We recently outlined a simple method for capturing and developing your ideas ‘Kanban tips for copywriters’. For maximizing productivity without sacrificing creativity. But even a well-oiled machine can enjoy some fine-tuning. Here are some ways to take your system to the next level regardless of the type of creative work that you do.
Use color to make sense of chaos
Color-coding tasks can help to sort and balance themes, topics, clients, or other categories of ideas. Doing it visually makes it easier to make sense of how your work is distributed. If you blog about managing creative work, collaborating in teams, growing a startup, improving delivery efficiency, and using Kanban, then use different color-coded labels for each of those categories. I might use a red label for blog posts about managing creative work. If I see my content kanbanery board looking like a bloody crime scene I can tell from ten feet away that I’m getting carried away on one topic.
If you’re a freelancer and have five people in your life to make happy, give them each a color-coded label. Make the tasks for your family and friends green and blue and your clients red, yellow and orange. Then, if your board is looking too warm, you’re working too hard, and your social life is suffering.
If your personal goals include self-improvement, housework, building a startup, and making time for friends and family, give them each a different color. Then if your personal Kanbanery board looks like a rainbow, you know that you’re advancing all your goals.
How to start when everything is important
It’s easy to feel overloaded and to let that keep you from getting started on what matters most. Here are a few ways to get started when everything in your “do next” column seems to be tugging at you at the same time.
Use an Eisenhower matrix
This one’s easy. If you’ve got a bunch of things that you could be doing right now, but you don’t know which to do first, sort them into the following boxes:
There are a very few things that I won’t trust anyone else to do. Most things I do, other people could do better, or they are not so important that other people couldn’t do them well enough. And when you let them try, they get better at doing them, so you win twice.
Try a PERT chart
Here’s an old approach that still works wonders when you have lots of interdependent tasks. It was developed by the United States Navy in the 1950s, so it’s an oldie but goodie. A PERT chart can help sort and prioritize tasks based on dependencies. Once you can see how the tasks relate to each other, and how each contributes to the project as a whole, it will be easier to decide which to work on now 1.
Deadlines can be friends
“Deadlines used to mean something. The word dead line comes from the American civil war, in which prisoners of war were held in open corrals surrounded by the dead line. A prisoner stepping across the line would be shot. It saved a lot of time and money on building walls, I guess.” 2
I’m no fan of deadlines. But that’s because so many in my life were set by other people. Those are often fiction to create a false sense of urgency. But deadlines you set for yourself can be helpful. They can be real deadlines, as in “if I don’t deliver this by Friday, my weekend’s gonna be screwed” or you can use deadlines to create some urgency around those Important but not Urgent tasks.
I’ve got a simple question that I ask myself at the start of every workday, when I’m looking at the tasks I could choose to work on. “What will hurt if it’s not done before I go home?” I mean, really hurt. Like bad things will happen. People will be mad at me. I’ll lose money. Those go at the top of the list. If there are more than two or three of them, they may be the whole list. I can always add to the list if I get them done early.
There are a few modifications that you can make to your team or personal Kanban system that are perfectly compatible with Kanbanery, which neatly supports both deadlines and color-coding task cards. If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments.
- B. Ralph Stauber, H. M. Douty, Willard Fazar, Richard H. Jordan, William Weinfeld and Allen D. Manvel. Federal Statistical Activities. The American Statistician 13(2): 9-12 (Apr., 1959) , pp. 9-12
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