I have a wild, monkey brain: full of ideas,distractable, loving to follow trails and jump from one idea to another. Like most of the creative people I know, I try hard to manage my unruly brain without reining it in too tightly, to find the perfect balance between honoring its natural flow and imposing the direction it needs to make things happen. I used to think I multi-task well. Increasingly, I’ve been realizing that multi-tasking can be tiring and counterproductive.

I’ve tried a number of different project management apps over the years, on the hunt both for myself and readers who face similar challenges. I’ve written about a number of them, including an odd, curiously effective clock face planner I devised that made me realize I do better with a visual system.

Sally Schneider

All the apps and planning strategies have taught me something about how I work best. But most have me taking on too much at once, with linear lists of to-dos that can seem overwhelming as they accrue and become increasingly difficult to prioritize.
Too long a list of unfinished tasks is dispiriting!

A few days ago I came across an article about Personal Kanban, a tool to visualize, organize and complete work in a way that maximizes, rather than depletes, energy. It caught my attention right away for how simple it is, and how its core principles seem address just how my brain functions.


Kanban has two rules:

1. Visualize your work.

If you’re able to see the whole scope of your work, you’ll be better able to figure out priorities.

2. Limit your “works-in-progress”

That is, limit the number of tasks you take on at one time. It allows for more peaceful, concentrated focus and avoids the burnout often caused by multitasking. 



Kanban builds these two principles into an elegant system of capturing and organizing tasks:

Tasks are filed under only 3 or 4 categories:

1. Backlog/To-do

The ongoing list of tasks to be done

2. Today.

This one is optional, but I find helpful. These are the tasks out of my long list of to-dos that  I really want or need to get done today.

3. Doing/In progress

What I am working on now, limited to three tasks at any one time. This is important. Working on no more than a few tasks at a time creates real focus and more sustained energy.

4. Done.

Seeing a list of completed tasks give a tangible sense of accomplishment and flow, keeping me motivated


Patrick Wied

Originally, a kanban was composed of a white board or a wall with post-its that could easily be moved around. Many people like this very elemental method since it is both visual and tangible. Physically writing your tasks down and rearranging them as needed that can be very effective and rewarding. Patrick Wied described his experience on Medium. The kanban he created out a of a big sheet of paper and sticky notes is above.  Several kanbans can be used if you have a variety of projects going on.

Alan Henry Lifehacker


Since I have many projects going on at once and work on several devices, I find an app easier to manage. KanbanFlow uses the same visual layout as a paper kanban, while being really intuitive and usable right away.  This blank “board” or project sheet is ready to fill with tasks and customize; I can easily capture a task by clicking on a plus sign.

I’ve been setting up a board for each of the very complex projects I’m working on. I can copy a task on one board to another easily.

KanbanFlow is GREAT. I can see what I really want or need to do in a day, reorder the tasks as necessary, even set a timer to only work on a task for 25 minutes (which the Pomodoro method SWEARS is the sweet spot before you need a break). I can add dates to track of deadlines, sync it with my calendar, AND send it emails with a task that I want to quickly input. And I can easily use it with collaborators on bigger projects. When clicked on, a task opens to reveal notes and other data.

The potential to customize the app to organize it the way I think is awesome and EASY to figure out, something many task management apps are not. And although I do wish the visuals were a little cooler, the utility of it for my peculiar brain outweighs minor aesthetic concerns.

So far, I feel like the Kanban method is freeing up my brain and energy by changing its habits and patterning. Visualizing my work and limiting how much I am taking on at any one time is powerful, and palpably calming my monkey brain down.


Vintage Printable

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6 replies on “Personal Kanban to Focus Your Unruly Creative Brain

  1. Just goes to show:
    Monkeys EVOLVED from Homo Sapiens!

    sally, maybe YOU’RE the ‘missing link'(!),..?

    ? ? ? ?

  2. Great idea. What app do you use? Did you try a few and if so, plz give feedback. Thanks, as ever, for sharing your thoughts.

  3. It’s called KanbanFlow. I’ve put it on desktop, laptop and phone. Got going with it right away, unlike most task mgt apps. But what works is a highly individual and personal thing. For me, this is the best so far.

  4. In her play “The Hollow”, Agatha Christie has a niece and aunt discussing why so many people are afraid of the aunt. Finally Lady Angketell says, “Yes, my mind does jump around like a room full of monkeys.” My feeling exactly.

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