Kanban Boards Are The Simple Productivity Hack That Keeps All Your Projects On Track

Do you have a never-ending list of tasks that you can't keep up with? Are to-do lists just not working for you? Try using a kanban board to take your productivity up a notch. "Kanban" is a Japanese word for "visual card" or "sign," according to Kanbanize. A kanban board is a project management tool that involves laying out your tasks in separate categories: to-do, in progress, and complete. It allows you to visualize your progress and prioritize tasks so you don't have too many things piling up in the "in progress" category. 


Experts at Investopedia explain that kanban boards were first used by a famous industrial engineer for Toyota, Taiichi Ohno. He created this method as a means to prevent excess inventory and keep the assembly line moving forward. Though this productivity hack began in the automobile industry, it can be useful for anyone looking for some more organizational tips.

It especially helps if you have several long-term projects going on and daily tasks that need to get done. It's a great tool when you're trying to reach certain goals, like writing a book, for example. The overall goal is to publish your book, but there are lots of smaller steps to get there — writing an outline, writing each chapter, editing, choosing a cover, reaching out to agents and publishers, and so on. With a kanban board, your goals are visually broken down into smaller projects and tasks, which will get you closer to those goals.


How to make a kanban board

Kanban boards are easily customizable, and there's not just one way to make it your own. A popular way is using a surface like a wall, a bulletin board, or a whiteboard and sticking Post-it notes on it. Using Post-its allows you to easily move each task to the different categories you create, and you can color-code them as well according to your needs. You can also use tape to divide the categories on your dry-erase board and erase tasks once you complete them. 


You can use a kanban board for anything you want, whether it's for projects, side hustles, financial goals, learning a new hobby, or keeping up with household chores. Maybe you want to implement a family kanban board, as shown in this TikTok video, so multiple family members can contribute and everyone can see what needs to get done. You can use it as a study tool as well to keep up with constant assignments and ongoing projects. A kanban board can help you see everything laid out so it doesn't seem as overwhelming.

Digital kanban boards

If you're a more digital person or you want to save some paper, there are lots of kanban boards to use online. Some of the most popular versions include Trello, Kanbanize, Asana, and monday.com. These programs allow you to create a digital workspace where you can label and categorize tasks neatly on your screen. Many of these digital boards are used by companies around the world to help organize workflow between departments. Companies like Toyota, Spotify, Pixar, Apple, and Zara use kanban boards to organize and manage everything that goes on to keep the company running smoothly, according to Kanban Zone.


Trello, in particular, played an important role in UNICEF's efforts to provide aid to those affected by Hurricane Irma in 2017. In the midst of this hurricane, UNICEF used Trello in its efforts to respond to the emergency and share important safety information with people. "Trello helps our team organize our internal efforts so that we can be the most effective at supporting others whether in times of crisis or during regular work to address social needs," members of UNICEF's Global Innovation Centre team told Trello in an interview. For organizations like these, efficiency and communication are crucial to serve people, and kanban has been a beneficial tool in this process. 

Visualize your work

If you describe yourself as a "visual person," kanban boards are perfect for you. The main reason they're so effective is the visualization they provide. Trying to make a mental list of what you have to do may only make you feel more overwhelmed. Writing your tasks down and mapping out how they will get done can lessen the weight on your shoulders. This not only helps you remember things better, but seeing it on a board will give you more incentive to finish. Plus, it's way more fun and colorful than a standard, old to-do list.


As you start seeing your "completed" category filling up, it'll give you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment knowing you finished what you set out to do. Whether you want to tackle your hardest tasks first or start off with the easier things, using this productivity method will be like having a well-oiled machine at your fingertips. 

Collaborate with ease

Working with people can be a challenge, but there are ways to adapt and overcome certain difficulties. When working on a team, it's important to know who is doing what so there's little to no miscommunication. Kanban boards make collaboration simple and efficient, allowing you to see where everyone is at with complete transparency. You can give and receive feedback at every step, from start to finish, whether you're using Post-it notes or an online board like Trello. Maybe you run a blog, for example. On your shared kanban board, everyone has their own cards that they're responsible for. Both writers and editors can see who chose which blog topic, which blogs are in progress, which ones need editing, and when the blogs are being published.


Let's be honest — communicating only through email is often exhausting and time-consuming. Kanban boards offer a better way for everyone involved. And who knows? Maybe creating a kanban board will be a fun bonding experience with your coworkers.

Keep yourself and your team accountable

Kanban boards are meant to ensure a balance between the things you still have to do and what you're currently working on. You can look at each category and see how many tasks fill up each column. When you see a bunch of tasks sitting in the "in progress" section, you'll want to prioritize those before starting new tasks from the "to-do" section. If there are way too many things in progress, you might want to take a step back and focus on getting those done before overloading yourself. Otherwise, you'll have a lot of half-finished things on your plate. 


A kanban board can certainly become an asset in your office. If you're managing people, it's important to be able to see where everyone is at and track their progress. It's especially beneficial if you're self-employed or a freelancer, where you are essentially your own boss. No matter what industry you're in, you'll notice how the kanban method can change your workflow for the better.