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3 Steps to Decrease Stress and Increase Focus using Kanban

If you’re like me, you hate feeling over-worked. You hate being pulled in many different directions and not being able to focus on what’s important. You find it very difficult to communicate what you have on the go and how overloaded you are. You notice that you can’t get anything done, and the pressure to get things done is high.

Unfortunately, most of the time, it’s hard to gauge just how much work you have on the go. It’s in your head, and it’s invisible. Without keeping a list and checking it off, it’s easy to forget things that you’ve started, and they end up sitting on the back burner until somebody reminds you that you haven’t delivered on something you promised. At that point, you scramble to get it done, and that adds to your feeling of being stressed and overworked. It also contributes to your lack of pride and enjoyment of the work that you do. When you’re asked what you have on your plate, it’s often hard to pull out your notes and demonstrate exactly how much you have on the go.

With a Personal Kanban Board, YOU CAN

  • create clarity and focus on what’s important
  • effectively communicate how much work you have on the go with your peers
  • decrease the mental strain of remembering everything you need to get done
  • reduce the feeling of stress and overburdening
  • start being able to say no more confidently to new work

Kanban’s most basic practices, help you do this. In this article, I’ll show you how to achieve these.

STEP1: Create a Personal Kanban Board

A personal Kanban board is one of the simplest starter practices. It can help each individual on a team start to control their work-life. Don’t underestimate this powerful tool. Start by writing down all of the tasks you have and putting in into your personal Kanban board with three columns: TODO, IN PROGRESS, DONE.

A personal Kanban board with no work-in-progress limit

STEP 2: Make Space for Personal Reflection

In the early stages of creating new behaviours and using new techniques, it’s easy to stop before you’ve really started. It can take time to learn how to use it and to realize the benefits. For this reason, I recommend marking a spot in your calendar where you can look at your Kanban Board and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is my Kanban Board up to date?
  • Have I been using it daily to help me keep track of what I’m working on and what I need to do next?
  • What value am I receiving from it so far?
  • Are their tasks that are in progress that are being ignored?
  • Should I have started this task when I did?
  • What can I do to make sure they don’t get ignored in the future?
Calendar with dates selected

STEP3: Limit Work-in-Progress

After a few weeks of using it, you’ll notice that you’ll probably have a fairly high number of work-items in progress at any given time. One of Kanban’s key practices is limiting work-in-progress, as this is where benefits really start to emerge. When you start limiting work-in-progress, you’ll notice that prioritization becomes more important and that work you start gets done much faster than it used to. In the example below, we’ve limited work to 4 work-items at a time. This forces us to get these done before pulling in more. Start with a work-in-progress limit that feels comfortable to you, and then slowly start to decrease the number as you get better at managing your work.

A personal Kanban board with a work-in-progress limit of 4

Don’t stop there

These three simple steps will help you get your work under control, decrease your stress, and increase your focus. This is a good place to start to achieve personal satisfaction, but these practices don’t yet help you achieve significant business benefits. Adopt kanban practices across individuals and teams to help mature your organization’s ability to deliver on business outcomes. To start towards accelerating delivery and business outcomes, start using these practices across members of your team.

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