For the past four years, I have been working in a fairly agile environment, with intentions of bringing in the DevOps culture of automation for repetitive tasks to reduce the human level of interaction and potential for error.

Naturally this is in an Information Technology environment, but I have also been chatting to a number of people who are not in IT, or even technology driven industries. In each case, they were telling me of the workload that they have, which meant them working late or at weekends.

Having been in the same situation myself, I thought I could introduce them to Kanban as a simple method to control their work, and to be in control of their work rather than the other way round. Theory of course is fine, and whether it will work in practice is another thing entirely, but the concept is simple:

  1. Identify all of your day to day high level tasks.
  2. Break these down into individual work items.
  3. Order these in a column, in order of priority – what must get done this week?
  4. Identify any unplanned work – meetings that you typically get invited to, last minute requests, and add them as potential tasks at the bottom of the list.
  5. Then look at each task and size them – it could be using numbers in a Fibonacci sequence (0,1,2,3,5,8,13 etc), or T-Shirt sizes (small, medium, large, extra-large). Size them based on how complicated and fiddly they are.
  6. Work out how many small items you can do in one day. Then take a maximum of three work items from the top of your list and start to work on them. If that goes over your maximum limit for the day, swap something out so you can complete all those items in the day (for example, you might be able to do the equivalent of 8 small items – so taking 4 small and 4 large is too much).
  7. If your boss gives you a different priority or adds unplanned work into your day, swap them out for one of your existing tasks. Make your board of tasks visible to your boss so they can see what effect their request has on your workload!
  8. Never let your Work in Progress (Doing column) get larger than three items, or for the effort to be more than you can complete in a day.
  9. If a work item is too big to complete in a day, break it down into smaller tasks.

This can also be applied to your non-work life as well – who hasn’t had a huge list of tasks (wash up, vacuum, iron, cook dinner etc) and been unable to decide where to start? Breaking it down this way makes it more manageable, identifies which items are your priorities and what can be left for another day. If you’re feeling stressed over the day to day, give it a go.

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