6 Ways Kanbans Help You Get Stuff Done

Blogging is a part-time job. Literally.

Between brainstorming, researching, writing, editing, and posting, I spend about twenty hours per week creating content. For me, writing is that thing I do when I have nothing else to do. It’s my Netflix, my video games; it’s the glue that fills the cracks in my already packed life. I write in coffee shops, in waiting rooms, in transit–I started this post while eating a banana on my lunch break.  But sometimes my schedule makes it hard to keep posts and deadlines straight. Enter kanban: a simple production flowchart that keeps work organized. It helps me stay afloat, and I think it can help you, too.

What is a Kanban?

A kanban is “a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing” (Wikipedia). Simply put, it’s a chart that visualizes, schedules, and track projects. I use mine to keep organized, assure quality, and set soft and hard deadlines for myself. It’s the only way I manage two blog posts per week, and it’s the most effective way to keep my fiction from stumbling over itself.

There’s a lot of kanban software out there. This is my Trello.

Note that ‘kanban’ isn’t a software; rather, it’s a word for a kind of software. I use Trello for my blog and Jira for work, but those aren’t the only programs out there. Kanban Tool, for example, has a clean, simple interface; Leankit is a little more intensive. My advice: play around and find the one that meets your needs.

Remember, it only works if you stick with it.

1. Manage your ideas.

Kanbans are great for dumping ideas.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, my production cycle starts on Saturday. I wake up, crack open a notebook, and jot down ten to fifteen post ideas. I rarely spend more than fifteen minutes brainstorming, and I almost always fill two 2×3 notebook pages. Some of those ideas are great; some are horrid. All end up in my Trello backlog. Whenever my fifteen minutes are up, I type them into my kanban. Then I tag them by type (green for evergreen; brown for “Morning Coffee“; red for my upcoming series) and sort them from “most excited to write” to “scraping the bottom of the idea barrel.”

2. Stay organized.

Remember that old Lisa Frank trapper keeper you wore out in middle school? Kanbans are like that, but without ripped holes and crumpled paper.

I split my Trello into six categories: backlog, researching, writing, editing, making graphics, and published. Each post lives somewhere on the board. That way, I always know what I’m writing, when it’s due, and how close it is to “done.” If I’m looking for blog ideas, I pull from the backlog. If I’m researching, I drop my findings into the “researching” category. So on; so forth. Rinse; repeat.

On average, I typically work on three posts at once: one short fiction post, one long fiction post, and one evergreen post. Without a dedicated flowchart, I’d have to rely completely on my memory and notes–and I have the brain of a goldfish and the handwriting of a med student. No bueno.

So do yourself a favor: kick Ms. Frank to the curb and get organized like a grown-up. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Treat writing like car assembly.

Kanbans were invented by a Toyota employee, so it makes sense that they’re basically intellectual assembly lines. As a project progresses, its card moves along the kanban. When the card arrives in a category, it cannot (read: should not) move again until its respective parts have been assembled. For example, when I research, I attach my notes and references to the card. The card cannot move to “writing” without those attachments. That way, if I need to pull a quote or write a bibliography (or, for fiction, look up characters, items, events, or settings), I have everything on-hand. No need to scrounge around looking for it. It’s there, ready, whenever I need it.

4. Keep your writing and editing separate.

When I used to teach freshman composition, the biggest complaint I heard from students was this:

“Writing is so hard because every time I write something, it sounds stupid. So I end up erasing it, starting over, and erasing that, too. Gah!”

Have you ever had a similar experience? I know I have. Loads of times. Gah.

I’m not a great writer. I hardly call myself a good writer; all of my rough drafts read like they were written in crayon. But a good fifteen minutes with a red pen can clean up awkward phrases, tie up tangents, fix passive language, and change oddball verbiage.

But remember, you can’t fix anything until you’ve written it.

Having separate kanban categories for writing and editing helps me get more done by forcing me to focus on each separately. As soon as I’m done researching, I move the card into “writing,” and I vomit all of my thoughts onto the page. When I’m done, I transcribe the draft into WordPress, move the card into the “editing” category, and begin scanning for content errors. I refuse to edit while the post sits in “writing,” and I refuse to write new material while it sits in “editing.”

The “editing” phase is also where I format for SEO. It’s nearly impossible to draft with search engines in mind, so I don’t bother. I write first, edit second, and optimize third, and my title is almost always the last thing I write. That way, it aligns with my focus keyword, sub-headings, and editorial tone.

5. Regiment your time for tedious work.

Let’s face it: your post will never feel done. And the more you tinker with it, the less done it will feel.

It’s time to set soft deadlines for yourself. If you’re shooting for a 500-word post, regiment yourself about three hours to research, write, and edit, and set a due date that reflects your workload. With my work schedule, three hours of work takes about three days. If I brainstorm on Saturday, I typically set a soft post deadline for Wednesday morning, around 8 AM.

I like scheduling in my kanban because it allows me to not only set post due dates; it also allows me to set category due dates. Smaller deadlines allow me time to research, write, and edit well before my post deadline.

Remember, 1,500 words is daunting, but five sets of 300 words are do-able.

6. Catalog your victories.

Blogging is a lonely hobby. It’s long hours in front of a notebook, followed by long hours in front of a computer. It’s easy to get discouraged. That’s why I archive all my work on my Trello. Whenever I’m feeling blue, I like to gander at my completed tasks. That’s typically enough to spur me onward.

It’s also nice being able to recycle my notes. Finishing a post doesn’t suddenly make the work invalid. If you’ve done the legwork, then you should continue to use it. Whenever I find myself in a pinch, I finger through my archive and see if there’s anything useful I can dig back up. More often than not, there is.


Anywho, that’s me this week. What do you use to keep yourself organized? What does your post schedule look like? What kinds of software do you use to stay afloat?

Let me know in the comments.

Cheers,

Jake

FYI, irrecolletions is now on Twitter. Follow along for insights, daily snippets, and refills of Morning Coffee.

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Also published on Medium.

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3 thoughts on “6 Ways Kanbans Help You Get Stuff Done”

  1. Oh man, thank you for this post. To answer your question on how I stay organized, I don’t. On top of that, I build cars on an assembly line during the day. I like to write about work, but I never thought to apply the principles there to my writing. I started Trello yesterday. I’m excited to see if it can help.

    1. I’m glad it helped!

      When I used to teach composition, I would tell my students to treat their writing like blue collar work. If we put ‘literature’ on an undeserving pedestal, we’ll never produce anything.

      People always tell us to write what we know; they forget to tell us to write how we know. I come from the working class, so I write like a working class guy.

      Cheers! Let me know how it works for you.

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