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Kanban Board

kanbanOver the past few years at the Evil Day Job, we’ve started using an “Agile” method of developing on certain key projects.  This involves taking a large project and breaking it down into individual pieces and hanging them on a board (physical or electronic) into three or more different columns. It could be something like “Ready,” “In Progress,” and “Complete.”  (Ours at work are more complex for testing, etc.)

The real goal is to keep only ONE thing in the “In Progress” section of the board so you can concentrate on it. Then we have daily – yes DAILY – stand-up meetings of about 15 mins to go over each person’s responsibilities on the board and make sure it’s up to date. If you can’t continue for some reason, then you mark the project as “blocked” and pull a new item from the ready board.  Then it’s management’s job to help you become unblocked and keep things moving into the Complete column.

The hardest part for me is keeping only one thing in the In Progress column, at least for work!  I’m always on 2-3 projects at once.  Even if I’m on a big several-thousand-hour project, they always still find ways to slip a maintenance or support item in that needs to be done.

I’ve tried the agile method for writing before and it just didn’t work, at least the way I had my board set up.  I’ve got so many ideas, and at the time, I had two publishers, plus the stories I wanted to write, plus all in various stages of writing, editing, production, promotion, etc.  It was impossible for me to keep track of everything that way, and certainly unrealistic to only have ONE task going at any one time.

However, someone recommended KanbanFlow to me a month or so ago (it’s free!) and this time, it’s working.  I think it’s part of the situation I’m in right now – sort of starting over fresh and trying to concentrate on one project, rather than keeping a bunch of pipes flowing at the same time.  I still have promotional, website, etc. updates to do, but I don’t keep them on my board.

I’ve been using one main board for only the fantasy romance. I broke out all the tasks, like worldbuilding, character development, etc and slowly moved them to the complete column. Then I took drafting the story and broke it down into small chunks, even writing the first draft.  I color-coded all the different tasks, which both makes it pretty and also easy to see what things go together.

What makes KanbanFlow work for me this time around is the built-in Pomodoro timer.  I can pick a task, set the timer for 25 mins, and work.  That’s honestly about all I can concentrate right now (and sometimes even that’s a challenge!)  Then the timer gives me 5 mins to take a break.  Usually I just do one session and quit, because it’s late at night when I’m finally opening up Scrivener.

Then I can look back at each completed task and see how long it took me – assuming I remembered to select the task and set the timer.  I figure I can do about anything for 20-25 mins, even make my brain pay attention!  And it’s working, for the most part.  I started with 500 word tasks. Then started bumping it up with weekly goals, which I’m still fine tuning. I really want to work up to 5K a week but that’s not happening yet.

I’m still fighting the “don’t wanna” camp, so anything’s a distraction.  Ooooh, a new game!  Oooh, I should research that!  I know, I’ll check Twitter…

When I finally open my file, it’s almost always after 11 PM.  Ugh.  But I am hitting 500 words most days, so I am making progress. I’d like to work up to 1K a day, but I’m going to have to figure out how to stop the time wasting.  I think once I get deeper into the flow and rhythm that I won’t have to fight the piddly things so much.

If electronic kanban boards doesn’t work for you, you can make one easily on your wall with Sticky notes or a piece of poster board. The visual “In Progress” column is a good reminder to keep working on that next task!