Kanban: Organization for the Whole Family

Reading Time: 6 minutes

kanban organization tool sticky notes

Kids get busy. Even if they haven’t managed somehow to get signed up for about a billion different extracurricular activities, their schoolwork, home projects, and chores can be hard to manage. Enter the Kanban board. Kanban boards can organize your whole household at every level, and add a splash of color to your chores too.

What is a Kanban Board?

Kanban, in Japanese, simply means “card” or alternately “visual signal”.  Put at its simplest, Kanban boards allow you to convert your to-do lists into a visual, easier to comprehend sticky note system. Why does it work? Because pictures are worth a thousand words, and when you see your to-do list as a set of color coded images, your brain can organize it all better in your mind.This basic system enabled Toyota to create an enviable manufacturing process that they continue to use today. 

How to use Kanban at work

I use Kanban at work, where it helps keep me focused and organized. I can see at a glance where I left off the day before, and I can see what’s coming up. If a task has a due date, I can simply write that on the sticky note. I learned to consider how to group each task into different sticky notes. When I made the inevitable leap to Kanban at home, suddenly projects seemed a little less daunting to me.

What are some digital Kanban apps?

Kanban is best with sticky notes and wall space, but sometimes whiteboards and walls just aren’t as portable as your phone. For instances like this, there are app- and online-based Kanban tools. Trello is the one I use to manage some projects that go between work and home. I prefer it because I can switch easily back and forth from the web based format to the app on my phone.

trello kanban app organization projects
Trello is great to manage projects on the go.

Why use Kanban at home?

At home, we have one main house related chore Kanban, and each kiddo has their own board on their bedroom door with specific-to-them work. I have a Kanban board up by my crafting area as well. I’m already a sticky note fanatic, so we had several colors lying around the house. All I had left to do was assign colors, line off the boards, and get buy-in from the family. Even tasks as simple as cleaning bedrooms and folding laundry made more sense. The kids like it for managing their bigger school projects, too.

My craft Kanban was the first and easiest for me to create. I could simply organize it like I organize my work, using the most basic Kanban style: one section for “not yet started”, one section for “in progress”, and one column for “I FINISHED A THING!”. I keep my “in progress” section small enough that only 3 or 4 sticky notes will fit on it comfortably. This helps limit the in process work, saving me from becoming overwhelmed and panicking. I do individual steps on each sticky note. Every step moved over one section at a time, which is part of the beauty of Kanban. If I have another project going, I can see where I am in the process for every project, and I know what I need to do next. I can manage my time better when I know what steps I can be taking with different projects. It makes sense to give my kids the same tools.

kanban for craft projects lean organizing
Any multi-step project can use a Kanban to stay on track.

Why use Kanban with Kids?

You may already have a chart for chores. After all, kids respond much better to the use of visual cues. Add in color, and you’ve increased their willingness to interact by up to 80%. Color coding by chore type is only one of many ways to make a Kanban more visually appealing to kids. The physical process of picking up and moving a sticky note from one section to the next can be incredibly satisfying for children and parents alike as well. The ensuing sense of accomplishment and purpose that is hard to beat. This system can work for the whole family. If you’ve got space on a wall or door to tape off or hang a whiteboard, you’ve got the space for a Kanban.

chore kanban organization tool sticky note
The dining room wall worked just fine for our chore Kanban.

How do I start my Kanban?

At its most basic, all you need for a Kanban board is a marker, some sticky notes, and a flat surface. It’s best to start simple and expand as you discover how this system works best for you.

What do I put it on?

Many people use whiteboards because they are easy to section, label, and use. At work, I moved into an office with very little wall space, but I got a cabinet door so a little bit of washi tape turned the whole thing into my Kanban. Other options include poster board or foamcore presentation boards. (insert photos of deidentified work/craft KBs here)

Does it matter what sections I have?

A Kanban should work for you, not against you. At minimum, you’ll want to have sections in your Kanban for what needs to be done, and what is done. I also highly recommend a section for what you’re currently working on. This really makes the system work the best, because you can limit the number of sticky notes that are allowed in the In Process section. By limiting what you’re working on concurrently, you limit the chances of being overwhelmed by your projects.

What works best for our family is four sections: Not Started, In Progress, Waiting For Approval, and a spot off to one side for the things that have been approved (to give the kids the opportunity to throw it away instead of me). I’m pretty sure we’d survive without Waiting For Approval, but I really like it so I know what I need to check on. If the kids aren’t home when I do a check, then I can move the sticky note forward to the approval space or backward to In Progress as necessary. It’s a beautiful analog communication tool.

At work, I have a section for “On Hold” projects that are waiting on approval to even start, and I don’t bother with Waiting for Approval. I can always pull something back from DONE if it’s sent back to me for updates.

What do I do with the sticky notes?

Color code, write tasks, and go! Color code however you like. I prefer coding by room at home, and by who is requesting at work. Break projects into smaller individual tasks. For the kids, this process took a bit longer, but had some unexpected benefits. In the past, when I told the kids to clean their rooms, they melted down. It’s overwhelming, they have too much stuff because we’re geeks and save everything, and what are they to do? With the Kanban approach, we worked together to break the large projects into smaller steps. Tailor step complexity to age and ability, and suddenly your kids can accomplish much larger tasks than they thought. Now you can work with them to create sticky notes for each step of cleaning their room, for schoolwork, or for their weekly chores. Traditional chore charts can be super useful, but often don’t break down the chore itself into smaller steps. Something as presumably simple as “wash the dishes” doesn’t always make a ton of sense for a younger kid when there may be a preferred order you have. If you’re at my mom’s house, may dog have mercy on your soul if you wash one single item before the glasses.

No step is too small for a Kanban! I don’t know how many times we’ve taught the kids how to clean the bathroom. Now, we just hand them the right stack of sticky notes, they put them on whatever board they choose and go to work. Sure, we still have to remind them endlessly to actually DO the work instead of playing in a bathtub they’ve filled with bubbles, but it does get done. Your artistic children may want to draw their tasks on the sticky notes – hooray to that! I have a few shorthand drawings I use at work, but as we are more musical in our house, art doesn’t tend to make it into our Kanbans. Whatever helps you and your children understand each step the fastest, utilize.

Once you’ve got your sticky notes written, have a place to store them. Next to the Kanban or on the Kanban in a Do Later section, find somewhere it’s easy to get to when you need them. When it’s time to do something, put it in the To Do section. Move them around as things get done. The In Progress section is fantastic for kids too. How many times has your child sat on their floor, surrounded by toys and garbage and let’s not actually think about the rotten food they stash in there, crying because it’s too much? When they start to whimper in exasperation, redirect them to their Kanban. When one sticky note moves, another can take its place; this method also works great for placing chores on a timer.

Kanban isn’t going to do your kids’ chores for them, but it sure can help make the process easier for everyone. If you and your kids struggle to keep things simple, try the Kanban approach. Not only can it help you and your family get organized, but it’s a great way to teach kids about breaking projects into smaller, more manageable chunks and stay focused with just a few things to do at a time.

Advertisements

Get the Official GeekDad Books!