A Kanban board is a productivity system where you write things that need to be done on sticky notes and sort them into columns. On a board, you have headers labeled “to do”, “doing”, and “done”. Sometimes you have some other things (I used “waiting” as well) but those three as standard. You start with literally everything on the left, under “to do”. Things that need to be handled soon, but you’re waiting for something (payday, a piece of information, a deliverable from a partner) sits in “waiting”. Anything you’re planning to do that day, or that week, or whatever interval you’re using, goes in the “doing”. When you complete something, it goes into “done”, where you get the psychological satisfaction of seeing that you really have accomplished something.

I use a Kanban board, but I’ve modified it. I combined it with the Eisenhower matrix. It’s attributed to the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who allegedly used it to prioritize things he needed to get done. Divide a board into four quadrants, separated by an x/y axis. The two left quadrants are considered urgent; the two right quadrants are not urgent. The two top quadrants are important, and the two bottom quadrants are not important.

“What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The upper left, urgent and important, means the baby’s on fire so you’d better take care of that right now. On the Kanban board, well, you probably won’t take the time to write a sticky note that says “the baby’s on fire” and figure out when you’re going to do it, you’re going to drop everything else and handle it now.

The upper right, important and not urgent, is stuff you can schedule. No one’s going to die or repossess your car if it doesn’t get done right away. That goes on the Kanban board under the “to do” column. I usually write a day or a date, creating a deadline. When I get through with the “doing” tasks for the day, or don’t have any urgent things to do, I start working through these.

The lower left are things that are unimportant and urgent. The phone rings. Someone walks into your office. You get text messages and chat requests on social media. These thing demand your attention but aren’t paying your bills or threatening your safety and well-being. This is why I am a recluse. Try to schedule them, put them in the “doing” column if you absolutely must for the sake of peace and politics, but if possible delegate or defer it and don’t let it mess with your chi.

The lower left is for things that are unimportant and not urgent. Do you know what to do with these? Ignore them, delete them, throw them away. There may be things here that you want to do, but they’re not productive things and they aren’t work-related. Reading a trash novel? Watching a movie? Playing a video game? Not urgent, not important.

The only things that end up on my board are things that need to get done. The only question is whether they need to get done today, or whether they can wait. Period. That’s it. End. Of. Discussion.

If I can’t see it, if I have to go looking for it, I forget about it. I have issues. I’m getting older. I suffer from anxiety, and that screws with my memory and attention span. I don’t want to get distracted. I filter further. I already discussed (in Write It Where You’ll See It) that my work board only has two columns: doing and done. The left side of the board only has the things I need to do today, and the “waiting” things that I need to do once I get whatever I need to move forward. The right side is done. Everything else gets written in my day planner, to be scheduled later. I’ll cover that another day. I’ve got to get to work now.

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