One System to Help Increase Your Productivity & Organization

by Jason Ogden | Jul 11, 2017

How do you stay organized and productive in a world full of tasks fighting for your attention?

I recently stumbled upon this article in Inc Magazine. It outlines the Japanese concept of kanban, which underpinned Toyota’s manufacturing process and has found its way into other applications, such as software development and personal time management.

In short, the idea is to utilize a system to manage the number of things in production at any one point in time to reduce errors, over-production, and, in the case of personal management, fatigue. 

Why does this matter?

To understand why this particular approach has merit, you need to first acknowledge a few things about our personal lives and work lives:

  • Our minds are constantly under bombardment of messages from all directions
  • Our work requires rapid change of attention and a multiplicity of tasks

The biological impact on our brains from these environmental stressors and frenetic workstyle includes rapid depletion of both oxygen and glucose. In other words, your brain becomes fatigued. This is even truer during periods of high intensity.

The bad news is that because you’re fatigued, your ability to tackle high-demand challenges diminishes and you actually contribute to making these periods last longer because you’re not playing at peak mental performance.

Now what?

I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all thing, but this is how I’ve applied kanban to my own life over the last month:

I always have a piece of paper with me that has essentially become my workload dashboard. On side A, I use the top 20% to record notes and ideas that come up during the week for my Monday morning senior leadership team. In the bottom 80%, I create lists in two columns. In the column on the left, I list important and urgent items. The column on the right includes important, but not urgent items (thank you, Steven Covey).  

The back side of the page is essentially my manufacturing floor. I move 3 things and no more than 3 things (sometimes even less) that I will focus on next. I scratch them off of side A and they exist only on side B. When something is done, I scratch through it on side B.

The key to doing this right is to have the discipline to have your eyes on side B. Side A should be facing down until you either need to go to select next from the options list, or to add to the options.  

One thing I’ve learned thus far is that important, non-urgent items generally require more thinking and uninterrupted time. I’d recommend time blocking or scheduling that kind of work and making sure you’re in a creative mindset, whatever that looks like for you.  

The Results

Over the past few weeks, I have felt better come the end of the work week. I don’t feel worn out, and I’m energized to go do life and spend time with my family. 

As far as work goes, it’s hard to say if I’m more or less effective or if my quality of work has gotten better or worse, but I can tell you that the average length of my to-do list has decreased by a good margin.

If you feel like giving this a shot, I’d love to know if it worked for you. Please share your results or reach out to me if you have any questions.  

About the author

 by Jason Ogden

Posts by this author