A personal kanban to beat procrastination

This personal kanban could just save your life.

This is an extremely simple method of personal organization based on concepts just as simple.

Along with many other advantages it will help you to:

Used in work (or family) teams a Kanban can also help to improve collaboration.

To make your personal kanban

You can get everything you need for around $ 50:

I chose products from Staples (prices may not be the same), but you can use whichever products you prefer, provided that:

  • The total area of the corkboard does not exceed 1.5′ x 2′. This is important – we will see why later.
  • The business card holder must be able to contain up to 30 notes or more.

Assembly is simple.

  1. Take a sheet of white paper and cut two strips along the length of about 0.3 inches. Place them vertically, equally spaced, on the corkboard.
  2. Although optional, you can add a heading to each of the three sections you have just created (you can use what is left of the white paper for this). The sections are: TO DO; IN PROGRESS and DONE.
  3. Finally, paste the business card holder at the bottom of the third section.

Once assembled, your personal kanban should look like this:

Personal Kanban



The central element of your personal kanban is the backlog. The backlog is the list of everything there is to do. It is constantly evolving and to be effective, you must trust it.


Take the notes and begin to list all the tasks that are going through your head. Use one note per task. Do not worry if you forget something, one of the best things about this tool is that you can add things later to get them in the process. For more information on the collection process, refer to the description of GTD.  Fans of GTD will see how you need to have a kanban for each “location context”.

The way you describe your work is essential. The principle of “next action” should be used whenever possible.

For example if you need to call your telephone company to cancel your subscription, don’t write “cancel subscription”, but “Call Phone Company to cancel the subscription.”

The difference between these two descriptions is obvious. The first version describes your goal, while the second invites you to action. This technique is particularly effective against procrastination. Your mind is less likely to find avoidance strategies.


Once you have all your tasks on notes, you must prioritize them. Organize your tasks in order of importance. The strategy is simple: one task is always more important than another. When you set priorities, think long term. An important task that will become tomorrow’s urgent task should be completed before it becomes urgent. Having urgent tasks always creates more anxiety.


You must “plan” a maximum of five tasks on your corkboard. In other words, you can’t have more than 5 notes in total on the board. To add a new note, you must remove one that is in the “Done” section, provided of course that it is “Done”.

Ideally, you choose the five most important tasks of your backlog. But it may happen that you decide to group tasks for practical reasons such as economies of scale. If you need to do some odd jobs in the garden, it might be more advantageous to plan to do them together.


When you decide to start a task, you take the note and put it in “In Progress”. This indicates that you really will do the job. If for any reason you decide to put off the job without having begun it, replace the note in the first column.

Here is a very important rule: Never have more than 2 notes in “IN PROGRESS“.
This stops you from starting to do several things at once without completing any of them; one of the root symptoms of procrastination. This simple rule prevents you from having to waste more time choosing between tasks and means that you can advance.

You can browse your backlog regularly (every 2 to 3 days for example), and update and then re-prioritize if necessary.  You add task notes to the “To Do” section as you take them from “Done.”

You can add to the backlog but you should only ever take a task out of the backlog if its completion would no longer provide you with the intended value.

This process is perpetual. That is to say that there is no end.  We will always still have things to do, that is “situation normal”. If you can accept this fact, it will really help you to reduce any feelings of stress.

How does it work?

The problem that all methods of improving productivity face is the need to fight procrastination. Procrastination fuels anxiety.

When you procrastinate, your mind seeks avoidance strategies and your energy goes into implementing them rather than the tasks. Having only a few tasks that are permanently visible allows your mind to unlock faster. This phenomenon is greatly amplified by the power of the “next action” that calls for action and not for more reflexion which just feeds your toxic thoughts.

Procrastination often happens because you are discouraged by the feeling of having too much to do. For this reason, the size of the board only allows you to displays a limited number of tasks.

How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time!

Having a list, or backlog, (and being able to review and update it) gives you peace of mind.  When there are too many unknowns your thoughts often go in all directions in search of potential threats rather than focussing on what needs to be done.

The kanban is more effective than the standard task list, because a long task list, although it helps you to see all the tasks clearly, sometimes generates as much anxiety as it removes.

Seeing a big task list can really discourage you so you must make your task list accessible but not visible. You can do this really simply with the personal kanban. Place the notes in the business card holder. Your list will instantly seem smaller than it is. The first note in the stack is the most important and therefore it is most likely where you need to start.

The personal Kanban reassures you.  Your tasks are visible but, thanks to the contrast between the notes tucked away in the business card box and those displayed on the board, the size of the backlog is not advertised. Your attention is directed naturally to what matters most at that moment i.e. the 5 tasks on your board.

Also, having a real, physical board which involves you in real action promotes a direct link between your brain and managing your tasks. Taking a task and moving it across your board creates a concrete sense of accomplishment: much stronger than when you click on a checkbox in software.

Another thing that typically causes anxiety is the fear of forgetting something.  The availability of the backlog, easily accessible and convenient, removes this fear. Having the backlog (and regularly updating it) means you can relax.

Finally, the prioritization of the most important tasks allows those which are the least important to fall back to the bottom of the list. You lose less time dealing with trivial things and you are in control of how much time you give to those tasks.

7 telecommuting tips for developers

Working from home or a private office is probably the future of knowledge age companies. It allows you to do away with commuting completely and to work in a quiet  and non (over) interrupted environment (if you decide to).  It’s the opposite of the open space office. The gain in productivity can be huge.  Both you and your (smart) boss are potential winners in the deal, not to mention the potential real estate saving for the latter.

Unfortunately, telecommuting is not for everyone though and this may be why it is not generalized yet despite the positive conclusions of the studies on the subject.  Procrastinators may find it very difficult stay as productive as they are at the office. You will also need lot of independence and self confidence.  Some employees may also suffer from isolation.

Procrastination and isolation are the two problems I will address in this post. Other problems related to telecommuting won’t be debated here such as:

  • security concerns,
  • the fact that telecommuters are less likely to be promoted (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2009),
  • potential loss of thrust by managers
  • communication problems with your team

Here are the 7 things I strongly suggest you to try.  I have experimented with this myself during the past 10 years. They provide some tips to help avoid both procrastination and isolation. Disclaimer: you may adapt them to your particular case and not take those empirical & personal observations as a generalization of what to do. I really encourage you to share your own experiences on the subject in the comments.


1. Use a schedule – as if you were in a formal office.

If you don’t do so, you will be tempted to work too much or too little, depending on your personality. Both are problematic long term. Having a fixed schedule will not only create some sort of rule to manage your time, but also help you beat procrastination.

One of the keys to beat procrastination is to have “starters” and avoid “retarders”.  If you like to do non work related stuff such as reading news or browse internet, reserve 30 minutes before and after your fixed work time for it.  When you feel the need to do it while you are into your work time, remember you will be able to do it after.  It usually calms down the need for it and after some some time, the addiction will disapear.  When you arrive at your work time schedule, close everything and start working. This can be hard the  first few (ten) times, then after a while the habit will kick in.

In order to avoid the frustration of having to leave off work in a middle of something, I try not to start debugging or another task that has unpredictable time duration at the end of the afternoon.

2. Replace commuting by physical excercises and meditation/relaxation.

Telecommuting will free up a lot of time, and you should take it as an opportunity to take care of yourself, and certainly not work more for the same salary. Consider taking up physical excercies and relaxation or meditation. It will improve your overall productivity and will contribute to reducing procrastination (Davis & Jones, 2007).

3. Take regular breaks

Since you don’t have your environment anymore to remind you it’s time to take a pause, use the pomodoro technique. I personnaly taking a break of 10 minutes every 45 minutes, but you may setup your own schedule. I use a special software for that called Workrave that I warmly recommend to you.

The pause can be either doing nothing (it’s what I do every other break) and free your mind or do stuff off your computer such as class papers or call a colleague.  In any case, this should occur in another room, and certainly not in front of a computer.  I personally do three minutes of mindfulness or simple observation of what is happening outside (simply being in the present moment).  Feel free to adapt this to what works best for you.

At noon, take a full break and don’t eat in front of your computer.  Some of you may enjoy some cooking time while others may be very relaxed by some time listening to music.

4. Put clear limits between work and your normal life.

This means you have a dedicated office/room you don’t use for your pleasure but only work.  This is very important especially if you have kids.  Your office should not be used to anything else than working. This also means:

  • don’t work on your laptop when you are watching a movie with your family
  • avoid any professional activities during the weekend
  • remove all work thinking and be 100% mentally available for your well beloved

5. Go to lunch outside.

< Isolation is the other major inconvenience to combat if you are affected by it. To avoid isolation a great solution is to integrate a social lunch with others. Try to do this at least once a week.  Even if not with someone else, try to go outside at noon somewhere there are other people.  Why not with other telecommuters?

6. Do co-working.

Co-working is the new trend that involves a shared working environment for people even if they have independent activity. It feels like your office, but it’s not. To make this work, the co-work area must be close to your home.

7. Don’t telecommute every work day.

If you telecommute every work day, you will progressively become more and more disconnected from your company’s culture and people.  It’s inevitable and it will happen.  Be sure to dedicate one or two days on site.  When on site, go to lunch with your colleagues.