To-Do Lists for the Visual Learner

When it comes to physically keeping track of your to-do list, there are an overwhelming number of options, both paper and digital out there. I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to keep track of what I need to do over the years. Some were for my personal use, and others I tried because I wanted to be educated about as many of the available options as I could so I could recommend them to clients as needed. After trying several paper options and a few digital ones for my own use, I have settled on my own adaptation of a physical “Kanban board.” I call it my “Kanban-ish” board. Being a highly visual person who tends to remember far more of what I see or read, rather than what I hear, and preferring a paper approach as opposed to digital, I stumbled across Jim Benson’s “Personal Kanban” method a few years ago. Kanban is a process originally designed for manufacturing, but is at its heart a project management methodology created in Japan. It’s a visual way for teams to keep track of what needs to be done, who needs to do it, when it needs to be done by, and where everyone is in the process. Benson refined it for personal use, and I took it and created my own idiosyncratic personal method, which was partially inspired by an entry I discovered on a blog entitled, “A Bowl Full of Lemons.” The Kanban method has inspired a whole category of digital project management apps, Trello being one of the most popular.

My own system involves a large white board on my office wall, divided into sections for each category of tasks related to my business and personal life. Under each category, individual tasks are written on sticky notes (I like to color-code according to category, but that’s not a deal-breaker for others who don’t want to bother!) Categories include “to call/email,” “writing” (for topics I want to write about), “business tasks”, “client tasks” (research, etc., for clients), “personal”, and “business development” (for projects involving presentation topics for my speaking business and other ideas.) The categories have evolved over time, as my life and work has changed (for example, I don’t have as many family chores as I used to have now that my children are grown, so that category was dropped.) Recently I added a “Waiting for Response” column to move sticky notes from “To Call/Email” after I’ve made the initial contact so that I don’t forget to follow up if I haven’t received a response within a certain amount of time. It’s just so quick and easy to grab a sticky note (I keep a pile right under the board on my desk) and jot down a task as it occurs to me, or as I’m planning for my week, or breaking down a big project, and pop it on the board. There it sits, literally right in front of my face, as a constantly evolving task list. I don’t have to open up an app, or a paper planner to see what I need to get done. There is a section at the bottom of the board marked “Today” where my top three sticky notes for the day sit. There is no better feeling than completing a task and being able to pull that note off the board and throw it away! The method allows me to visualize my work, and also to limit my work in process so I can be realistic about what I can accomplish in a day.

While having their complete task list in front of their face every day may be stressful for some (and not realistic if you work in an open office space, or if you prefer not to have everyone who walks into your office be able to read your to-do list,) it works beautifully for me. For one of my clients who loved the idea and had the wall space in her home office, but didn’t want the world checking out her board when she had friends or non-resident family members in her home, we ordered a beautifully printed window shade and installed it on the wall at the top of her board so she could cover it when she wanted privacy. She also realized it was a great way to signal the end of her work day (always tough when you work from home and work is ever-present) to literally just “pull down the shade” in the evening!

If you’re highly visual and like to see everything laid out in front of you, check out the Kanban method, paper or digital. It may be just what you’re “looking” for!

Lisa Griffith

About The Author

Lisa Griffith is a speaker and consultant who provides services, both on-site and virtually, to help busy professionals organize their offices, systems and calendars. In addition to business and home office organizing, productivity and time management coaching, she provides workshops & seminars for business and community groups.