile up in one of the columns of your board, you know that you’re trying to do more than you’re capable of. If you run into such a situation you have to do two things:
- Stop working on anything else and focus solely on moving the stalled stories out of the bottleneck
- Put a work in progress limit (WIP limit) in place for that column to avoid that bottleneck in the future
It doesn’t help to start new stuff if you already know it will ultimately get stuck in a bottleneck. Starting more and more new tasks without finishing old ones will only lead to thrashing – a situation where your time is completely consumed by task switching instead of getting anything done.
To avoid work getting stuck in a bottleneck, it’s important to limit the work you’re doing to the capacity of the bottleneck. That means you should prevent yourself from starting more stuff than you’ll be able to push through without getting overwhelmed.
A Work In Progress (WIP) Limit Helps You Focus
If you set your WIP limit to two or three for tasks being “in progress”, it helps you focus on exactly those tasks. And you have an explicit motivation for getting those tasks done as you should only start new stuff if there is an empty space on your Kanban board for another “in progress” task.