Struggling with a gigantic to-do list? Wondering how to fit everything in to your busy life? Maybe you need to tackle a huge project, but aren’t sure where to begin.

Ever heard of Kanban? It’s an approach that comes from agile project management.

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Whoa. Hold on! Before you get scared away by project management jargon, realize it’s an extremely simple tool that even kids can use. 

All you need is a marker, sticky notes, and a wall or bulletin board.

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Kanban is an engineering approach that emerged in the 1980s from Japan’s automotive industry. Engineers were stumped about how to manufacture cars faster and more efficiently, but also keep high quality. So they invented Kanban, which revolutionized the automobile industry.

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The engineers created a visual representation of all the factory activities—the inputs and outputs needed to produce a working car. Kanban in Japanese means “signboard.” The engineers created a board showing the number of ordered cars (the “backlog”), cars being assembled (in progress), and cars finished.

Simply put, Kanban is a way to organize your work and keep it visible.

This is known as agile project management. When you can see the entire picture of the work you need to get done and the progress you are making as you go, it becomes less overwhelming.


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I’m all about making work less stressful.

Agile project management is all the rage in the software development industry. Companies like Apple and Google use it to rapidly develop products and ship them to customers.

Since a Kanban board is a visual representation of the work, companies use it so their teams can see the big picture, and so each person can pull individual work he/she needs to get done.

The Kanban board can be as simple as a big chart on the wall comprised of sticky notes falling under three columns:Simple kanban 600x800

To see Kanban in action, check out this video:


I use Kanban when I write  my books by pulling one activity at a time so I’m not overwhelmed. However, if I’m waiting on one aspect of my book (e.g., my editor’s reviews), I can pull another task to work on in the meantime.

I use this tool because it’s simple and keeps me focused on the important tasks. Otherwise, I get too distracted.

Creating your Kanban board is easy and there’s no need to learn new software tools.

Step One:

Take three sticky notes, and create your columns: 1) BACKLOG, 2) IN PROGRESS, and 3) DONE! I use a wall in my office, but you can use whiteboards, chalkboards, and bulletin boards too.

Step Two:

Create your backlog list—all the tasks you need to complete your project. Write them on individual sticky notes, and post them under the BACKLOG column.

For example, I might break down a book like this:

-Select idea.

-Build mind map.

-Build outline based on my mind map.

-Craft introduction.

-Chapter one.

-Chapter two, etc.

-Write the closing chapter

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I use large sticky notes for these big items. If I want to break each chapter into subheadings, I use smaller sticky notes and paste them onto their parent note.

It sounds simple, but that’s because it is.

This approach is especially useful if you jump around and work on different chapters like I do. When you’re done, your book will be broken down into actionable pieces that sit on your Kanban board, ready for you to start writing.

This works on any type of project–big or small.

I love the show Silicon Valley. There’s a scene where they use Kanban (also called Scrum) to engage in some friendly competition. Check it out if you get a chance–it’s hilarious.

I hope you start using Kanban the next time you are faced with a massive project. Try something different–Kanban, and have fun with it!