In this interview, Toni and I got to interview two long time Personal Kanban users, Meghana and Sameer Bendre from Atlanta, Georgia. They mixed home and professional use – using PK to manage recovery from surgery, calming nerves in the house, visits from parents, and siblings with learning challenges. Of course, they also used PK at work managing teams and projects.
We are all cursed with “surprises” at work. We come in, sit down, get ready for the day. We select a task to start on and about half way through, it explodes on us. The seemingly simple task now has 30 subtasks all lined up, ready to destroy our day.
This is stressful. Since we’re likely already overloaded, this new surprise just adds more work to the day and delay to our backlog.
However, if we’ve limited our work-in-progress we look at these “cans of worms” a little differently. They still might be annoying, but they aren’t quite so stressful. We understand that, like it or not, the amount of work necessary to get this task done has increased and we can adjust. The slack we’ve created in our schedule and our work by limiting WIP allows us to adjust gracefully (you can still gripe, it’s okay) and plow through the extra work.
It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it. ~ John Steinbeck
In Personal Kanban, Jim and I discuss how workflow should be optimized for throughput, not capacity. Work shouldn’t “fit” into your day but rather, it should flow. Much like how a freeway grinds to a halt when its capacity is exceeded, so too do people who are overloaded experience physical and mental gridlock. As with any system – animate, mechanistic, social, or ecological – the importance of incorporating slack to absorb and /or respond to variation, create efficient processing, and maximize performance is not simply good practice, it’s indispensable.
Recently, a series of disconcerting conversations caused me to reflect on how much we tend to undervalue our most important form of slack: sleep.
- A taxi driver shared how he works 12+ hours per day, with one hour off for lunch, seven days per week because as he explained, “I can sleep when I’m dead”;
- A nail technician who works 7 days each week, 10+ hours per day, and only takes off holidays expressed pride in her “work ethic” while dismissing her colleagues who work 5-6 days per week as “lazy”; and
- A software developer boasted he could – and in fact, does – exist on a diet of Red Bull, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and as little as 2-3 hours of a caffeine-induced coma…but admitted he greeted each morning in a haze of stupor.
Sure these folks might be “productive,” but how effective are they really in the long-term?
I spend endless days at a time without enough sleep. At first, normal activities become annoying. When you are too tired to eat, you really need some sleep. A few days later, things become strange. Loud noises become louder and more startling, familiar sounds become unfamiliar, and life reinvents itself as a surrealist dream. ~ Henry Rollins
We wear our busyness like a badge of honor. It has become our default way of existing.
Sleep, we rationalize, is for the weak and ironically, for “slackers.” We see it not as a function essential to our existence but as a reward to be earned. And when we do finally deem ourselves “worthy” of a healthy night’s sleep we “cheat” in an attempt to compensate for the hours we’ve been deprived of.
Sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health and safety. When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “pay back” if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
Beyond the obvious self-destructive nature of burning the proverbial candle at both ends, fatigue impedes our brain activity which leads to lack of clarity, which necessitates more effort, increases mistakes, diminishes judgment, and further contributes to our WIP.
So long as we view sleep as a luxury we will dismiss it as waste, de-prioritizing it when in actuality, it’s the ONLY thing absolutely vital to our workflow.
Does it really need to be stated? Humans cannot live without sleep.
So I propose we begin looking at sleep as integral to our workflow. Slack is not simply vital to your Personal Kanban, it’s vital for smooth, efficient flow and maximizing performance.
If you frame sleep as part of your work, unfinished sleep becomes WIP. We then struggle with focus, multitasking and task-switching become inevitable, creating a vicious cycle that interferes with the quality of other parts of our life. When we are sleep deprived, our WIP limit should actually be reduced.
I work in the quiet of home 7-8am to sort out things that are stuck or unresolved. Only after I have landed that thinking do I go into the office. ~ Tiffany Overton
A quiet mind, a fresh perspective leads to improved memory, longer attention span, sustainable learning, and improved judgement.
Sleep better. Perform better. It really is that simple.
Dave Prior’s interview covers three or four big things.
1. What is our work really? Is it getting things done or is it satisfaction?
2. What is collaboration?
3. Why does Personal Kanban lead to surprising realizations about the impacts of our choices?
4. Backlog guilt.
A fun, excellent interview with Dave, a long-time Personal Kanban user and trainer.
The quality of art is that it makes people who are otherwise always looking outward, turn inward. ~ the Dalai Lama
There’s a certain irony in the fact that knowledge workers are often afforded little time to do what it is they are enlisted to do: think. In an era defined by constant connectivity, information overload, ceaseless distractions, and the perfidious fetishization of multitasking our days, our processes, our modus operandi is increasingly becoming reactive.
Our “fast thinking brain” as Daniel Kahneman refers to it, helps us wend our way through this neural noise with the aid of subconscious shortcuts or, cognitive biases. So we traverse our lives myopically through a sequence of habits, intuition, emotions, one assumption after the next, to the point that our focus turns to frenzy and the output of our work precludes us from taking a serious and vital look at what inputs affect it. Over reliance on this fast, shortcut-driven “system one thinking” can compromise our understanding of what it is we’re actually doing, and why.
For innovation, for improvement, for personal fulfillment, this type of workflow is not sustainable.
Science estimates the human brain processes on average between 50,000-80,000 conscious and subconscious thoughts per day, and so reliance on heuristics is both an efficient and necessary use of our brainpower.
But it’s not always effective.
That’s because these shortcuts – the assumptions that drive us – are not always correct.
In an age of overload, what happens to the brain when we silence the neural noise and take a moment to simply pause to consider what we are really doing, and why?
Unplugging, incorporating ritualized pauses into the workday breaks the cycle of assumption, shifting us from the emotional, to the rational “slow thinking brain.” Disengaging and taking a cognitive time-out engages our “system two thinking,” shifting our consciousness from the habitual, the reptilian, to the intentional, helping us solve problems thoughtfully, make decisions more deliberately, and generate new ideas.
Looking for more EUREKA! moments? Add a “Thinking” ticket to your Personal Kanban. Unplug. Look out the window. Take a walk. Break the cycle of reaction by tapping into your creative mind.
This article was inspired by a conversation with Maggie Churchville.
For more on how Personal Kanban can help you be more intentional about your work and by extension your life, register for our FREE webinar, our online class, or our next workshop Personal Kanban for Knowledge Work, Seattle 12-13 April.
At one time or another we’ve all lost faith in a process and reacted by wanting to keep track of every detail. We want to make sure it gets done right. We want to make sure that we and others don’t look bad.
That person micromanaging you is no different. They have lost faith in a process they can’t see. So … let them see it. If we all have access to real-time information managers can do what they are supposed to do: facilitate the completion of important work. Without that information, they cannot facilitate. Without being able to facilitate, they will control.
This video shows how all this works.
Trent Hone uses Personal Kanban to manage teams, to consult, and to help his family get things done. In this interview, Trent talks about how he uses Personal Kanban and what changes its fostered in his family’s stress level, his ability to complete work, and his teams’ camaraderie.
This is the first in a series of weekly interviews of Personal Kanban users, practitioners, and thinkers. Watch for how they build their boards and how it makes them feel.
You’re heading to a cabin in the mountains for a week-long getaway with your family. Your car is in the shop so you schedule a rental to be delivered.
In addition to six bags of groceries, a box of pots/pans/utensils, and a cooler full of water, your four children each pack a suitcase; your wife packs three, your mom and dad who are visiting pack two. They then proceed to set their luggage along the curb.
Your two daughters ask if they could each take their best friend, bringing your passenger count to ten, and luggage count to eleven.
The weather forecast for the next few days predicts lots of sun. So you tell the kids to grab their bikes, and stand them next to the luggage. You then head into the garage to pull out the bike rack.
Conditions on the lake are likewise supposed to be ideal and so you ready up your single axle trailer with your 28 foot sailboat.
You’re kneeling on the sidewalk next to the curb, tightening a bolt in the boat hitch when a clap of thunder followed by a flash of lightening pierces the unexpectedly darkening sky. Just then the rental car pulls up. Still eye-level to the wheels, and through the initial drops of a soon to be teeming rain, the first thing you notice is that the air pressure on the back two tires is low.
It isn’t until you stand up that you notice the second thing: the car they delivered…is a Miata.
6 bags of groceries
1 box of cooking paraphernalia
1 cooler of water
1 2-seat Roadster
Without having visualized your capacity first, how could you possibly have known how much would fit in the car?
Keep in mind the overload here isn’t simply attributed to people, provisions, and luggage. A host of other factors would further diminish the car’s capacity including the wind resistance created by the bike rack, the added weight of the boat trailer, decreased visibility and traction during the four hour ascent up the mountain during a storm, and lower fuel efficiency due to the decreased tire pressure.
Capacity – it’s not only impacted by content, but by context.
It’s the same with information. Despite the persistent, insidious, and scientifically proven to be counterproductive practice of expecting knowledge workers to multitask, people – like automobiles – are not unconstrained resources. When it comes to processing cognitively complex tasks, our brain has finite processing capacity.
Especially when it comes to knowledge work, understanding capacity as well as the potential for variation is paramount. Much in the way the car above would be impacted by external conditions, the brain’s bandwidth is likewise impacted by its context. Physical illness, emotional stress, hunger, and fear of threats real or imagined likewise impact cognitive capacity, compromising performance and quality.
Visualizing your work and limiting your work in progress on a Personal Kanban allows you to not only to see, understand, and communicate your capacity to others, but it likewise prevents against taking on more work than you can handle. And when contextual factors are at play, such as mood, health, energy level, task difficulty etc., Personal Kanban helps you respond to that variation, allowing you to adjust your capacity by dropping your WIP limit accordingly.
For more on how Personal Kanban can help you visualize, understand, and improve your capacity while giving you the agility to respond to variation, register for our FREE webinar.
I see people setting up their Personal Kanban with one color of post it note and then finding it hard to select their next task or figure out what they’ve done at the end of the week. The strength of Personal Kanban is that it is a visual system. Visual systems rely on visual cues that let us know what is happening.
If our boards are a sea of sameness there will be no patterns.
Using color to differentiate task types, projects, people, urgency, cost or whatever you find important will instantly transform your board from a sea of undifferentiated tasks to a clear story of your work. We can then engage in pattern matching, which our brains do specifically to make sense of the world.
This video describes how and why we should use color to design our Personal Kanban.
Please share this article with someone you know you needs to know this.
You know, that one email or refilling the coffee maker or asking Susan if she got ahold of your new client?
Those are little interruptions we put upon ourselves. We’ll be working along and somewhere in the back of our brain they become louder and louder until we stop what we are doing and get them out of our hair.
The nitpicky little tasks do need to be done and you’ll never put them on a Personal Kanban, there’s too many of them and doing them takes as long to make the sticky and the task does to complete.
So why not set aside time for them. Create a “nitpicky” sticky and when you pull it, do all of those things as a block – as a pomodoro or two. They will come with copious context switching, so make sure you take a little time off afterwards to recuperate.