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Personal kanban is a great tool that individuals can leverage to manage tasks. When implemented correctly, it can be a productivity gamechanger. But as with any productivity method, it doesn’t work on its own. It is dependent on the consistency and discipline of the person that uses it. Starting personal Kanban can be challenging. The transition from being disorganized to proper planning and control can be hard to pull off.

Let’s face it. When no one’s watching, it can be easy to slide back to our old ways and push things out to another day. We end up not acting on our tasks and pushing our deadlines because we can conveniently do so. This is why it’s important to have another system in place to keep ourselves in check. This will help us stay on the right course and achieve consistency in our productivity journey.

This is where the 5S for Personal Kanban comes to the rescue.

What is Personal Kanban?

Personal Kanban is a simple and effective system to manage your professional and personal tasks. Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry adapted the industrial Kanban concept to personal life, eventually giving birth to personal Kanban. In their book, Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, they shared how personal Kanban can help individuals focus on the things that they should be doing by controlling the amount of work they take on at one time.

The two rules of personal Kanban are adopted from the six rules of Kanban.

Rule #1: Visualize your work
Rule #2: Limit your work-in-progress

The observance and application of these rules also do not differ when applied to industrial or personal Kanban. Here’s a more in-depth discussion of Personal Kanban and how to implement it should you want to explore more.

Personal Kanban on its own is an effective system. But when supplemented by 5S, its implementation can be even more successful and long-lasting. Individuals who decide to do personal Kanban often come across challenges and obstacles. 5S for personal Kanban aims to combat these challenges.

Challenges When Doing Personal Kanban

Apart from running the risk of falling back to your old, unproductive ways, here are other challenges and problems encountered when doing personal Kanban:

Using Multiple Tools to Track Your Tasks

Sometimes you can get a little carried away and keep track of our tasks in multiple places. You use a board, an app on our phone, another app on our desktop, and probably a notebook for your personal Kanban. The problem here is that you’re probably repeating the same thing in multiple areas, or worse, there might be inconsistencies with the information you have stored. This will then affect how effective and fast you can get done with a task.

Working Through the Clutter

Since you only need to work on your own tasks, tidying up seems like an optional thing to do. Your personal Kanban board or tool then gets to be a storage for all the information on your projects instead of being the tool that gets you to finish your projects. There’s a big difference there that you might not have realized.

Not Knowing Where to Look for What

If you need to scour for information about your personal tasks, then you have a problem. If you constantly need to look for sticky notes and markers to work on your tasks, then you certainly have room for improvement. This problem is most likely due to your kanban tools not being readily accessible for you.

Your Kanban Board Does Not Reflect the Progress of Your Work

You put your tasks on your board and line them up for you to do. But you never get to update their status as you work on them. You let your brain run on autopilot again and think that’s enough as long as you have the task visible on your board.

Changing your Kanban Tool too Often

One day you’re using a notebook, the next you’re putting sticky notes on a whiteboard. After a few days, you decide to get on an online Kanban tool, like Kanban Zone. Since you’re the only one getting affected, it seems okay to switch tools often. But this is not helping you get into the motions of your personal Kanban and actually finding the most appropriate way for you to do your tasks.

Being Inconsistent

Here we stress the problem of relying on motivation alone to work on your tasks productively. If you’re one of those who are innately self-motivated, then good for you. But for the majority of us, remember that discipline will let you go further than motivation ever will.

5S for Personal Kanban

Though it seems that we are in for a bumpy ride when implementing personal Kanban, we have a solution to these problems. The 5S method is our counter-response to all these challenges.

5S is a Lean concept that is also one of the main concepts that uphold the Toyota Production System. It’s composed of 5 steps all starting with “S”, hence 5S. We wrote more about 5S in the workplace if you want to learn more about it.

Now, let’s explore how 5S for personal Kanban works.


Seiri means Sort. It is in this step where you need to identify what is unnecessary and necessary. As the first step in 5S, this is also the time for you to review how you are tracking your tasks. The goal of personal Kanban is to free up your brain from thinking about what you need to do. This requires having only one place to contain all your personal and professional to-do’s. If you keep your tasks on your phone, a whiteboard, and a desktop app, you’re going to end up finding another way to manage all those just to keep things under control.

The key to being successful in this step is to commit to only one method of keeping your tasks – and that is through personal Kanban. You’ll need a board to do this. You can choose between having a physical board or an online board to do the trick. Make sure to consolidate all your tasks in your board, if you’re coming from multiple sources.


Seiton means to Set in Order. The key to being successful in this step is to ensure that you can easily access, update, and maintain your personal Kanban tool. If you’re using a physical Kanban board, put it in a place that you can easily get to. Ideally, this will be near your work station. You should also have all your supplies within arms reach. If you constantly need to go to a supply room to get sticky notes and markers, then you are not yet done with this step.

If you’re using an online Kanban board, like Kanban Zone, consider having an easier way to access it. This can be through a desktop shortcut, a site bookmark, or even configuring the site to launch when opening your browser. This eliminates extra steps to open it and puts you in a mood to start working on your task right away.


Seiso means to Shine or clean things. Other than keeping your board physically tidy and neat, to do Seiso is to keep your kanban board in order and up-to-date. We highly recommend you take time at the end of your workday to review your board. Check if the tasks are in their right status columns. Put away those tasks that are done. Check if you have your upcoming tasks ready in your backlog. This is the time to reset your board for a new workday. It’ll be much easier to jump on your tasks when you start your day with a clear vision of the work that needs to be done.


Seiketsu means to Standardize. In order to sustain your personal Kanban practice, it is important that you have a standard way of doing things. Using a predefined format for your kanban cards will allow you to have the right information to make decisions on your work. Take for example when working on your personal blog. Writing content would be a constant task for you. It would make sense to follow a preset format when creating your cards. The information you’ll put in your task cards should be able to help you know what is expected of it. Information such as focus keyword, long tail keywords, recommended text length, and related sources will give you a picture of what you should put into your content.

If you have a way to categorize your tasks, like color coding and using labels, make sure that you’re consistent with using them. When you have standards in place for preparing your tasks, you’re preparing yourself to succeed with them as well.


Shitsuke means to Sustain. Using 5s for personal Kanban is not a one-time effort. It is a continuous cycle. This step reminds you to stay persistent and consistent with your personal Kanban practice. Regularly do 5S by repeating the steps and you’ll uncover ways to do your work better. With consistency comes discipline. And when you have discipline, you’ll soon be in a place where you can improve your workflow through Kaizen.

5S and Personal Kanban Work Hand-in-Hand

It may seem that 5S is a no-brainer. But doing it takes effort, commitment, and persistence. But all that is worth doing.

If you want to take your personal Kanban practice further, you need a way to instill discipline. 5S is a perfect complement to your personal Kanban practice. It’s easy to take things haphazardly when it comes to your own tasks. You may think that it doesn’t make an impact since it’s only you who is affected. But the truth is, your personal drive is what will help you achieve success.

You need a way to ensure you keep going in the right direction. Explore 5S for personal Kanban and start your first steps to continued success.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.

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