Organizing life is something everyone must do, not just those living the RV life. I often feel overwhelmed by the number of things I need to do and frequently forget things that are important. Now that my work life and home life are essentially the same, the level of complexity and need to prioritize has only grown.
But most of you are probably wondering; what is Kanban and what is Trello? I’ll get that out of the way first.
What is Kanban?
Kanban is Japanese for “sign board” and in manufacturing, it is associated with honda’s assembly line process of just in time manufacturing. It is a pull system where each station would signal the need for more parts from a station upstream as they needed them. Any time a pull request failed there was a bottleneck that needed to be worked out.
It became somewhat popular with software developers (especially me) for handling workflows with rapidly changing priorities or workflows with no real end point. It is also great for visualizing the work going on. Kanban for software involves a white board with vertical lines representing the stage of work, and stickie notes in the lanes to represent the work itself. As work was completed it moved through the different stages on the board like a part on a virtual assembly line.
I and others have found that kanban boards are also great for organizing your personal life and business, though in a somewhat less formal manner. It functions kind of like a to-do list but there can be different levels of done-ness and you can use it to focus on what you should be working on now vs what you need to do later. It can also be great for small businesses to track the state of projects and tasks.
What is Trello?
Trello is a free online kanban tool where you can make share and use kanban boards. Once you get the hang of how kanban boards work, it’s easy to use. And if you ask me, I’d say it’s fun. The service is free and it runs in a browser on any PC/Mac and there are Android and IOS apps for your mobile devices. You can upgrade to the premium service but so far I haven’t found any need to. If you refer others to the service you can get a month of premium for free if you want to try it out; it’s $10 per month otherwise.
The basic operation of a Trello board is to create a set of lists in which you put cards. Each list usually represents a stage in a process. The simplest example is 3 lists: To do, Doing, Done. You would create cards in the “To do” list, move them into Doing when you are ready to get started, then move them to “Done” when they are complete.
How to do Kanban with Trello
Step 1: Sign up
You can use my referral link or just google for Trello and sign up. You will go through the usual account set up process and it will give you some tutorials you can follow to learn the ropes. They don’t have ads in the software but they do occasionally send you an email encouraging you to upgrade or to give you tips on using the software.
Step 2: Pick something to organize
In Trello you can have a number of Boards, each organizing a different process or project. Ideal subjects for a board are things you feel are overwhelming, are difficult to keep track of in your head, or which you have a hard time focusing on. A good personal kanban board gets the things to do organized, lets you see where you are at, and helps you focus on what to do next.
For this example, we will use the Trail and Hitch blog as an example project to organize. We will create a new board and call it Trail and Hitch Example.
Step 3: Create your Lists
We are going to follow the “To do”, “Doing”, “Done” pattern but we are going to add some more detail to suit how we work on our blog. Let’s start with “To Do” or as we called it in software, the backlog. We will use these lists to organize all the work we need to do. Generally, I find there are three types of work for the blog: writing articles, promotion, and technical work on the site. We will start by creating a backlog for each of these. You just type the name of the list and press return.
Once you have the To Do lists created, put some cards in them for things you need to do. The backlog is a place for all the work you can think of so you don’t forget anything. It’s great for both urgent work, and ideas you may never even get to. The goal is to get it out of your head and on the board so you don’t forget and so you don’t have to keep thinking about all the stuff there is to do. That lets you focus on what you are doing.
Next, you create the Doing lists. The idea here is to keep focused. Figure out the right number of tasks for you to have in mind and only ever move that many cards there. In Kanban this is called a WIP (work in progress) limit. It keeps you focused and on task. For our board, I’m going to make a Doing list for both Trail and myself. You can share your kanban boards with other users and thus collaborate on projects. I’ll put our WIP limit in brackets in the title so we don’t overload ourselves.
Finally, there is the Done list. Usually, this is just a single list called done. If you have a process that has a lot of recurring activities you may want to have a separate done for these. In Trello you can tell a list to move all its cards at once to another list. This way you can easily recycle recurring tasks.
Step 4: Using your board
With your board set up, all you need to do now is use it. When you want to assign tasks to yourself or others, just drag the cards from the To Do lists to the Doing lists. And when you are done, drag them to the Done list. If you think of new tasks, open up your board and drop them into a To Do list. Whenever you need focus, open up your board and see what needs doing.
You can start to play with Trello’s other features once you get the hang of things. You can comment on cards, put stickers on them, prioritize them and lots of other cool tricks to stay organized. If you are using chrome you can find plugins that add more features to your boards for free. And of course, you can upgrade your account for more features.
I hope you find it as helpful a tool and technique as I do. I have Kanban boards for all kinds of projects including keeping a master list of all my active projects and ideas for future projects. It’s kind of the dumping place for ideas and inspiration as well as how I see something to completion. I love that it is easy to learn and use, yet extremely powerful in creating focus and peace of mind.