/Personal Kanban – visualize tasks to make sense of your work
personal kanban work organization

Personal Kanban – visualize tasks to make sense of your work

personal kanban work organization

INTERVIEW – Overburdened and worn out? Visualizing your tasks using Personal Kanban can help you make sense of a busy schedule and reduce your stress, says Jim Benson.

Interviewee: Jim Benson, creator of Personal Kanban and CEO of Modus Cooperandi


Planet Lean: What is Personal Kanban and what need does it aim to meet?

Jim Benson: Personal Kanban is a system with two rules: visualize your work and limit your work in process. Here’s the need it meets: most knowledge work (and personal tasks) that people undertake is invisible and we want people to get it out of their heads and into a visual system that we can manage. Most of our brain is devoted to the processing of visual information.

PL: What happens in our brain when we are overburdened and how can Personal Kanban help?

JB: When we are overloaded, the first thing we do is feeling annoyed about people having given us too much work. We are now expected to finish all of those tasks. Then, we get frustrated with the people around us because we think they have a much easier life than we do (we don’t realize that everyone is equally overloaded). Then we start to feel like martyrs, that we have always been given that much work, and that because we have been given everything to do we must be the most important people in the world.

What we are actually not doing there is slowing down, looking at work, figuring out what’s wrong and making things better. We run out of time to actually think about work.

When people use a Personal Kanban they take all the tasks in their heads and visualize them in a backog. Visualization creates cognitive ease. At this point they realize that they can choose what they have to do and that they cannot do everything at once.

We also encourage people to limit their work in process and only do two or three things at a time. That allows them to finish work with quality and to ask themselves the right questions, like “Am I undertaking the right processes?” “Am I doing the right thing?” or “Was this task necessary to begin with?”


Jim Benson photograph

A pioneer in applying lean and kanban to knowledge work, and an internationally recognized speaker and author, Jim Benson is CEO of the collaborative management consultancy Modus Cooperandi and founding partner of Modus Institute.  He is a fellow in the Lean Systems Society and recipient of the Brickell Key Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking. He is the creator of Personal Kanban and co-author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award. His other books include Why Plans Fail, Why Limit WIP, and Beyond Agile.