Start Less And Finish More: How To Get More Stuff Done In Your Personal Life

When I was a kid and still during great part of my teenage years I had a big problem in finishing things.

My first wake up call was that Christmas eve of 1997 when I had to make room in my 16Gb hard drive to install the brand new Tomb Raider II I’ve just received as a gift. I asked myself then “Why do I have so many games installed? Maybe I don’t play some of them.” I thought. Let’s clear some space with those. No, I was playing them all, at the same time. It can’t be! While I was waiting for some games to uninstall, I tried very hard to remember the last one I actually finished. Nothing came to mind.

Something had to dramatically change and that night I made a commitment with myself: “I’m going to play Tomb Raider II for as long as it takes till I see the end of it!” … and that was exactly what I did (and also how I got my first crush, Lara Croft. Yes it’s true, I’m not ashamed of admitting it!).

Tomb Raider II Gameplay

This is how my pursuit of productivity was born and never left me throughout all these years. Fact was that my lack of closure was present not only in games but a bit everywhere in my life: books, relationships, newspapers, yogurts, movies, puzzles, Do It Yourself kits, everything!

Of course it was only years later when I heard about project management methodologies for the first time and I’m not trying to say that kids should apply it to manage their childhood. What I’m saying is that we, adults that should know better, can get our daily routine under control, get a lot more stuff done and earn free time to play games with them.

Kanban, “signboard” in Japanase, is a scheduling system initially created by Taiichi Ohno to eliminate waste on the Toyota Production System that is now widely applied to manage software development

Kanban is quite an overwhelming name to describe something as simples as the point I’m trying to make with this article, so don’t let it scare you away. I’ll start by showing you an example of the one I’m using right now to get my private and work life more under control:

Pretty simple no? This is nothing more than a board, a few columns that map your own mental process and a bunch of tasks ordered by a top down priority. I also like to add coloured labels to have a visual understanding on how many urgent tasks I still have open.

Of course you can argue “that’s what todo lists and post its are for”, but before we accept that as the only solution available let me give you some pretty good reasons why you can and should do better:

  • Collaboration and progress: it’s hard to assign a task, share or collaborate with other people using post-its, to-do lists or some notes in your phone, right? Right. With Kanban you can include as many information as you want in the cards, add pictures, assign or share by e-mail with whoever you want and keep track of the progress as often as you want. Yes, it’s that simple.
  • Sense of accomplishment: how many post its or closed tasks you keep around after you’re done with them? None, right? Have you ever have that feeling you get nothing done although you are under water all week? Exactly. That’s because you never took two seconds to look back and enjoy your success. Success can be as simple as making your bed, take out the trash, or as complicated as sending a rocket to the moon. One of the most important favours you can do to yourself is to take one minute on Friday and look to that (hopefully big) pile of cards on the column more to the right. That’s all the stuff you accomplished and now it’s time to celebrate!
  • Sense of priority and dependencies: don’t get distracted with other less important tasks when you have all that bureaucracy with government deadlines to ship out to the post office. Why are you re-organising your bookshelf when there’s that overdue electricity bill to pay? Why have you started cleaning your house when you ran out of cleaning supplies? You got the idea. Take the most out of your time by ordering your tasks according to their importance and complexity. This last part ‘complexity’ is very important. Just because you have that super important e-mail that will take you two hours to write it doesn’t mean you can only take out the trash when you are done. Smaller wins sometimes bring the greatest rewards in motivation.
  • Know your limits: How much stuff in parallel can you deal with during your week? Everyone has their limits and you’re no different. Find out what yours are and push yourself to break them once in a while but not every day. With the number of cards in each column you’ll have a visual reminder that maybe it’s time to focus more on closing what’s already in the pipe than starting something new. Don’t overcommit with yourself and with others, it will only bring frustrations and add more wood to an already huge fire. Better to under-commit and over-deliver than the other way around.

Now that I got you all excited and ready to take control of your destiny, how exactly can you do this? In anyway that works for you. If you are more analog, try to put some vertical separators in a white wall at home and use post its as cards. If you’re more tech savvy and need to collaborate with people that usually are not in the same place as you, try Trello, the web application I used to demonstrate my process above. Have a whiteboard somewhere? Use it! Be happy, try it with your partner at home, enjoy your free time and Kanban the sh*t out of your life!


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