Managing your projects effectively (and efficiently) as a freelancer is incredibly important. There's no denying that how much you can get done directly affects how much you can earn.
When you’re a company of one, however, and entirely in charge of your schedule and the way you work, staying focused and actually getting things done can be an epic challenge. Especially when you don’t have a system that works for you.
More often than not, despite trying our hardest to do everything we can, we end up feeling unorganized and frustrated with our lack of productivity and progress. Which is why if you work for yourself you MUST have systems in place that can help you get things done.
Because not only can systems help you earn more, but they can cure your procrastination, skyrocket your productivity and organize the rest of your life too.
How Personal Kanban saved me from my procrastination
Before discovering Personal Kanban, I was a pro-level procrastinator.
I had unclear priorities and processes (or rather, none at all), gave into distractions way too easily (hello, social media and shiny new things) and felt completely overwhelmed with everything there was to do. All the time. And even though I felt busy, I wasn’t making any progress towards my goals (a business that could pay my bills).
My remarkable ability to procrastinate with the tricky tasks — mostly the important and strategically significant stuff on my to-do list — was ruining everything. That is until my business coach introduced me to Personal Kanban. And then everything changed.
Finally, after months of feeling unorganized and unable to manage my work — I had found a system that stuck. Let's dive in to see if it can work for you as well.
What is Personal Kanban and how does it work?
Personal Kanban is a visual project management system based on Toyota’s lean manufacturing methodology. It’s a simple system for getting things done that encompasses two core principles:
- Visualising your work; and
- Limiting your work in progress
Grasping these two principles changed two things about how I worked:
- I became laser-focused; and
- I would finish things (I'm a natural “self-starter”, not a natural “finisher”)
According to Personal Kanban creator, Jim Benson:
Visualizing work allows us to transform our conceptual and threatening workload into an actionable, context-sensitive flow. Limiting our work-in-progress helps us complete what we start and understand the value of our choices. Combined, these two simple acts encourage us to improve the way we work and the way we make choices to balance our personal, professional, and social lives.
Personal Kanban is unique in that it's designed to be a physical representation of your work. And all you need to get started is a physical board, a bunch of post-its, and your favorite sharpie. And once your board is set up — you have a visual (in-your-face) reference point for what your priorities are and exactly what you should be focusing on first.
4 reasons why Personal Kanban is both different and better
1. It’s Tactile
Personal Kanban is hands on. This was critical for me.
Having failed many times with both digital to-do lists and project management apps, I found that I needed my most important tasks out in front me — screaming at me to get done. Not locked away in a program I will never look at again.
Plus, Personal Kanban offers the visualization and tangibility that I crave. Being able to see your tasks helps keep you focused, limits distractions and forces you to get on with the jobs you’re supposed to be doing.
Visually mapping your work also reduces decision fatigue (“what should I do next?”) and the never-ending mental loop of your to-do list, which often drains you of your energy without you knowing it.
2. It helps you map your projects with ease
Personal Kanban trains you to think on a micro level for your projects.
To use a Kanban board effectively, you have to break your projects down into bite-sized, doable pieces. And the rule is, that no task (or rather, post it) should take more than 50-minutes to complete.
While it takes some getting used too, it’s a fantastic way to train your brain to think in smaller increments to make your work significantly more comfortable to start (and finish).
3. It has built-in reflection points
As solos, we often focus only on the extensive list of things we still have to do, rather than what we've already accomplished. We’re always looking forward.
But Personal Kanban is designed to force you to reflect. To take stock of where you’re at each week, to evaluate the tasks you’ve done and to celebrate your wins. And only then, move on to what comes next.
Having your achievements right there in front of you is an invaluable and incredibly uplifting side-effect of using a visual task-tracking system.
4. It forces you to finish what you start
With Kanban, there is only one task to focus on at a time.
Sure, you might still have an epic to-do list, but it’s organized in a way that forces you to hone in on your most valuable task — your priority for the day. And when you have a clear vision of what you have to do right now, it’s easier to stay focused and on track with your plan.
Also, the act of “pulling” your post-it notes into the done column increases your momentum, makes you feel more confident in your work, and gives you the motivation to do it all over again!
How to set up your Personal Kanban board
Personal Kanban boards are divided into five sections.
Each post-it note represents one task. You pull those notes into the appropriate columns as you set up your board each week.
Here’s what my Personal Kanban board looks like:
Here's what each section represents and how it factors into the system:
- Options — This is where all your ongoing tasks sit. It's your to-do list. And at the beginning of your workweek, you can brain dump all the tasks inside your head, list them out and then take a good hard look at your options. Once you have to-do list out of your head and onto your post it's — you pick your priorities and move them into the “ready” column. You don't need to look at ANYTHING in this column again until your priorities are done, or a new week begins.
- Ready: This is where your priorities (your must-dos) for the week go. These are the tasks that you want to get done. They will be a mix of important and urgent and are your focus for the next few days.
- Today: This is where the “one thing” you need to get done for the day goes. It's your focus, your frog, your thing to finish. Nothing else on your board gets done until this task is complete.
- Done: This is where every job you have completed for the week sits. It's a wonderful feeling to move a task into the “done” column and increases your motivation to do it all over again. This is the section that you review at the end of your week (or the start of your next week), so you can re-prioritize and figure out what comes next.
- The Pen: This is a holding bay for unfinished tasks or works in progress. For the most part, this area should be empty. If you work on breaking your tasks down into manageable, doable chunks, work gets finished, rather than put on hold.
The secret tweak that will change the game for you (just like it did for me)
Understanding what kind of work will get you into flow states, exercise your strengths, and help you thrive as a company of one is crucial. Which is why I want to introduce you to this secret ingredient — the Kolbe A Index.
Kolbe is a simple (but mind-blowing) test for measuring the “why” behind what you do. It’s designed to measure the conative part of your mind — meaning the actions you take that result from your natural instincts.
It’s far from just an average personality test. And when combined with Personal Kanban, it can be a complete game-changer for helping you focus your time, energy, and attention more effectively.
Not only does it give you insight into why some tasks are more comfortable for you than others (and why others you procrastinate on forever), it also highlights your natural strengths and shows you how to exercise them on a daily basis.
Check out the Kolbe A Index here to deepen your self-awareness and start playing to your advantage.
How to get started with Personal Kanban
If you’re unhappy with your progress and productivity levels, then it might be time for a system refresh.
If you want to simplify your projects, focus your work, and skyrocket your effectiveness as a solo operator — I suggest you give Personal Kanban a try. Not only will it make you more efficient in your business, but it will also have a surprising effect on your optimism, confidence and overall zest for the work that you do.
If that sounds good to you, then here are three things to help get you started:
- Perform the “50-minute Focus Finder” (aka a brain dump) — to get every task, errand or job-to-be-done out of your head, and down onto paper
- Watch this video series (delivered by my business coach) — to help you set up your Personal Kanban system from scratch
- Read the Personal Kanban book — to get your own feel for how it works and why it’s so great (this one's optional, but if you’re a “high fact-finder” like me, you’ll like it).
Now all you need is a board, some post-it notes, a sharpie, and your to-do list. So get crackin’!