By using the Eisenhower Principle you may easily evaluate tasks and define their importance, urgency and as conclusion the way to handle these tasks. Therefore the first step for an efficient time and task management is done. But now you also want to execute your tasks in an efficient manner and reach low task cycle times. The basic Kanban principles will fulfill this need. Kanban is made to reduce the work in process and therefore the task cycle times. It will visualize your work and it will help you to identify bottlenecks. Therefore, for my own time and task management, I prefer a combination of the Eisenhower Principle and Kanban.
Within a previous article I have introduced the Eisenhower Principle and how to evaluate tasks. Within this article I want to show you an easy to use possibility to manage and visualize your tasks.
The Kanban board
To manage my tasks I use three main documents.
- Kanban board with tasks of this week
- Long-time backlog with all other tasks
- Done history
The Kanban board contains the tasks of the actual week. I use the following columns on my board but of course you may adapt this to your needs:
- Done: contains all already finished tasks of this week
- Work in progress (WIP): contains the task(s) which I actually execute
- Today’s backlog: contains all tasks planned for today
- Week backlog: contains all remaining tasks planned for this week
Additionally I have a long-time backlog which is used to store all tasks with an execution data in the future (later than this week). And I use a Done history document. This document contains the content of the Done column of past weeks. This history is very important whenever you want to evaluate and interpret your Kanban board for example to find bottlenecks.
Work in progress
One very basic Kanban goal is the reduction of task cycle time. The way to reach this goal is very easy but requires self-discipline: you have to do only one thing at a time. So you should work always on one task only. A new task should only be started if the previously task is fully finished. This means your WIP column should always contain only one task.
Pull don’t push
A second major Kanban principle is the pull principle. This means you will only pull new tasks into the next execution stage but you will never push tasks from one stage into the next. This will also reduce the cycle time, because it is only possible to pull a task in the next stage if there are enough three resources in this stage.
For example, if you have finished your actual task, your WIP column will become empty. Therefore it is now possible to pull a new task into this column. So you will pull the next task from your Today’s Backlog column to the WIP column. The same pull principle is used for the other columns. If the Today’s backlog is empty or nearly empty, you can pull new tasks from the Week Backlog. And if the Week Backlog has enough open space you can pull tasks from the long-time backlog.
On the other hand, if you have too much tasks within a column, you should push them back in a previous column. For example, at the end of the day, you’re Today’s Backlog still contains a lot of tasks, then you should push them back into the Week Backlog. Additionally if the Week Backlog also contains too much task you have to do a new evaluation for these tasks and maybe set new execution dates or delegate some of the tasks.
Visualize additional and important tasks
If you want to be more productive you have to reduce overhead. But to reduce overhead you have to identify the overhead first. Therefore I label such tasks with colors. Whenever I have to execute an additional task, I label this task with red color. Additional tasks are all things which normally do not belong to your daily business. For example, you actually work on a project and you get tasks like do a review of document created by a colleague, ask some support question according an old project, prepare a presentation or analyze a bug report for another project. In other words, tasks which are not planned for your daily business are additional tasks and will hinder you to execute the really planned task of your actual project. Therefore in a first step mark these tasks with a read label. Later on this will make it easier to read and evaluate the Kanban board.
Furthermore I mark important tasks with yellow labels. These are tasks which belong to your daily business but they are very important and should be done as soon as possible. This will help you do prioritize very important tasks. But of course you should use these yellow labels rarely because if you create a lot of very important tasks then no tasks is more important than the other.
Update the Kanban board at the beginning of the week
At the beginning of each week you have to copy the content of the Done column into the Done History document. At next you should have a look at the remaining tasks of the last week. You should do a new evaluation of these tasks and put them into the Week Backlog column. At next you should pull tasks from the long-time backlog into the Week Backlog column. But pull only as many tasks as you think you can solve this week. At least you have to pull the tasks you want to execute today into the Today’s Backlog column and the starting task into the WIP column.
Update the Kanban board at the beginning of each day
At the beginning of each day you can pull new tasks to the Today’s Backlog column. But keep in mind to pull only as many tasks as you can solve today. If you already have a filled Today’s Backlog column with tasks from the previous day you may have to check these tasks and if necessary do a new evaluation.
Add a new task
Whenever you get a new task, at first, you should classify the task according to the Eisenhower Principle. If it is a task of type A, you should pull it into the Today’s Backlog column or if this column is already filled, you may have to pull the task into the Week Backlog. If it is a task of type B, you have to pull it into the Week Backlog or the long-time backlog, according to the execution date.
How to read the board
By visualizing your work with the Kanban board, you get an easy possibility to find bottlenecks or other things which degreases your productivity. You will find a lot of information on your Kanban board, so try to read the board from time to time. Following you will find some examples how to read the board.
Your WIP column should always contain one task only. If it contains more tasks you will degrease your productivity and increase the cycle time of tasks. So you may check if you have sometimes multiple tasks in this column.
Another often seen thing is the growing backlog. So if the Week Backlog or long-time backlog grows fast and you never can solve all these tasks you may also check your Kanban board. At first take a look in the Done History. Maybe you will find a lot of red labeled tasks. In this case you spend a big part of you work time by solving additional tasks. In this case you maybe should speak with your supervisor and explain this situation. Another reason for a growing backlog may be the wrong classification of tasks. Maybe you could delegate more of the work. So do a little experiment and go through your Done History. Try to classify the tasks again and maybe if you are honest to yourself you will find some tasks of type C. In this case you have to learn to delegate more of the work.
Within this article you got an short introduction of the possibility to combine the Eisenhower Principle and Kanban methods to create an easy to use and efficient time and task management system. I use this combination in my daily work and I’m very happy with the results. Furthermore I like this system because it can be done with less effort.