How to get more done by doing less

Ever feel like you’re doing so much you’re getting nothing done? As a natural starter, not a finisher, it’s something I’ve struggled with. But with the nagging feeling I’ve got one shot at this life gig, I need to find a way to stop starting and start finishing. So can you really get more done by doing less?

I recently took a series of classes on Agile. A pretty big buzz word in the corporate world right now, Agile was designed as an alternative way of project managing software development. The principles of Agile are all about ‘adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement’. It’s about getting things done, bit by bit, so you see the results of the work earlier than if you were to use a traditional ‘waterfall’ project management approach.

Kanban if you can

One of the easiest tools from the Agile toolbox is what’s called a Kanban board. You can get started using a Kanban board simply with a whiteboard or large sheet of paper and post it notes. Here’s how it works:

  1. Divide the whiteboard into four columns: To Do, To Do This Week, Doing, and Done.
  2. Split the whiteboard horizontally into three ‘swim lanes’. These lanes tell us about the priority of the task. You can think about it like the types of vehicles on the road: emergency, commuter, tourist. Each of these need to get to ‘done’ at a different speed.
  3. Now list each of your ‘to do list’ tasks on separate post it notes and stick in the To Do column. Move the tasks you need to complete in the next week into the To do This Week column.
  4. From here, decide which of this week’s tasks need to be in which swim lane and move the highest priority tasks for this week into the Doing column. Move across the additional tasks you’d like to complete, but be realistic; too much in the Doing column may be counter-productive.

Why limiting tasks leads to greater productivity

On a Kanban board we set limits for the number of tasks we have in the Doing column at any one time. Limiting your work in progress (WIP) reduces the amount of work that’s nearly done. It means you concentrate on fewer activities and in doing so, focus on moving the tasks to Done. Without WIP limits it’s easy to use a challenge that crops up as an excuse to move on to something else, meaning you end up with lots of helf-finished tasks.

Online tools

If you have little space for a physical board, or you’re often travelling, you could try using one of the online versions available such as Kanbanflow or Trello.

I’d love to hear how you get on. Have you got any other tips for using Kanban boards to get more done?