Rediscovering the Obvious

…stumbling in the footsteps of greatness

Away with “Active”

with 3 comments

I dusted off my personal kanban about 45 days ago when I started at Rally, and it’s been a very interesting path since then. When I first rebuilt and updated the contents, the columns were Eventually, Midterm, Nowterm, Active, and Done, and they were essentially prioritization buckets so that I didn’t have to mess around sorting each of the individual items. Roughly mapped to Must Have, Should Have, and Could Have [1].

Last weekend, that changed. I was getting frustrated because I kept having to prioritize things I didn’t really _care_ about, but that I needed to do. It bothered me a lot that I couldn’t get to the stuff I care about, so I updated my columns again. My columns became Options [2], Proactive, Reactive, Active, and Acted. Suddenly I felt much better about things, because I could prioritize the things in Proactive in order of how much I care about them, how engaged I would be, and how distant the payback on my investment of time would be. Reactive, I prioritize based on a combination of ease and cost of delay.

It’s been working, but a pattern quickly emerged that bothered me. Either my active column was empty, or my active column contained the top item moved over my my reactive column. It didn’t tell me anything useful, it didn’t help me prioritize, it was just… there, taking up screen real estate without providing any value. So I zapped it. I don’t have an active column anymore, I just know I’m focused on the top item of one of the two columns that’s in the view. If I’m full of energy and wanting to engage, I hit the top of proactive. If I’m dragging a bit and just want to get some things done, but not pour energy in, I hit the reactive column. When they’re done, they’re dropped into Acted and left to languish with all their finished friends.

[1] Why bother with Won’t have?

[2] Options represents ideas that I don’t want to forget, but don’t have any desire to prioritize or work on now. Approximately weekly I skim that column to see if anything inspires me, but they’re roughly the “transient” class of service.

Written by erwilleke

February 15th, 2011 at 9:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Away with “Active”'

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  1. Have you read Getting Things Done by David Allen? Your post’s verbage and sentiment seem highly compatible with his personal organization / productivity system. Even down to “Once a week, I skim this list to see if I’m inspired”. If you had an effective filing cabinet and calendar setup, the main difference between this and GTD would be whether the stuff on your list is higher level “topics / projects” or very specifically “directly actionable items”.

    Anyway – Re:”won’t have”. One of Allen’s big things is to use your system to get things out of your head, freeing psychic RAM. You’d want to write down (and keep around) a “Won’t Have” if doing so communicates a decision / boundary, or just gets your brain to stop bringing it up. But that’s his take, maybe it’s compatible with yours.

    By the way, how’s it been going?


    15 Feb 11 at 11:33 am

  2. I’ve read about David Allen’s work, but I’ve not read his book myself. From what you’ve said, and what I’ve read, I believe that much of my approach is highly compatible. There are generally three ways for something to hit my personal kanban. First, I might read something or come up with something that inspires me to write a blog post or further explore. These things hit my proactive queue. Second, things might come through my email that I can’t handle under my inbox zero behaviors. Those get stars in Google for the day, and then at the end of the day (or trip, for travel weeks) I’ll pass back through the stars and either move them to the reactive column or resolve them immediately. The third way is through conversation, chat, or off of engagement notes, and could go to either category.

    Matt, things are going quite well! Having all sorts of fun around the country, especially down here in sunny Scottsdale ;) I think I’ll be back through Indy during late March for a week or two on my way to move to Chicago.


    16 Feb 11 at 10:27 pm

  3. Hey Eric,

    How are you limiting your work in progress? Does this mean you are working with a WIP of one? It seems like that’s a slippery slope to starting and not finishing.

    The main purpose of the active column was to provide a visual record of what is currently in flight and the opportunity costs and benefits of doing that thing.


    Personal Kanban is very compatible with GTD, but has less overhead and allows more collaboration.


    Jim Benson

    10 Mar 11 at 10:30 am

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