This is a bit morbid — but life is bloody short. If your in you’re mid-twenties your already probably about a third of the way through your life. Let’s just let that sink in for a minute…
The good news — you have the same 24 hours as everyone else to get shit done. And doing meaningful shit with your day every day, and being present in enjoying doing that meaningful shit is what, in my experience what adds up to a good life.
That’s a lot of cursing, but I really do feel strongly that there’s nothing more depressing than going to bed at night thinking ‘what have I have just done with my day.’ Having a great system to get the absolute most out of your waking hours is just such an important topic.
In this article, I’m going to break down the system I’ve developed to suck as much juice out of the day as possible.
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” — Bruce Lee
I think there’s no better quote to sum up the kanban process of task management, than one given by Bruce Lee. What has being like water got to do with productivity I hear you saying, well quite a lot actually.
Kanban is a Japanese methodology, and the basic concept is so simple you have one board that the whole team works from, with all work that needs to be done visible. Once you have all work visible, its simply a case of pulling tasks through the stages, from to do, in progress done, like water through a stream.
The reason Kanban is so powerful is that’s simultaneously both incredibly fluid and flexible, while also being really robust, allowing you to get stuff done. knowing exactly what needs to be worked on next.
I’ve been using Kanban for years with software development teams, but applying it to your personal task management system can give you great results, let’s see how.
The first part of my Kanban based productivity system is the digital weekly plan. How this works is every Sunday I will map out what I want to get done in the week. These will be rough tasks, I’m not getting bogged down in details here, that can come later.
For example, ‘edit a video’ is a fine task to have here. As is ‘put together a marketing plan’. The key idea here is this should be what I want a perfect week to look like, I love creating content and being productive but if I don’t also schedule time blocks for seeing friends occasionally or going to the gym I will get fat and miserable.
The great thing about having a weekly plan in a digital board view like this is that I can swap stuff around freely, and also have one place where I can easily see everything that needs to be done.
The final point about the weekly plan is you are also going to want a column to capture stuff that comes up during the week, but doesn’t need to be done straight away, you can add these tasks into the backlog column, and then when you get to Sunday you can plan them into your next week.
Now you can see how I flesh out my week, let’s look at the really important stuff, how we make sure we stick to it using a daily task tracker.
A daily tracker should do one thing, and one thing only, get out of your way and let you get into a flow state with your work.
Flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized[by whom?] by the complete absorption in what one does and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.
The counter-intuitive thing about a really great daily planner is it’s something you want to interact with as little as possible, it needs to be something that facilitates these incredible flow states we get when we are so immersed in work that time just flies by.
This is why I hate using digital tools for daily task management. I think they are absolutely horrible for getting out of our way and helping us get into flow state.
I used to use a daily version of my weekly plan to complete my tasks but god it was awful, every time I’d go in to update a task I’d get distracted by something, I’d fiddle around with my Notion dashboard, or just get involved in something else I shouldn’t be. So what’s the answer I hear you say, is it a to-do list, is it timeboxing? Not quite, it’s sticky notes.
Every morning I open up my weekly planner and flesh out the big tasks into smaller more manageable ones that I write on sticky notes. Edit a video becomes ‘collect b roll’, ‘film screen recordings’, ‘add titles and effects’, ‘create a thumbnail and upload’.
I then bang all the stickies on a wall and don’t look at my weekly planner again that day. I keep the stickies in 3 columns to do in progress and done, I only ever have one task in progress because I completely agree with James Clear that multitasking is a complete myth.
The great thing about stickies is I can move them about and easily adjust my priorities, and this is a huge advantage over other methods such as timeboxing.
As a Product Manager, it’s natural that things will come up in the day that require my immediate attention, so all I do is write that task down, move it into ‘in progress’ and move whatever I’m currently working on back into ‘to do’, likewise if other important stuff comes up in the day that doesn’t require my immediate attention I can just add it to my backlog and rejig my priorities.
But the absolute best thing about stickies used in this way is the satisfaction of moving tasks through the funnel, and getting into a real rhythm of pulling a task in, moving it into done, repeat, repeat, repeat, it’s the best way to get into a real flow state.
So there you have it, a simple, but effective way to manage tasks.
I honestly feel the Kanban process is one of the absolute keys to my productivity so I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the process in the comments!
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