get things done, the kanban way


Much of the stress we deal with on a daily basis comes from uncertainty and having an ongoing list of things to do in our head. It can be difficult to get to a state of smooth flow. Our personal environment is sometimes too dynamic and complex, and changing too rapidly for us to get there. In order to get in that state of flow, we need to direct our attention and bring order to our consciousness.

The Getting Things Done method aims to remedy such things. Take that ever-growing list in your head and write it down. Understand each item and write the next step that will help you reach your end goal. Simply by focusing on doing one thing at a time.

Getting Things Done (GTD) Method: Brief Overview

In David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, he introduced a system that focuses on helping people be more productive by taking control of their workflow. This is achieved by following a 5-stage process – capture, clarify, organize, engage, and reflect – to help you free your mind and organize everything. Allowing you to engage with each task appropriately. The process is summarized in the famous GTD Workflow diagram.

Kanban and Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done and Kanban are similar in that both methods are concerned with managing flow. Both methods require you to create a list of tasks and assignments, understand how they fit in the bigger picture, break them down into bite-sizes tasks, and add them to an Inbox/Backlog. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We decided to go through the 5 Getting Things Done stages, apply Kanban’s basic rules on top of them, and see if Kanban might be the secret weapon to a successful implementation and use of GTD.

Merging Kanban and GTD: Creating a GTD Kanban Board

Kanban uses the visualization of the work to make managing tasks and responsibilities easier and more transparent. It enforces work in progress limits and uses a pull system to improve focus, thus increasing productivity. And offers the means to manage and continuously improve your flow.

These basic Kanban practices – Visualize Work Flow, Limit Work in Progress and Manage Flow – when applied to the Getting Things Done process are enough to give you a huge productivity boost.

So let’s visualize the GTD workflow and create a GTD Kanban board by going through every stage:

Capture

GTD’s 5-stage process begins with the collection of all tasks and ideas into one list of Inbox. In Kanban, we create Kanban cards for each task and idea. And remember to break down big tasks into smaller ones.

Clarify and Organize

The second and third stage of GTD are about understanding and organizing tasks. Determining the next step is central to the whole system. In the GTD process, there are 2 main steps for dividing items. First, into 2 broad categories: Actionable and Not Actionable, and Do Yourself /(or Delegate). The actionable items are then separated and ordered by context and time. Then placed in appropriate lists and folders that you can track and monitor.

At these stages, we can create a high-level Kanban board that takes the categories of steps 2 and 3 and translates them into 3 main columns: Simple Actions, Outcomes, and Non Actionable items. Then, using those three columns, create a more detailed board, and distribute the cards accordingly.

Not Actionable Items

The not actionable items can go in one of three buckets. You can either dispose of them, set them aside to incubate (in a maybe/someday folder) or store them for future retrieval (in a references folder). The items that you decide to keep can then more to your Projects board into a separate Someday column, and in the Scheduled column on your Actions board, respectively.

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Actions

Simple Actions should be a board that refers to tasks that should be completed next. These items should be sorted based on where and when they need to be done, and by whom. So you get a board with two main categories:  Later and Now. In Later, we can have two columns – Schedules and Backlog. In Now, we have Next Item, Doing, Waiting (for delegated tasks), and Done.

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Outcomes

In GTD, any item that requires taking more than one action is classified as a Project or Outcome. So, our Outcome column will become it’s own Kanban board for tracking small projects with columns indicating project status. On this board we can have the following columns: Someday, Later, Ready, In Progress, Done.

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Since each project consists of several actions, you will need to plan them too. In most digital Kanban tools, you can add the actions directly on the project’s card. If you are dealing with large projects that contain several smaller projects and involve a team, you can use the Getting Things Done stages to plan them and create separate boards.

Additionally, Getting Things Done uses a second framework – the six levels of the horizons of focus to classify different outcomes that you want to achieve. It uses a bottom-up approach rising to an eagle-eye view of what you are doing and what you’d like to be doing in the future. The six levels can have their own columns or you can simplify them into a 4-column board. Of course, you can have separate boards for tracking your Goals and Vision as well.

kanban-zone-gtd-horizons

Engage

This is the stage where you use the Actions board to perform the work and start getting things done. Now that you have a clear picture of what needs to be done, you should set up your WIP limits to ensure you are not only prioritizing tasks but actually finishing them by focusing on one thing at a time. Setting WIP limits on your GTD Kanban board will allow you to work on fewer tasks at the same time, and yes, accomplish a lot more in the long run.

Reflect

Keeping your GTD system up-to-date is crucial. So, once a week take the time to review and update your boards. Using Kanban boards will make it easier to review everything because of it’s visual nature. Of course, the Actions board is to be updated on a daily basis. The Projects and Horizons boards might need a little less upkeep. But when you are updating your boards, don’t forget to review and adjust your WIP limits to ensure optimal flow.

A Visual Getting Things Done System

Choosing the right tools and methods can make a huge difference in your work and personal life. Creating a frictionless workflow can get you from feeling overwhelmed, unfocused and unproductive, to feeling in control, calm, and prepared to take on more work. The best way to do that is to visualize everything and get a clear picture of what awaits us. Once things are in order, the brain can relax and focus on the task. And we can start getting things done.

Kanban and Getting Things Done – aim to do that… help you (visually) organize your work better and get more done. And while both methods are very powerful on their own, when used together they seem to articulate seamlessly and supercharge productivity.

So if you’re already familiar with, or regularly using one of this methods, but want to take your personal (or team) productivity to a next level, try creating your first GTD Kanban board with Kanban Zone for free.

Did this blog inspire you?

Once you start visualizing your work in Kanban Zone, you will be surprised how much faster it gets done!

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About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

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Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.