A month of Kanban


I recently tweeted about how I’ve been using Personal Kanban to help me get– and stay– organized, and now that it’s been my “to do” method of choice for a full month, I thought a more detailed look would be useful. Who knows, it might even inspire you…

As I was setting up my new studio and work routine, it seemed like the perfect time to shake up my organizational scheme as well, especially since it wasn’t really working that well for me. Undone tasks would just pile up and get moved from one week’s (and then month’s) to-do list to the next. Kanban had a real appeal for me because of its visual focus (I’m pretty much an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of guy) and the inherent narrative of its “to do/doing/done” structure. I’ve based my use of it on this great Lifehacker article “Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work” by Alan Henry. He summarizes it with just two rules: “Visualize your work” and “Limit work in progress”.

Here are some of the ways it’s helped me to get organized and (more importantly) be more productive as a result:

  • It really helped me knock out the last of my move-related tasks. While they took time away from my art, this method helped me get them done, rather than popping up again and again week after week.
  • The same thing happened with some short projects (a couple of Teebo panels for Keith O’Brien, and my Jack Kirby birthday portrait) that probably wouldn’t have moved to the top of my “to do” list as quickly otherwise. Instead of repeating on another week’s list, they moved steadily along from “to do” to “doing” to “done”!
  • It helped me take– and justify– the time to catch some gallery shows before they closed; they are helping me get a better sense of the Memphis art scene and how my fine art might fit into it.
  • It has helped give the time spent writing blog posts (like my recent “Watusi at 15” post and, yes, even this) a proper weight in my creative time; it’s not all just spent on finished comic pages or other art, after all!
  • It helped remind myself that my weekly social media promos do take time. Even little/recurring tasks take time and Kanban gives it a visual weight that shows in the “done” column at the end of the week; it wasn’t just time I frittered away doing nothing!
  • It helped me keep on track during my new store‘s grand opening sale, and made sure I surveyed store users and made tweaks before I started charging money for items.
  • It gives a visual weight to non-creative tasks (I fixed my light table, and finished arranging my studio) that, while they take time away from art-making, pay off in a better working environment. And I don’t have to cram them into my evenings, which leaves me time to (gasp!) relax, something that was hard to come by with my old schedule…
  • It helped justify the time (a lot of time) I spent learning some new PhotoShop tricks that have already paid off with better (and maybe even faster) production on my artwork. (Look for the results of that big project here in about a month– I think you’ll like it.)
  • It has helped me give a visual weight to the time spent on prep work, and build it into my schedule; that should pay off with better research and writing (and, yes, even art) on stories going forward. That’s an important step to getting new large projects “on deck”– plus, it can be a useful break from time spent at the drawing table or hunched over a computer screen.
  • It has helped me begin visualizing and working on projects in larger chunks. I’m really happy to be moving beyond just getting the next strip done before deadline, which should lead to some tighter writing and faster-paced storylines than “The Case of the Purloined Pocketwatch” has seen. I think devoting a large chunk of my week to a single major project will be a good breakthrough– even though it will take most of my time, it will have a substantial payoff in keeping me productive and making new art. Plus, I should still be able to move smaller projects through to “done” at the same time.
  • Best of all, it’s helping me get a better handle on what my do-able workload is! I always overestimate how much I think I should be able to get done, and this has been helpful in two ways: one, by providing a limited space for “doing”, I am forced to limit my work in progress; and two, by having things waiting visibly in the “to do” column (or the larger slush pile of unformed ideas to the left of that), they don’t get forgotten. I can focus on my limited (by design) work in progress, comfortable in the knowledge that their time will come.

Needless to say, I’d recommend giving Personal Kanban a try; it’s super cheap, super easy, and has left me feeling more satisfied when I look back at all I’ve accomplished during the week, not just dwelling on what I didn’t get done like I used to do! What organizational/productivity tips have worked well for you?

2 thoughts on “A month of Kanban

  1. Whatever process results in you doing more art for my projects gets a big thumbs up from me!

    Mostly I keep things in my head, with a handful of things set at priority. Some weekends, though, I really need to write a list so that I remember what I was planning to do. And sometimes I have to keep one or two items on A-1 priority because I feel they have a deadline.

    But since my art is generally, what I feel like drawing, I don’t worry too much about a schedule.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I have a hard time keeping things prioritized in my head; writing it down (usually in my sketchbook) is a big help, especially on projects with a long gestation period. Maybe I’m just absent-minded (and Professor Harvey is really a case of “write what you know”)!

      And as glad as I am to draw for you, I have to spread a little love around to my other collaborators, too. Writing down a reminder about your Sam Slate script will keep me from forgetting about it…

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