ToDoList’s Kanban Plugin – Productivity review
Abstractspoon ToDoList is a lightweight, free windows app for task management. Version 7.1 is now at Development Release 5 and with it’s flexible Kanban plugin, a smorgasbord of productivity uses are possible. Here we look at a splattering of such applications.
Kanban Plugin Overview
The core Abstractspoon program contains several tabs which allow for different views of the entered tasks. These include Calendar view, Gantt Chart and List view. The Kanban plugin available with ToDoList v7.1 adds another interface to this melody of views. It appears as a simple row of columns that your tasks will inhabit. This is a simple, neat interface but I think the real advantage is the flexibility to set the task attributes that these columns take. It is not only traditional Kanban style columns of “In Progress”, “Done”, etc. but can be configured to other task information such as “Allocated to”, “Category”, and “Status”. So, defining which task attribute to track will consequently determine the Kanban columns that are shown. This throws open the door for various productivity approaches – some of which are listed later. There are a few option available with the plugin which determine how the tasks are to be shown and formatted.
Traditional Kanban allows for a pull approach through a product development. These are often represented as “Backlog”, “To do”, “In Progress” and “Done”, but can also be adapted to more meaningful product development phases such as development, verification, release etc. If the “Status”, task attribute is used to indicate such task phases we can a traditional Kanban task view.
When working in a team environment, or a as a project manager, task allocation is a given so this field usually needs to be filled. Normally task information is entered in ToDoList using drop down selections. So, if one wishes to define a person for the task, you hit the drop down button for “Allocated to”, scroll down the list and select the person. Not exactly hard labour, but I think a quicker drag and drop approach is possible with the Kanban view. So, configuring the Kanban view by “Allocated to”, we see the team members and a backlog of unallocated tasks. These tasks can be simply dragged and dropped to the persons column to allocate them. I can see this being a nice interface for teams to define tasks in a meeting.
Defining Daily & Weekly Most Important Tasks (MITs)
There are a few productivity approaches that advocate weekly reviews and weekly determination of tasks to be completed such as the 7 Habits of Effective people. From the Zen to Done approach, defining important tasks for the day are advised. Whilst that can be done on something as simple as a scrap of paper I think the Kanban view provides an interesting interface for this selection. In this case I would use the Category field to define “Today”, “This week”, and even “This month”, tasks. In the Kanban view we now see all the tasks using this framework. To define the most important tasks for today, we simply drag them across to the “Today”, column from the “This week” column or even “This month” or Backlog. Same approach for setting the MITs for this week. Simply drag them across to this week column. In doing so, the Category field will also be updated for the task to reflect which time range the task will be done.
I should also mention that doing this approach also enables the Matryoshka Todo list approach. So, if the estimated times are also entered for the tasks we quickly can determine the estimated times for the tasks allocated for today, this week etc. This allows one to readily assess the viability of completing the tasks in the available time.
Trickle down Goals
There can often be a disconnect between long term goal setting and what needs to be done today or this week to realise it. There are a few approaches to addressing this. For example, formulating habits which over time realise the goal or putting in place plans to achieve the final goal. Here I suggest a third approach, Trickle down goals. The intention here is to be able to view the tasks both in the short term and medium term that lead to the longer term goal. It probably deserves it’s own post but against the context of the ToDoList Kanban plugin, I think this is a great way to visualise it. The example below shows an example implementation. Here a goal is defined, Goal 1, with te subtasks necessary to achieve it. They need not be scheduled at this point but should include the tasks than need be done in the short term to progress towards the goal. ToDoList options include the ability of such subtasks to inherit the attributes o the parent task so in this case I set it to be the same colour. Alternatively you can also use Tags.
Both the colour and tagging are inheritable task entries meaning any subtask entered for the goal will automatically be assigned that colour/Tag. I then use the Category task field to define some timeframes over which the tasks should be done, Today, This week etc. When we then apply the Kanban view, we can ensure the red (Goal) tasks can be seen for Today, This week etc. Thus, we have actions in place to enable the goal. If we were only to see a Red text item under _4_This year (Goals) and nowhere else, that would be a problem – the goal would remain a goal with no tangible activities to realise it.
Fast task field entry
This is a general item indicated by some of the previous topics but which now gets the special highlight treatment. As mentioned before, the ability to drag and drop between Kanban columns has the effect of switching the task attributes, be they Status. Allocated To, Category etc. Personally, I find this a rather efficient way to apply task field information as opposed to the normal route of the drop down menus.
So, there are a few ideas on how the upcoming Kanban plugin can be applied. No doubt, with the flexibility that is there that there are many other ways to slice and dice it depending on your individual work style.