Congratulations on your new job! However, you may soon realize that there is a lack of organization within the company, which is affecting your performance. Besides addressing the management skills of your team, supervisor, or relevant stakeholders, it’s important to minimize your stress. Here’s a trick I’ve been using for several years and the advice I usually give in such situations.
TL;DR: To improve organization and minimize stress at work, set expectations and provide visibility for yourself and your coworkers by creating a four-column kanban board that reflects the current state of your work. Use this Trello template to get started ⧉.
Table of Contents
- Table of Contents
- The Questions
- The Trick
- The Workflow
- The Answers
You should be able to answer the following questions at any time:
- What are you currently working on?
- What are you going to work on next?
- What is the task, why is it important, who is involved, and when is the deadline?
- What have you delivered so far?
- How often do your tasks undergo change
Ideally, you should already know what you’re working on at any given time. However, if not, make sure you have a job! Just kidding. You may already have your own to-do list or a mental list of tasks.
One important lesson I’ve learned is that relying on our memory alone is not enough. Even if we write things down, there are still pitfalls to not organizing in real-time. This is where the workflow I’m about to explain comes in handy.
So, what’s the trick? The trick is to set expectations and ensure visibility for yourself and your coworkers. You can do this using a Kanban board.
> Me: Explain like I’m 5: Kanban Board
> GPT-4: A Kanban board is like a big, visual to-do list. It has different columns that represent different stages of a project or task, like “to-do,” “doing,” and “done.” You write tasks on little cards and move them along the board as you work on them. It helps you keep track of what you need to do, what you’re working on right now, and what you’ve already finished. It’s like a game board for getting stuff done!
The basic rules of a Kanban board is to try and maintain everything up to date, on their respective columns, and aim for having all the tasks as far as they can get to the right. This movement is important, because that’s what gives us the sense of progress.
The workflow I recommend is a four-column kanban board that reflects the current state of your work: past, present, and future. Here’s an overview of the columns and their purpose:
This column is where new tasks and projects arrive. Tasks in the inbox should be added by a third party or by yourself. Each card should include all relevant information, such as who is involved, what the task is, why it’s important, how it should be done, and any deadlines.
I recommend using a template to ensure standardized tasks and quick task creation. Be concise in each section and leave space for deliverables.
# Intro for Podcast Who: Hannah from Marketing What: Create a New Intro for a Podcast Why: Refresh the podcast branding. How: 1. Brainstorm and research different podcast intros. 2. Develop a script or outline for the new intro. 3. Consider incorporating music, sound effects, or a brief teaser. 4. Record and edit the audio for the new intro. 5. Review and revise as necessary to ensure it aligns with the podcast. When: Deadline - Complete the new podcast intro by May 31st, 2023.
Every other day or week, you and your lead (or team) should review the inbox column to acknowledge and prioritize tasks.
The backlog column should only contain prioritized tasks. Its purpose is to provide visibility among other tasks in case there is overlap in priority or deadlines. The order of tasks matters because you will grab new tasks from the top.
Whenever someone wants to prioritize their tasks over others, it’s important to be aware of which tasks are being deprioritized. It can also help you or your lead recognize if additional coworkers are needed.
This column indicates what you are currently working on. It is useful for self-control or for those who are interested in knowing what you’re working on. It also serves as a timestamp to track the time invested in each task and when you started or finished it.
The completed column is where you list your deliverables and achievements. Attach all the deliverables to the corresponding card to easily recall or share them if needed.
Now that you have a kanban board, you can organize yourself, provide visibility, prioritize your backlog, log new tasks, and even track metrics for your deliveries.
Now let’s see how the kanban board and its columns align with the questions you need to answer:
What are you currently working on? The “Doing” column on the kanban board answers this question. It clearly indicates the tasks you are currently working on.
What are you going to work on next? The “Backlog” column addresses this question. It contains tasks that have been prioritized but not yet started.
What is the task, why is it important, who is involved, and when is the deadline? The columns provides the answers to these questions. Each task card includes relevant information such as task description, importance, stakeholders, and deadlines.
What have you delivered so far? The “Completed” column reflects the tasks you have already completed. Each card in this column represents a deliverable or achievement.
How often do your tasks undergo changes? The kanban board’s adaptability addresses this question. As tasks evolve or undergo changes, you can easily update or create new cards within the respective columns. You can also use comments, and checklists for this.
Make sure to share the board with your team, lead, or other stakeholders. This is essential for fostering collaboration and transparency, which are our main goals. Grant your team read and write access so they can contribute by adding comments, tasks, and offering help when needed.
So, there you have it - the secret to minimizing stress at work is to create a four-column kanban board. Who knew that all this time, the key to productivity was just a fancy version of a to-do list? Now, go forth and organize! And remember, if all else fails, just blame the lack of organization on your cat. They’re always causing chaos, anyway.
Thanks to Beatriz Ruette for proof-reading this article.