Kanban for Everyone

If Kanban is powerful enough for a team, why not for a person

Ferico Samuel
Jul 16, 2019 · 5 min read

If you’re working in an agile team, you must have been introduced to Kanban Board. This board has been around for a very long time. Making the first debut in the Toyota production line in the late ’40s. In an agile environment, this particular board tells pretty much everything happening in the team. Who’s working on what and the status of that task. It also tells the backlog that needs to be done. With this very open information, everybody can contribute even better and spark discussion & suggestions within.

This is a very common practice, we don’t have to dig deeper into that. We have been using Kanban for a very long time and most of us aware that it is very powerful. Tech companies rely on this particular task management tool very much! I guess they’ll break if this tool is taken out.

Well, the main point is how if use the same powerful tool for personal use? If the Kanban is powerful enough to spark productivity in a team, how about a smaller scope? We will dive deeper into personal usage in this post. Let’s start by listing why do we need to implement Kanban for our life.


Prioritization itself is hard! We as workforces in the ever-growing industry tend to have multiple tasks at hand all the time. We juggle a lot of things, keeping track of many tasks. Our brain is very limited hence the number of tasks we are able to keep in mind at a time. This will be much more frustrating when tasks come with a different priority. Some need to be done right now, others need to be done as soon as possible or some specific deadline.

The problem arises when we are thinking of what we should do next. Most of the time, we jump right into a task that is recently in our minds or concerns us most. We simply forget our past week assignment until it is too urgent that it floats into the surface. We simply lack the capability to objectively measure the importance of each task in our head.

This gets worse if the task does not has an explicit deadline. We tend to forget about those tasks and move on to one that marked ‘due tomorrow’. This goes with tasks marked as ‘nice to have’ and ‘low priority’. They simply got forgotten. We often keep delaying getting those tasks done until it is not relevant anymore.

Human often trapped by emotion

We, humans, are very prone to our own emotions. Many things can’t be described by logical thinking or any reasoning. We do a lot of things by following our ‘gut’, coming out straight from our ‘heart’. And this very same reason affected our decision making and prioritization even worse!

When we see somebody does a thing that is ‘cool’, we often want to copy that very same thing. That kind of how we decide what to do, hurt our prioritization. What actually needs to be done postponed for us to pursue what somebody else did. This is a simple thing that we often do, especially if you’re a competitive person.

Another more human kind of problem is when we faced with personal issues. We simply can’t focus on the day we are having problems with our spouse, children, or simply unable to get good night sleep. This also applies to our outside work life. Our ‘bad day’ in the office makes us really grumpy at home.

We have a lot of things to juggle!

Nowadays, task is more collaborative than ever! We often have to wait for output from another team or person in order to continue our work. Even worse, we often forget tasks that need to be done by others. We simply forget those tasks and moved on. This becomes disastrous when the other side put the task on ‘low priority’ and keep postponing the delivery.

With much pressure from every other side, the need to be productive is very high. It is normal for a worker to feel pressurized from every side. And also very normal for us to have a moment like ‘Crap! I forgot about that’ when somebody asks for an update. It is common to avoid being seen by anybody because we simply have a lot of ‘debts’ to be paid.

The solution

The Kanban board comes to help! By putting our tasks to a board with appropriate status for each, we can easily spot what needs to be done, we can organize ourselves better. By looking at this board, we can get a glimpse of how hectic we will be and make a better decision.

My personal board is divided as seen above. I have ‘Today’ column which is filled in early in the morning as part of my daily planning. Throughout the day, I will try to accomplish all I’ve committed to being done today. And every time a new task comes in, I will judge the importance. Is it worth to risk my pre-set target for the day for this task, can it wait for another day? Most of the time, the answer is yes.

Another column that helpful is the ‘Waiting’ column. Tasks that depend on others goes into that column. This is for me to track every dependency I have and for me to get back to them periodically later on. Some columns are simply there because I am a developer. My developed features need to be tested by QA, therefore, the column ‘Testing’. So does with ‘In Review’ is for PRs that are still waiting to be reviewed by peers.

Extra Thought

For me, separating your work-life from your ‘real’-life sounds silly. We only have 1 super important undividable life. Some people tend to keep work matter to stay only in the office and so with living matter. This thing simply won’t work since our issues at home will directly affect how we work and vice versa. Take an example of you having a child that is sick and you can’t get enough sleep last night. Wouldn’t you be that grumpy guy along the day? This applies to the other direction too.

Therefore, I’m proposing that we use the same Kanban board for both work and live tasks. Put everything from doing code, until buying milk into the same board help reduce our cognitive load juggling from one side of life into another.

Tokopedia Engineering

Story from people who build Tokopedia

Ferico Samuel

Written by

Tokopedia Engineering

Story from people who build Tokopedia

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