Kanban for Students

Managing Assignments in a Period of Remote Learning

Note to readers: Due to the current health crisis, many of you might have children who are, for the first time, attending school virtually . Regardless of how old they are, the methods I discuss in this article can help them manage and successfully complete their assignments each week. This approach can also be used for managing any tasks, at any stage of life. It might even work for you. Please share this with your students — hopefully, it will help them through what is likely a stressful time for them.

Hi students! Do you need help keeping track of your assignments for the week and focusing on the work at hand? Parents, are you struggling with a routine and falling behind? In this time of remote learning, you might find you need new tools to be successful. Here is a tool that might help you.

The picture below is of a simple Kanban board that my coworker’s son is using to track his weekly assignments. The board tracks work through three states: to do, doing and done.

Photo by Travis Hohn

The “To Do” column represents all of the work you have to do for the week. Each assignment is represented by a sticky note containing the class and specific work to be done. Keep these in fairly small chunks to help you focus on the specific tasks you need to complete. For example, a sticky note that says “write my research paper” leaves you with too much work to think about at once — instead, consider breaking that down into tasks (research the subject, read an article, create outline for the paper, etc…). You can finish these smaller tasks quicker, and you’ll be surprised how much satisfaction comes from moving them through to “Done.” Populate all of your assignments at the beginning of the week. If you want, you can even prioritize them, by placing the higher priorities at the top of the board.

When you start an assignment, move the associated sticky note to the “Doing” column. This makes it clear which task you should be focusing on. Ideally, only have one sticky in the “Doing” column, to limit the amount of work in progress (WIP) at any given time. This is important, because numerous studies have shown that limiting WIP reduces the overall time it takes to complete all tasks. Limiting WIP also allows you to focus on completing individual tasks (normally, humans are good at starting tasks, but terrible at completing them) and prevents context switching — when you shift your brain from one task to another. Context switching is a huge drain on productivity.

When a task is complete, move its sticky to the “Done” column and celebrate.

Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

This board also allows you to see your progress toward completion. As you can see, this student is almost done with his work for the week and will soon be able to start his weekend. Of course, if those last two sticky notes each said to write a paper, then this student would have a long way to go. That is another reason you want to break large tasks down into components.

Hopefully, you will try this method and find it very helpful. You may even find you will want to keep a Kanban board when you go back to school or in your everyday life. Stay healthy and be productive!

I am an Agile Consultant and the Head of Talent Management at Centil. We are revolutionizing the way our nation builds software for defense, through the adoption of agile and DevOps practices. If you would like to read more from Centil, we have an on-going series of blog posts. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

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