Shuffling across to the kanban style

Could you do it? Could you only have three things on the go at any point in time? Only three!

The man on the radio got my attention. “The more things you start, the less you finish,” he said. It seems so obvious, unless the buzz is in the idea and finishing, a bit irrelevant.

But for the big-picture thinkers, there is a reality that must be confronted from time to time; only so many unfinished projects will fit in one’s home and one’s pysche.


Jim makes those post-it notes dance across that board. You can view his introductory video on the Personal Kanban 101 website:

Personal Kanban


It’s easy enough:

  1. List all the options, all the things on your current list of things to do.
  2. Pick three and get stuck into doing them.
  3. When you finish one of those three, pick another from the list so you always have three on the go.

Why three?

We probably have to buy his book to find out, but I suspect its the same reason so many things are presented in threes. It feels comfortable. Three square meals a day; beginning, middle, end; work, sleep and play; and so on.

Even the instructions for personal kanban are presented as three steps!

How big is your list?

Pencil and paper in hand, I started at the front of the house and began my list.


I stopped there. ‘Enough’, I said. Don’t go outside. Don’t go near the shed. Don’t look inside the computer. And definitely don’t go inside the new studio.

Perhaps I could have three things on the go in each zone – inside, outside, online.

What’s a kanban?

It’s part of a Japanese manufacturing system, and the internet described it a number of ways. I liked the ‘queue limiter’ definition.

The idea is to set up a visual process that limits what’s in front of you to just that which you can handle.

I saw something similar on a documentary many years ago. The Buddhist monks were dealing with a recent death in the temple. Spread out before them were the belongings of the dearly departed. The narrator explained that the monks were allowed to have possessions but no more than they could appropriately maintain without causing them distress. The limit was based on how much an individual could handle.

It’s a completely different approach to my Shuffle Day ‘manufacturing system’.

Where a Shuffle Day encourages creative thinking, this kanban approach is much more systematic.

Where a Shuffle Days taps into the right side of the brain, Three At  A Time (my new mantra?) taps into the left side.

In a balanced life, there will be room for both, but I suspect kanban is not about creative solving problems or building innovation. It’s just about getting the grunt work done.

Picking three

How do I pick three from such a long list? It would be easier to pick my three from a shorter list of things that are already underway. So, I looked for the ‘things I’m already doing’.

Deciding something needs to be done feels like the starting point, but let’s make expenditure of physical effort the trigger. Turns out, only four have ‘technically’ been started.

I suddenly feel like there’s hope (providing I don’t look outside, in the shed, on the computer or in the new studio!)



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