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How to visually become more productive and improve your efficiency

GeneralEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

Whether I’m coaching a junior fresh out of school or a seasoned executive with 30 years of experience, almost everyone tells me they are overloaded and that their personal life is suffering.

We have been raised to separate (or try to at least) our work and personal lives. After all, they are very separate things.

Right? WRONG!

A good example is improving your health. Improving your health means eating better and exercising more but it also means reducing stress. So to holistically improve your health, your plan must include both personal actions and work time related actions.


My last employer was large multinational manufacturing organization that benefitted greatly from the concepts of Kanban and Lean manufacturing.

Next time you walk into your local supermarket, look at the fresh produce section. How many products do they carry? The larger stores carry an impressive amount but they typically only carry products that they know will sell. Produce also has limited shelf life, so this means they order their products as close to the sale date as possible (predicting demand).

A key concept in Kanban is Just In Time ordering and manufacturing. Toyota, the creator or Kanban, used this Just in Time system to cut inventory costs and optimize the workflow, they set up visual board showing the assembly flow for the entire factory. If you walked into my last employer’s manufacturing site, every employee knew what would be worked on that day, how fast they would have to work and any potential issues that have been logged in the last 30/60 days. This visual information allowed the employees to work knowing what was coming and therefore made them more productive.

Kanban in your personal life

You are a person, so how does this apply? Regardless of your time management strategy of choice (mine is Getting Things Done), you need to “capture all of your open loops” and place them in a trusted system.

Related articles - The four truths about Getting Things Done (GTD)

By capturing everything you have committed to doing but haven’t already completed, you create a visual dashboard of everything in the “pipeline” and at the same time you benefit from clearing your mind.

Just In Time manufacturing in your personal life also means that you keep your actual “today workflow” (or Work In Progress tasks) to a bare minimum. There is no use trying to finish 24 things at the same time. By properly managing your to do list and then prioritizing appropriately, you are able to spend your time on the handful of most valuable activities.

Setting up your personal system

The main concept in Kanban is making the work visual. Anyone that has worked with me knows I need a whiteboard in the office and typically more than one.

My last whiteboard had these columns on it: - Capture (where everything not processed went) - Next Action (the very next actions for the chosen work to be done). This also included items I wanted to QA from my team before defining as completed. - Waiting for (when I was waiting for something from someone else) - Done this week (completed items I tabulated every week)

This is the visual part of Kanban and is step 1.

Step 2 is to ensure you have captured all of your open loops. Chose a method for capturing everything you have committed to but haven’t yet done so you can get it out of your head (capture everything from buying groceries to signing that multi-billion dollar contract).

Step 3 in the Kanban system is to determine an optimal yet realistic workflow rate. How much can you reasonably accomplish this hour/day/week?

Weekly Review & Kanban workflow

Before you start your weekly review, you must ensure all of your open loops are captured. To do this, I recommend going over your notes from meetings, capture column on your whiteboard, reviewing your calendar, going through your email and everywhere else you could have a task that you will need to accomplish.

Once it is captured, based on your high-level work/life goals, you can determine that are the most pressing X elements you should get done during this planning phase (can be daily but I recommend a weekly approach). Everything you commit to doing should go on your board in the next Actions column. Ultimately these will be the most important items. The items most aligned with your work and life goals.

You then pull work from the Next Action column, action it and complete it then move it to the Done column. By writing things you have completed, it is a positive reminder that things are moving in the right direction (we often forget). Every time you look at it, you will feel like you accomplished something and it will fuel your continued work.


One important element of Kanban in our manufacturing environment was tracking of performance metrics to identify issues. The same applied to your personal implementation of Kanban.

You coloured markers and commitments to track deviations from expected performance. If you miss a due date, write it in red. If you notice something takes longer than expected, write it in orange, etc. At the end of the week (during your weekly review) you can review these metrics and figure out, “what’s going on”. Is it that something is taking you longer than expected regularly (i.e. financial review)? Maybe this is because you are lacking some of the required skills, you are improperly planning the work, etc. By knowing what deviated and why, you can implement a permanent corrective action.