THE NEW STUFF COLUMN: What’s Just Come in?


Is your READY column filling up with tasks? Is it hard to figure out what’s new, what’s important, and what’s aging?

One option to deal with this is a NEW STUFF column. This column holds exactly what it says: New work that has come in over the last few days. As new work comes in, simply place those tickets in the NEW STUFF column.

One recommendation would be that at the end of the day or perhaps every Friday you move incomplete tasks into READY – keeping the NEW STUFF as fresh as possible. Once a month, you would look at your READY column and see what tickets have become stale.

What we’ve noticed is that many tasks that wind up on our Personal Kanban are never actually completed, but they stay in READY for months on end. It becomes harder and harder to make sense of the work in the READY column because some of it is fresh and some is nearly moldy.

My favorite example of this was I visited a team using PK and they showed me their board. They pointed at the blue, yellow, and pink tickets and told me what each meant.

I asked, “What does the white tickets mean?”

They told me there were no white tickets.

I pointed at one.

They laughed. It was a yellow ticket that was on the board long enough to be sun bleached!

This is important, the goal of the NEW STUFF column isn’t to merely focus on new tasks, it is to help us see what tasks are fresh and when to clean things off the board.

This is the fourth post in the Personal Kanban Tips series.  You can read the previous post – PROMISES COLUMN: Make Good on Your Promises here.

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PROMISES COLUMN: Make Good on Your Promises


When we get overloaded, it is very easy to promise people work and then under-deliver. Promises are tricky, they bring with them social costs as well as costs for time and effort.

When I promise something to you personally, I am putting myself on the line. I am telling you, “because you are important to me, I will do this thing.”  If I don’t deliver, it is telling you, “I guess you really weren’t that important to me.”

That was never my intent, but we all know when we’ve been waiting on someone and they don’t deliver, we lose a little faith in them. Worse yet, if it’s early in the relationship we identify them as a “non-deliverer.”

Mea Culpa: I, personally, end up overloaded or in danger of being overloaded frequently. Many people place demands or expectations on me and I need to meet them. In many cases, I was making perfectly rational decisions to delay some work and do other work. While that was rational on my end, it was likely infuriating for others.

Therefore, I started explicitly tracking promises to other people. This immediately had to impacts on me.

1. My short term backlog and WIP shot through the roof. Seeing the promises explicitly laid out was stressful and illuminating.

2. I stopped promising so much.

3. I began to seriously consider each promise as I made it.

  • Was the promise necessary?

  • Could the goals of the promise be served with a less costly promise?

  • Could the goals of the promise be served with more collaboration?

  • Were there options to meeting the goals of the promise?

What I learned was that we tend to rashly promise the first idea that comes into our heads. We’re having a conversation. Something sounds like a good idea, like it’s needed, and like I could provide it. So … I promise it.

That promise becomes a tacit social contract … I’ve promised something. You are counting on it, I need to deliver it. So, basically, I just contracted to do work for you without giving it very much thought.

That’s a recipe for disappointment.

So manage your promises by seeing them. A lot of obligations in the PROMISES column mean a lot of work that is very difficult to re-prioritize. That means you have work in your queue that won’t respond well to change. If you have an emergency arise, those promises don’t go away.

This is the third post in the Personal Kanban Tips series. You can read the second post – DONE COLUMN: Daily / Weekly Review here.

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DONE COLUMN: Daily / Weekly Review

Done column review

“When do I get tickets out of my DONE column?”

People often allow their DONE column to get so full of work that it becomes useless – a huge pile of completed work. There are so many tickets in there, you no longer know what happened.

If we’d like to encourage ourselves to empty the board weekly and get some interesting information at the same time, we can create a DONE column that tracks what we do daily. On Fridays or Monday morning, we review and empty our DONE. Now we have set up a system … last week is over and we’d need to clear space for the new week.

We can take a look at the week, clearly see what we did, see what days were satisfying and what were not, and get an idea of what days were interrupted.  We can do a “retrospective” on the work and evaluate where we’d like to improve what we’re doing. We can also plan for the upcoming week.

We can also see how much work we tend to do.  This is very powerful.  Looking over the board above, we see that we reliably complete about three or four tickets a day. This helps us set our expectations for what we can promise others. We know that a promise, any promise, that we make takes up about a third of our capacity for that day.

Understanding that promises have a cost greatly helps us limit our Work-in-Process (WIP). We can see our daily output and limit what we are working on accordingly. It’s hard to say no to work. We tend to like what we do and the people we work with. Understanding how much we actually complete helps us say “No” to too much work.

“I’d love to help you, but I’m working on these other tasks right now. Can I help later after I finish a few of them?”

Your throughput (the number of tickets you do) may be 6, 8, 12, or more tickets a day – so don’t get hung up on the number in this example. The goal here is to find out what your number is, so you can choose work more effectively and not overload or over-promise.

When you over-promise, you under-deliver.

So, take a look at what you’re doing each day, review at the end of the week, and set realistic expectations for yourself and others.

This is the second post in the Personal Kanban Tips Series. You can read the previous post – DONE COLUMN: How Does Your Work Make You Feel here.

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DONE COLUMN: How Does Your Work Make You Feel?

Done Column

When we work, we spend our most precious resources: our time, our energy, and our emotion. Each task we complete takes a little bit of us and we’d like to think that time was not only productive, but impactful.

But we are so busy, so distracted, so overwhelmed that we finish one task and move right on to the next. The treadmill. The rat race.

All too often, we bring this home with us. Home tasks become just more in the endless stream of numbing work.

With your Personal Kanban, you can work your way out of this by asking a few simple questions:

  • What work makes me happy?

  • What work does not?

By simply augmenting your DONE column with three or more simple sections that note what tasks you enjoyed, which were merely okay, and which were upsetting. You can add more gradations (we’ve seen ones with mushroom cloud columns).

Make explicit what you enjoy and what you do not. Then you can create strategies to even your work out. Enhance work that energizes you – that’s the work that gives you the energy (and the hope!) to get through the harder stuff.

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From Daunting to Done: Completing a Dissertation with Personal Kanban

I have never completed anything to date that was more complex, daunting, or onerous than completing my dissertation. From the first day of my doctoral program, I knew that the only way I could complete this monumental task was to break it down into small, manageable pieces of work, and then visualize and track that work over nearly three years.

I was familiar with LeanKit when I started my program as I had used it personally and professionally to manage my life thanks to PersonalKanban. Isn’t it funny that once you buy into a system, everything you see is in context of the system? Just thinking about my dissertation plan triggered a visualization in my brain of cards on a kanban board.

The first thing that any academic will tell you about this process is that it consumes your life. You may not be actively doing research or have your hands on the keyboard, but you are thinking about it constantly. The reason why I am telling you something that seems obvious is because it’s critical to illustrate how I constructed my board to manage the process.

Let’s talk about my board—it manages my life and has evolved over time. I have work related tasks and personal tasks in separate Ready/Today columns, and then a Doing column that shows my WIP. I have a WIP limit of 5. I have a Stuck/Critical column, a Waiting For column, and then the typical Done columns.

Branden's LeanKit Kanban Board

When I thought about breaking down my dissertation into manageable chunks, I used LeanKit’s Task feature. I had one card called Dissertation that stayed in my Doing column, meaning that my WIP limit for the last few years was actually 4 (not 5) as my ever-present dissertation consumed one of those spots. Then I built a task board with Ready, Doing (WIP limit of 3), and Done lanes that contained all of the subtasks. There were a total of 22 major work products that needed to be managed. The actual number of tasks associated with my dissertation was significantly higher than that, but these were the major projects that needed multi day/week management.

Breakdown of Dissertation Tasks in LeanKit

My dissertation followed the standard 5 chapter model (Intro, Lit Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion), with the second chapter was treated like a collection of 12 essays of 3-10 pages each in length. Then there are processes like Scientific Merit Review and the Internal Review Board that represented multi-week processes that had to be managed. I hired an editor to review my early work to make sure I was on progress. After committee review, you have to defend your dissertation which requires an oral presentation and Q/A by your committee. See what I mean by daunting?

Each of these items had a card that I moved from the task board’s Ready column, to Doing, to Done. After my last task card (return from Format/Editing and Publication Submission) was done, I moved the parent card from Doing to Done. You can’t imagine a more satisfying feeling than moving a card that you’ve been staring at for almost three years out of the WIP area of your board.

LeanKit helped me keep my life sane throughout this long academic journey, and it can be used to help you as well. I would often build cards for projects, papers, or other deliverables too to make sure I was always on top of my time. Using LeanKit as a task management system can help you translate task management skills into your post-academic careers as well by bringing Lean techniques to your professional career.

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Text a Task Card to Your Kanban in LeanKit using Twilio and Zapier

Today, I’ll show you how to set up your LeanKit/Zapier integration with Twilio, so that you can create a new LeanKit card by sending an SMS (Text) Message from your phone.

First, you’ll need an account with Twilio, a popular programmable voice and SMS Service. Go to, and sign up for a new, free account.

Create a Twilio Account

After you create your account, you’ll be asked for your phone number, and Twilio will send you a text message with a confirmation code, which you’ll need to enter on the next screen:

Verify Your Account

Twilio will then generate a new phone number for your account:

Twilio Generated New Phone Number

Now, open up, and log into your account, and create a new Zap, as shown below:

Create a New Zap

Zapier will ask you to configure your Twilio account, using your Account SID and Auth Token from Twilio, shown below:

Configure Your Twilio Account, SID and Auth Token

Once you have set up your Twilio and LeanKit accounts correctly, you’ll see this:

Accounts Setup Correctly

Select your Twilio number that you’ll send SMS messages to…

Select Twilio Number for SMS

And select the LeanKit board, lane, and card type. In the LeanKit “Title” (card title) field, choose “Body” from the list of available Twilio fields.

Selecting LeanKit Board, Lane and Card Type

Fill in the other required LeanKit fields:

Other Required LeanKit Fields

And finally, test and name your new Zap.

Testing and Naming the Zap

You should now be able to text message your Twilio number (I created a contact in my iPhone for “LeanKit Twilio”, and a new LeanKit card will be created:

Sending a Text to Twilio to Create a New LeanKit card


This is the fifth post in the series by Chris Hefley of LeanKit showing how to integrate tools many of us use everyday with our Personal Kanban. You can read the previous post – Integrating Your Personal Kanban with Campfire in LeanKit using Zapier here.

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Integrating Your Personal Kanban with Campfire in LeanKit using Zapier

Does your team use Campfire? Ever wish you could just create a LeanKit card from the Campfire chat window, just by typing in a simple command?   This integration between Campfire and LeanKit, via, will let you do just that.

In your Zapier account, create a new Zap, using the Campfire “New Message” trigger and the LeanKit “New-Add Card” action.

Create a New Zap using Campfire and LeanKit

Zapier will prompt you to set up your Campfire account, and ask for your Campfire API token:

Add your Campfire API token

Once you have your Campfire and LeanKit accounts set up correctly…

Configuring the Campfire Trigger

…you’ll be able to configure your campfire trigger. I chose to set it so that if I type cflk  (for “CampFire LeanKit) at the beginning of a message in Campfire, that will be the signal to create a LeanKit card from that message.

Filter Campfire Trigger

Now I’ll go into my campfire room and type a message:

Typing the Message in Campfire

And then set up the LeanKit side of my integration to point to my personal kanban board, target lane, and card type:

Setting Up the LeanKit Side of Integration

I’ll set the Title, Description, and other required LeanKit fields:

Title, Description and Other Required LeanKit Fields

And then test the integration:

Testing the Integration

I did have a little trouble at this step. If you’re using an existing campfire room and one of the first 3 messages doesn’t match your filter, Zapier isn’t pulling up a trigger sample that matches the filter for you to test with. In that case, I saved my Zap anyway, and then ran it manually from the Dashboard:

Running Your Zap Manually from the Dashboard

And Viola! I have a LeanKit card reminding me to buy bacon. As if I would ever forget something that important. :)

LeanKit Card on Your Personal Kanban Board

This is the fourth post in the series by Chris Hefley of LeanKit showing how to integrate tools many of us use everyday with our Personal Kanban. You can read the previous post – Personal Kanban: Integrating Evernote with LeanKit using Zapier here.

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Personal Kanban: Integrating Evernote with LeanKit using Zapier

Continuing our series of Personal Kanban focused integrations for LeanKit, let’s take a look at integrating Evernote with LeanKit. Say you’re in Evernote, and you want to quickly add a card to your personal kanban board in LeanKit.  With this integration, you can simply add “(LK)” to the note title, and BAM! LeanKit card.

As in our other integrations, we’re going to use to connect Evernote and LeanKit.

Create a new “Zap” using the “New Note” trigger from Evernote with the “New -Add Card” action from LeanKit.

Creating a new Zap trigger from Evernote

Zapier will prompt you to authorize your Evernote account:

Authorizing Your Evernote Account

After setting up your LeanKit and Evernote accounts,

Set up LeanKit Evernote Accounts

You can now configure the trigger for evernote. I chose to add a filter on the note title. In any notebook, I can add “(LK)” to the note title and have a LeanKit card created for that note. I could have chosen other options here, and you may decide you’d like it to work differently. For exaple, you could create a separate notebook in Evernote, and just have all notes from that notebook get added to LeanKit as cards. Or you could use the “tags” in evernote instead of the title, like I did.

Now configure the LeanKit fields, including the Evernote Title in the LeanKit Card Title field.

Configuring LeanKit Fields Evernote Title and LeanKit Card Title

I also added the Evernote “URL” field to the LeanKit Description field, to provide me with a link back to the original note.

Adding Evernote URL field to LeanKit description field

So, to test this, create a new note in Evernote, with “(LK)” in the note Title:

Creating a New Note in Evernote

Then test and name the Zap you’ve created:

Test and Naming the Zap

And you should get a new LeanKit card, as shown below:

New LeanKit card

You can also see the URL to the original note included in the description of the LeanKit card:

URL to the original note included in leanKit card


This is the third post in the series by Chris Hefley of LeanKit showing how to integrate tools many of us use everyday with our Personal Kanban. You can read the previous post – Personal Kanban using Google Calendar, LeanKit and Zapier here.


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Personal Kanban using Google Calendar, LeanKit and Zapier

This is the second post in the series by Chris Hefley of LeanKit showing how to integrate tools many of us use everyday with our Personal Kanban. You can read the first post – Killing Email Interruptions: Personal Kanban using LeanKit, Gmail and Zapier here.

This time, we’ll look at how to integrate Google Calendar with LeanKit via We’ll look at two different ways to use Google Calendar and LeanKit together.

First, let’s create a “Zap” based on the Google Calendar “New Event Search” trigger. This will allow to create a Google Calendar event and a corresponding LeanKit card at the same time.

Creating a Zap Trigger

Zapier will prompt you to set up your Google Calendar account and you can use your already set-up LeanKit account.

Setting up GCal with LeanKit

After setting up the accounts, set the Search Term for the Google Calendar trigger. I used “(LK)”. If I create an event with “(LK)” in the title, this integration will create a LeanKit card for that event. That way, I can easily control which events from my calendar get a card.

Search Term for GCal Trigger

Now, I want to create a new card type on my LeanKit board, for “Event”.

Creating a new card type in LeanKit

Now that we’ve taken care of that, we can set up the target LeanKit board, lane, and card type.

Use the “Summary” field from the list of fields available from Google Calendar for the LeanKit Card Title field.

Matching GCal event to LeanKit

Not all my calendar appointments actually have a description. Since Description is a required field in the LeanKit integration, add the “Summary” and “Event Begins (Pretty)” fields to the LeanKit Description field, in addition to the Google Calendar Description field, as shown below:

Adding Summary and Event Fields to  LeanKIt Description Field

We’re nearly ready to test the integration. First, though, let’s go to Google Calendar and create an event with “(LK)” in the event title:

Creating an Event with LeanKit in the Event Title

Finally, test and name the Zap:

Testing Zap

And you should get a new LeanKit “Event” card on your personal kanban board:

New LeanKit card on Personal Kanban board

There’s one other way I’d like to integrate my Google Calendar with LeanKit. I’d like to create a new card on my LeanKit board one day before a scheduled event, instead of immediately when I first create the event. So, if I’m using my personal kanban board to keep track of things I have to do on a given day, I will get the next day’s events added the the board each day.

For this integration, I’m going to use the “Event Start” trigger from Google Calendar.

Alternative way to add event cards to your board - Event Start Trigger

When setting up the trigger parameters, I chose 1 day, and used the Search Term “(LKF)” (for “LeanKit Future”). The Search Term is optional, if you want this trigger to fire for all events.

Setting up new trigger parameters

For the LeanKit parameters, set them up the same as in the previous example, then create a new Google Calendar event. The event needs to be in the future, within 24 hours of the current time in order for our test to work. And I’ve added “(LKF”) to the event title:

New Calendar Event Setup

Test and name this Zap:

Testing and naming the new Zap

…and we should now have a new Event card on our LeanKit board:

New Event Card on the LeanKit board

There you go! Now you can create a card and event at the same time, or mark a calendar event to have a LeanKit card created in the future, when the event is 1 day away.

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Kanban Seder

Seder KanbanLast week my wife and I hosted a Passover Seder. We have entertained together a number of times, but this was the first real attempt at a coordinated, sit-down meal. Most of our gatherings have been buffets, and less dependent on timing.

We knew getting the timing of the Seder right would be a challenge. The meal is served in the middle of the Seder, not just when the guests arrive. We also knew there would be a lot of uncertainty. Potatoes don’t always cook the way you want them to, and guests never arrive all together. It would be difficult to plan everything perfectly. However, we knew we would both feel a lot more comfortable if there was a plan, to help keep us on the same page when we started making adjustments… and we always have to make adjustments.

The night before the Seder, we went through all the things we’d have to do. We’d used Kanban-style visualization techniques before (to pack for trips and track jobs around the house), and there are three cabinets in our kitchen that work great as Ready, Doing, and Done lanes. So at first I started listing out each major task on a sticky note, but I quickly felt this would be inadequate.

Time was an essential component of everything we had to do. We couldn’t just pull tasks when we were ready. The brisket had to cook for hours; potatoes had to be peeled and seasoned before going in the oven; matzo balls had to chill before going in the water to boil; and different things had to be ready at different times, paced to the rhythm of the Seder. Coordinating the timing of each task was one of the main reasons for our planning exercise.

The solution we used was to write the time required for each task on the upper right of the sticky note. This allowed us to get a good picture of the overall flow. Working backward from the end, we started to determine when we wanted each task to complete. We also recorded that information on the sticky notes. Finally, through a little quick subtraction, we determined the times we needed each task to start, and put that on the sticky notes. We tried to keep our number of concurrent tasks low—thus limiting our work in progress—by staggering tasks where we could. Once this was done, we had a plan. We went to bed, comfortable and confident.

The next morning, things started to go awry. The Seder’s co-host, who was expected to arrive early to help with the preparations, had a family emergency and couldn’t come. This was a significant problem. The plan had assumed she would be there. She was also bringing the Haggadah, so my wife started looking for alternatives online, a task we hadn’t anticipated, and one that took a long time to complete.

The brisket pan turned out to be too large for the meat and its sauce. At some point, all the sauce cooked down and started to burn. We caught it in time, but reworking the brisket dish in the middle of the other preparations was an emergency we hadn’t counted on.

But our visualizations were resilient. We were able to absorb these unforeseen issues into our plan without disrupting our overall flow. One reason for this was the slack we’d built in the night before. We had arranged the plan to keep the number of concurrent tasks low. This helped. The act of planning had also allowed us to see what needed to happen at specific times and what could be flexed. To make up for the time and hands we’d lost, we started pulling flexible tasks ahead when we had a little slack. Having the start time on each task made it easy to identify what to do next; when either one of us came free, we could grab it and get started. The visualization also allowed us to talk about what we were doing and where we were with it. We didn’t have to waste time talking about what to do next and could quickly help each other when necessary. The Kanban was our shared view of our work, an effective distributed form of cognition.

The final result was a fun Seder, an excellent meal, and nearly perfect timing, in spite of the inevitable hiccups. Our Kanban Seder was wonderful, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

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