Kanban as the way to organize life and give up multitasking

Attention is a limited resource. Tasks, people, responsibilities, and deadlines all compete for your attention daily. Add Facebook, articles, movies, and you’re totally lost in a vast flood of distractions.

Here I am not going to give a productivity system that will change your life. I’d share something that worked for me, that’s easy to learn, keeps you organized, prevents you from multitasking. That’s personal kanban.

Kanban (看板) — literally signboard or billboard in Japanese. Originally, Kanban is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing (JIT). It relies on cards, on which you write information, and a board, on which you arrange your cards.


People are not manufactures, but the system can be applied. Personal Kanban, is a simple system for managing your to-dos. Even more, it’s a philosophy of self management — of tasks and time.

Keystones of Personal Kanban

There five general as well as my personal principles of kanban, which help me to use the system:

  1. Three-bin system — one bin is all the list of to-do tasks, the second bin is for the one task in progress, the last one is for done tasks. It’s the most important principle, which should be used in every kanban. No matter how many bins you use and how you call them, you want to move tasks from “to do list” to “done”. You should preserve this.
  2. Visualize.
  3. No tasks are made without a kanban. The result is 100% kanban tasking.
  4. One task at the same time.
  5. All tasks should have a category.

This is the end of the introductory part. The rest you won’t find on the internet.

Here is a simple way I use kanban for managing my life

You can use tags in Trello to organize cards. Tags are called labels here. Long ago I found that all my tasks and goals fall into 5 categories: health, wealth, relationships, self-mastery, art. I call them “Life Pillars”. Whenever I add a task or idea to the board, I label it with one tag. This helps me to:

  • Keep balance working on tasks aimed on different parts of life — e.g. I don’t let myself being stacked with tasks from “wealth”, ignoring “relationships”;
  • Organizing my kanban board — e.g. if I need to filter all “art” tasks, I go to filters and quickly find cards I need;
  • Clearly visualize the board, so it’s not cluttered with gray cards.

Having 5 labels, I wanted the board to represent my work with them. Gradually, I came to the Multipotentialite Planner v.3, which is actually the 7th version of it, because I had several 0.1, 0.3 versions. Now my board consists of 7 lists:

  1. Scanner diary
  2. List 1
  3. List 2
  4. List 3
  5. Done List
  6. Long-Run List
  7. Dead List

Kanban Trello board to organize life -- Jegor Nagel --

Or look at the publicly available template in Trello. You can easily copy it to your Trello account and start using.

Let’s dive into what every list means and it’s rules.

Lists of Kanban board to organize life

Scanner’s Diary

Here a store all my crazy ideas which pop up in my mind. I put all ideas here without filtering them. The philosophy under this is that I allow my mind to wander and generate ideas. I accept everything I think of and don’t try to mark thoughts into “bad or good ideas”. I simply put idea on the list.

For now, I have about 60 cards in this list. Will I work on all of them? I doubt 🙂
Organizing life with Kanban.

List 1 — broad planning list

This list has 5 huge tasks that I decided to work on for a long period, such as “being healthy” or “being marketing hacker”. Each of these tasks represent only one label of Life Pillars, which makes me work on different tasks. Tasks here will give birth to subtasks for the list 2. Mainly, if the task is on this list stayed untouched for more than 3 months and I haven’t completed any of its subtasks, then I turned it back to the Scanner’s Diary.
Organizing life with Kanban.

List 2 — 1 month planner

This list consists of the tasks from the list 1. They should be SMART and reflect to my Life Pillars. This list can have a maximum of 10 tasks from. If a task needs details or can be divided into subtasks, they go into the List 3. If the task is on this list for more than 1 month without changes, then it needs to be rewritten and it’s value reevaluated.

List 3 — “do it now” list

Here I can find all tasks I need to do during a week after adding them to the list. List is always prioritized, having most important tasks on the top. Every Saturday, I review all tasks to find out which tasks were blocked and what should I do to accomplish it. If I can’t do the task for more than 2 weeks, I modify it or remove it.

Done List

Clear title is clear title. After completing a task, I move it to Done List, except those tasks which can’t have a clear finish date.

Long-Run List

This list can only get tasks that require a long work, such as changing habits or developing mental toughness. Roughly speaking, this list consists of my decisions, on which I have to work constantly.

Dead List

If I decided that I can’t solve the task or don’t even want to accomplish it because my wishes changed, I move it to the Dead List. I write a short comment to the task about the reason of moving it to the Dead List, which will help to remind in case I turn back to that idea. For example, I have “Nanowrimo” in this list. For years, I tried to finish it, but failed for different reasons. This year I decided that I don’t want to spend time and effort on that anymore, moved a task to Dead List. Thus, in a future, if I think about participating in Nanowrimo again, I will find the card in Dead List, read my comment about the reasons why I shouldn’t take part and probably will not take part in it then. Profit!


Personal Kanban gives me mental clarity about what I want to do. It enables me to visualize the big picture and take my life philosophy into action. Surely, what works for me might be a blocker for you. I don’t insist that the way I use kanban board is perfect. The only thing I know, kanban helps me manage my life, it’s simple and visual.


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