My Experimentation with Personal Kanban

Several weeks ago, I reviewed Dan Markovitz's excellent new book, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance. I also took Dan's work as a call to personal action.

Thus far, I have successfully adopted several of his recommendations in order to boost my marginal in-office productivity. By the way, my "office" also includes the hotel rooms that I too often inhabit.

Well, recently I finally pulled the trigger on a personal kanban. I had been thinking this one through for way too long. It was time to "do."

I purposely limited the application of the kanban to my major distractions - the things that tend to interrupt the (hopefully continuous) flow of my work. Oh, many are the snares of the knowledge worker!

So, here's a description and photo of my fledgling kanban. I "borrowed" some poker chips from my oldest (he's away at college and really knows nothing of this borrowing) to represent authorized daily uses of the things that tend to distract me. The chips fall this way (sorry, couldn't resist):

  • 4 white poker chips for daily email activity (MS Outlook is shut down at all other times) ,
  • 2 blue chips for daily Gemba Tales blog activity,
  • 1 green chip for checking LinkedIn, and
  • 1 red chip for checking Twitter (not a big tweeter).

At the beginning of the day, all of the chips are stacked at the left side of my laptop. As I trigger a chip usage, I move that chip to the right side of my laptop, do that activity and then close the application or log off, as required.

This instills a necessary level of discipline and moderation for me.

The chip usage happens around my calendar, my task list (between 10 and 2 minutes of work content per item), and my just-do-its (the stuff that's too small for the task list).

So far, so good. Daily improvement, right?!?

Oh yes, check out the pic below of my fancy travel kit.

Related posts: Book Review: A Factory of One, Kaizen in the Laundry Room…and My Domestic Shortcomings

There are 8 Comments

Maritza van den Heuvel's picture

I love the poker chips as kanban tokens! I've been using Personal Kanban for about two years now, originally as a way to help our family to be more organized, and then as a way to manage my personal workload at the office. Building in fun visualization - usually with whatever you have around you - has always been a key part of the success of Personal Kanban for me.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Maritza,

Thanks for the comment!

The best visuals are simple, self-explaining, and worker managed (in this situation, it's me).

Best regards,

John Hunter's picture

Very nice travel kit. Maybe you can start a business selling laptop kanban travel kits :-)

markrhamel's picture

Hi John,

Excellent idea! Hey, maybe I can carry a sister product line for folks to store their gels and liquids (limited to 3 oz or less per receptacle, of course) for air travel carry on...


dan markovitz's picture

I love the way you're using the kanban idea to constrain non-productive activities. Very creative. It also shows the power of visual controls.

markrhamel's picture


I was hoping that you would be proud of me!

Best regards,

Matt Wrye's picture

Mark -
This is great use of the personal kanban. I really like the poker chip idea. Simple, but effective. I have been using personal kanban for about a year now to better picture my work and it has been a great benefit. I haven't done it for the number of times I go into email. That is a new learning for me. Good luck as you continue to experiment and implement with personal kanban. I think we all can learn from your example.


markrhamel's picture

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the comment. While I've got a lot of experience applying traditional production and movement kanban, this "personal" one is new for me. I'm sure I'll need to adjust/improve it as I go on. Perhaps I'll work up the gumption someday to use a project type personal kanban (that I am guessing you have had success with).

Best regards,