The Blog

Personal Kanban and Micromanagement

Jim BensonExpert, PsychologyLeave a Comment

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.


Jim BensonPersonal Kanban and Micromanagement

It’s About Communication: PK Interview with Trent Hone

Jim BensonUncategorized1 Comment

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.

Jim BensonIt’s About Communication: PK Interview with Trent Hone

Capacity: It’s a Matter of Content…and Context

TonianneExpert, Featured, Neuroscience, Primers, PsychologyLeave a Comment

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.15.48 PMEnvision This:

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.

To recap:

6 bags of groceries

1 box of cooking paraphernalia

1 cooler of water

10 people

11 suitcases

6 bikes

1 boat

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.

TonianneCapacity: It’s a Matter of Content…and Context

Pattern Matching: Use Your Personal Kanban to See What is Really Happening

Jim BensonDesignPatterns, PrimersLeave a Comment

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.

Jim BensonPattern Matching: Use Your Personal Kanban to See What is Really Happening

Getting MicroTasks Done: On Nitpicking

Jim BensonDesignPatternsLeave a Comment


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.

Jim BensonGetting MicroTasks Done: On Nitpicking

Clarity > Coffee

TonianneFeatured, Neuroscience, Primers, Psychology, Uncategorized1 Comment

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 12.13.20 PM (1)

Okay. So I recognize the title of this post might stir up some controversy, especially among my fellow coffee enthusiasts. Not to mention it undoubtedly puts me at risk of getting exiled from my beloved adopted home, Seattle. And yes, perhaps it even seems a tad hypocritical how I’m writing this while enjoying a double shot at my local overpriced third wave roastery.

But I digress…

First off, I am in no way suggesting you – or we – instead consume thimbles of “energizing” wheatgrass rather than continue our relationship with our BFF, Joe. Let’s be honest, Joe energizes us, he makes us alert. He leaves us happy. Sure, these effects can be fleeting, the result of the temporary dopamine response – “the motivation molecule” – caffeine triggers in our brain. This causes us to build up our tolerance and increase our dependence on Joe’s services more often than we might take notice of. And when we try to fight our need for Joe, his absence leaves us tired, and cranky, impairing our focus, our memory, our ability to plan, our processing speed, and our decision-making capabilities. All that notwithstanding, Joe’s often the first one we call on to boost our mental acuity and usher us through our midday slump.

Now I respect the power of confirmation bias enough to know that at this point, I could take this post in one of two directions. There’s a surfeit of scientific research out there that supports the link between coffee and productivity and conversely, enough to suggest it wrecks havoc on our teeth, bones, liver…in addition to our productivity.

Neither of those are where I am going with this.

My issue is with reliance on coffee as a first responder – for motivation, for making us less anxious, for combatting the brain fog so many of us knowledge workers experience. In those cases where our mental performance needs a boost, the dopamine release we chase through the caffeine in our coffee is little more than a quick fix. The short bursts of energy we experience simply aren’t sustainable, and so we’re forced to reach for yet another double- or triple-shot to maintain its effects. When we do, the resulting adrenaline rush proves counterproductive, leading to more irritability, more stress and ultimately, we crash.

That’s the thing about Joe: he’s temporary. Joe has commitment issues. And while he breeds dependency he’s simply not in it for the duration.

Clarity? Now clarity is in it for the long haul. You want to tame anxiety, elevate your mood, achieve focus at a sustainable pace while creating good work habits in the process?

Clarity’s your huckleberry.

That’s because the brain hates ambiguity. In fact, it LOATHES it. Two of the brain’s primary functions are to reduce risk and optimize rewards. It satisfies the second need with coffee. It satisfies both with, well, care to venture a guess?

You got it. With clarity.

We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t understand. By their very nature knowledge workers – creating “products” that often have no tangible steps, no physical output – operate in a world of ambiguity. And we know how the brain feels about that. The brain wants assurances. It wants to know upfront what output it can expect from an input and so it wants to be certain it’s equipped with all the (pre-existing) knowledge it needs to address any situation. When it has too little information to go on, when it encounters the unfamiliar and perceives it as a threat (whether real or imagined), its fight or flight mechanism is engaged and anxiety results.

Enter clarity.

Studies show anxiety diminishes and success rates soar when abstract goals – the very nature of knowledge work – are clarified, when they are transformed into concrete and attainable steps. Such is the case when we visualize work on a Personal Kanban. Especially for knowledge workers, getting all those amorphous tasks out of your head and easily visualized on a board demystifies your priorities, your tradeoffs, and makes work manageable. Evolutionary biology teaches us that having processed images long before it did text or language, the brain deciphers images tens of thousands of times faster than it does text. Not only does externalizing goals by mapping them out on a kanban increase the likelihood of achieving them, visualizing progress big or small results in a rewarding boost of dopamine.

As we see with our reaction to coffee, we then chase that dopamine release. We adjust our behavior to trigger a consistent flow of it by perpetuating the very action that makes us happy. Clarity and the completion it fosters gives us the focus, and the motivation to continue this virtuous work cycle.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.51.59 PM

So the next time your brain needs a boost, consider getting your dopamine-fix from your board…not your barista.

For more on how visualizing your work (and limiting your WIP!) with Personal Kanban can improve your clarity and ultimately, your effectiveness, register for our FREE webinar.

TonianneClarity > Coffee

I’m Having A Creative Emergency

Jim BensonUncategorized2 Comments

It can happen.

It does happen.

We are being good Personal Kanbaners, we are limiting our WIP. Suddenly we have a burst of inspiration and we just HAVE to get something done.

Should we do it? Should we blow our WIP and jump into this new task that has set our mind ablaze?

The answer is … maybe yes.

Jim BensonI’m Having A Creative Emergency

What is the Personal in Personal Kanban?

Jim BensonPrimers1 Comment

What is Personal?

The “Personal” in Personal Kanban can mean many things.

Capital P Personal – This is the personal nature of you. Your work, your decisions, your professionalism, your problem solving, your improvement, your life at home, your life period. Since we rarely act fully alone, no Personal Kanban is ever going to only relate to us as individuals and it is rarely only going to be used by us. However, we will want to track those things that are us. We can’t hide them or hide from them. If we do, others will always be giving us work without knowing what we can really do for them.

Of Value to People – You create things every day. As a 21st century worker, we are always building things, combining information, processing, and evolving. Tracking only products in our Personal Kanban removes the human element. How much work are you doing? Are you or your teammates overloaded? Can you help each other? Can work be more enjoyable? The human (you) is the creator.

(Inter)Personal –  Who do you interact with at work? Who are your clients? How do your clients and coworkers know what you are doing and when? How do you know when others are in need of your help? How do they know when you are? Life is relationships. Making it clear who is doing what and how loaded they are helps us all. Most of the discomfort between people comes from misunderstanding what is going on in their lives. The more overloaded we are, the less tolerant we are of inconveniences caused by our teammates. We blame them. They become hurt and blame us. Things spiral downwards. The (Inter)Personal nature of Personal Kanban keeps everyone apprised of what’s going on and why.

If your kanban isn’t taking these into account, you just may have an impersonal Kanban … and who wants that? 🙂

Jim BensonWhat is the Personal in Personal Kanban?

Five Years of Personal Kanban | Travel, Exploration, and Learning

Jim BensonApplications, Expert, Neuroscience, PrimersLeave a Comment

It’s been 5 wonderful years since Tonianne and I released the Personal Kanban book.

The people we’ve met, the problems we’ve helped solve, the boards we’ve seen have been amazing. Every problem we’ve seen has had unique bits and predictable bits. What’s been fun is learning what are those really predictable parts, what parts seem predictable, and what is novel.

We’ve learned a lot since we started Modus Cooperandi and since we launched the book. Why we make certain decisions, why we focus on some things and not others, why we are so easily distracted, what systems actually help us create quality work and finish.

This year we’ve launched a new webinar series and an online Personal Kanban class that extends what was in the book.  Why an online class and not another book? Because we’ve found that human contact and short bursts of information mean a lot when adults are learning.

We hope to see you there and thank you for five years of Personal Kanban awesome!

Jim BensonFive Years of Personal Kanban | Travel, Exploration, and Learning

Little Cues

Jim BensonFeaturedLeave a Comment

Little Cues Help Communication

Little Cues Help Communication

Little cues in the tools we use can be very helpful in helping us communicate effectively. The shot to the right is from Slack, a tool that helps us at Modus Institute communicate, collaborate, and stay informed.

We use it not only to chat with each other, but also to get status from our Personal Kanbans in LeanKit and Trello, as well as broadcast activities of our students at This means that no matter where we are, we have both our Personal Kanban and the information in Slack keeping us up to date.

But we do work all over the world and sometimes if I’m in London and John is in Los Angeles, it is hard for me to know exactly what time it is for him. Even though he’s online right now, the slack channel is telling me that for John, Toni, and Sam it is outside normal working hours. This helps by letting me know that John might not reply right away or at all, even though is shows him online (it’s green).

This helps me respect John’s time and better plan for what I can do right now. If I need any of the three of them to complete a task, I should wait to pull it when they are truly available to collaborate.

Jim BensonLittle Cues