Moving stickers on a kanban board on a wall

Making your Personal Kanban board in Roam Research

Both Personal Kanban and Roam Research have changed my life in many ways, and this is a blog post on combining the two. This is not a blog post about Roam or Personal Kanban themselves, but specifically about building your own Personal Kanban Board within Roam. About the upsides, downsides, and some tips.

I do mention some principles related to Roam and Personal Kanban, but I’m assuming you are familiar with both. (This is maybe not necessary, but, for sure, ideal in order for you to follow easier. )

 


Digital Garden note
This blog post was last updated on the 19th of July 2022.
Updates will be coming, and the notes are in the making in my Garden.

If you are curious about these updates before they are reflected in the blog post, check them out here:
https://roamresearch.com/#/app/gardenbymilos/page/XJt7T_xUv


Table of Contents

1. Why do I use Roam for Personal Kanban?

2. How does my Personal Kanban Board in Roam Research look (and work)

—2.1. Personal Kanban Principles

—2.2. My personal context and 7 needs for the board

—2.3. Building blocks of my PK Board in Roam

——2.3.1. Existing building blocks

——2.3.2. Not yet existing building blocks

—2.4. How my Personal Kanban in Roam works

——2.4.1. How upstream works

——2.4.2. How downstream works

3. Additional material and links


Want to learn about Roam and/or Personal Kanban before we continue?
Go to additional material section here.

 

 1. Why do I use Roam for Personal Kanban?

Over the years, I tried a lot of ways to do Personal Kanban: physical sticky notes, Trello, Asana, Meistertask, Todoist and Miro to name a few. (Even the infamous Jira a lot of Kanban practitioners and Agile folks quite dislike, but I find ok-ish.)

The physical board was greatbut obviously hard to have around and access on the go; as well as no ability to search, slice, manipulate and reference as you could do with a digital one.

Trello, Todoist, Asana, and Meistertask were OK – accessible, but rigid and without flexibility I enjoyed with the physical board
(fewer visual cues, customizations, etc.)

Miro was pretty great – and I stuck with it the longest – having flexibility of the physical board, accessibility of a digital tool,  but no way to search, reference etc.

This is was a pivotal point. Roam gave me:

  • the flexibility of a physical board (almost equally flexible)
  • accessibility that comes with a digital solution
  • ways to search, manipulate and play with the data

…and as a definite cherry on the top, and differentiation from any of the approaches I’ve mentioned and took before:

  • deep integration into my note-making/second brain

 2. How does my Personal Kanban Board in Roam Research look (and work)

 2.1. Personal Kanban Principles

As Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria have said it lovely in the Personal Kanban book:

Remember, Personal Kanban has only two rules: Visualize your work and Limit your work-in-progress.

Beyond that, you manage yourself according to your current context. You can create your own formats and value streams. You can prioritize in whatever way makes you most effective. You can conduct different kinds of retrospectives, depending on what’s going on in your life at the moment. You can – and will – change your work strategies often.

So use this book as your guide, your springboard, your mentor. Do not let it become your bible, your drill sergeant, or your dictator.

It’s your life. It’s your work. It’s your Personal Kanban.

 2.2. My personal context and 7 needs for the board

This is the way I set up Personal Kanban Board, and certainly has some downsides. It’s not ideal, and especially not ideal for everyone. It is also changing constantly, as we ourselves change, and so do our circumstances and lives.

I do hope you find this inspirational, and experiment with Roam to make a Personal Kanban Board that will work great for your own needs and context.

 

Here’s what I needed, and how I baked it into my Personal Kanban Board in Roam:

1) Limit WIP

Solved by writing the max number of items in columns (boxes) and/or sections.*1

 

2) Visualize the work

Having colors for item categories/areas (e.g. learning, work, wellbeing…)*2

Having illustrations for size estimations for my items*3

 

3) Have a separate portion for vision and ideas

Solved by Upstream Kanban

 

4) Have a separate portion for execution, tasks

Solved by Downstream Kanban

 

5) Have rough time-planning

Solved by different columns (e.g. day, week, month, quarter)

 

6) Have space many different stages, and adjust them over time

Solved by default as Roam lets you be super flexible about your Kanban boards

 

7) Connect to my Second Brain system

Solved by using hashtags, bi-directional links, {{[[TODO]]}} or {{[[DONE]]}} elements

 

*1I write the number (choose WIP limit), and manually count/make sure I don’t add too many items, as there’s no plug-in to alarm me when I add more than allowed items into a column (at least for now))
*2I use colored emoji balls, as there is no (easy) option to have a text color or different colors of highlight that I know of for now

*3In Miro, I used to signal the size estimation by the size of a sticky note itself, but there’s no such option in Roam for Kanban board items. This is why I decided to add different emojis for S, L and XL. This “emoji approach” works OK, and on the upside, the board is overall tidier

 2.3. Building blocks of my PK Board in Roam

The image of the whole board is too large for the blog post to have in one piece, but there’s a link to the image of the whole board at the bottom of the post.

Here, I will first list the elements below, and then describe how it works with screengrabs of the relevant board parts.

 2.3.1. Existing building blocks

Here is the overview of the existing elements:

UPSTREAM

1. FOCUS LATER (divided into 4 categories)

2. ACTIVE (divided into 4 categories, with an overall WIP limit)

DOWNSTREAM

1. IN PROGRESS

2. QUARTER, MONTH, NEXT WEEK (with individual WIP limits)

3. THIS WEEK, TOMORROW and TODAY (divided in 3 sizes)

4. DONE and DONE FOR RETRO

2.3.2. Not yet existing building blocks

Certain elements don’t exist in my board (yet), as but I plan to eventually add them.

1. BLOCKED (potentially: BLOCKED INTERNAL and BLOCKED EXTERNAL)
Nice to track stuck items. I didn’t have any yet, so I didn’t add the column/place for them before I took the screenshot.

2. MADE ME HAPPY, NEUTRAL, and UNHAPPY

I already have a DONE – where I park items I’ve finished, and DONE FOR RETRO – where I park items that I have finished, but want to later think about and process the experience (e.g. held 1:1 or a tough meeting at work, and how that made me feel).
Additionally, it would be nice to have subcategories: happy, neutral, and unhappy to see at glance the amount of work I do that made me feel a certain way over time. (I already use the color (emoji ball) as a visual cue to see the type of work in this way (e.g. learning, work, well-being…) )

3. WIP limits for WEEK, TOMORROW, TODAY

I’m still thinking of how to structure these WIP Limits, I know I want them and need them, but there’s a bit of complexity here due to varying sizes of items.

I might implement a WIP limit for each size (e.g. XYZ S items, XYZ L items…), but sometimes I only have small items, and no large ones, or I would like to trade a few small items for a large one. For the same reason, general WIP would not work (e.g. 10 items overall would equal to 10 XXL or 10 S, which is unrealistic in practice.)

Right now, I sort of fit the whole sum of my items into the total number of my wake hours of the period that I want to do them in, but it’s not ideal.

 

 2.4. How my Personal Kanban in Roam works

 2.4.1. How upstream works

Upstream Kanban is a place for ideas and strategy – that feed into Downstream Kanban, which is reserved for goals, tasks, and execution.

My upstream begins with FOCUS LATER section. This space is for documenting only, there is no commitment on my end. This is why there is no WIP limit (as I only capture the items here, to remember for some time in the (distant) future).

 

Focus later portion in Personal Kanban board

Notice:

  • I do have a rough prioritization based on my interest (items at the top would likely come first).
  • Each column is a category for itself (learning, activity…), but each card has a proper color ball (as in the system, they will get moved around so I need to stick the category).
  • I use bi-directional links, ‘normal’ links, hashtags, etc. to connect everything to my Second Brain system.

 

The second half of my Upstream Kanban is ACTIVE NOW, from FOCUS LATER, I move items downwards into ACTIVE NOW. There is a commitment on my end: to focus on these areas. This is why there is also a WIP limit present.

 

ACTIVE segment of Personal Kanban

 

There is a general WIP limit of 8 items for everything active, and I currently have 7.
This means that I am focusing on these items, and they feed into my downstream portion (execution, tasks, goals). If I get a new idea, and I have used my WIP capacity, I will need to choose what goes back to FOCUS LATER, and what goes into ACTIVE. This makes me aware of the tradeoffs, saves me from burning out, and from being overwhelmed. It also gets me to actually finish my projects and reach goals a few by few (versus starting 15 and finishing 0).

 2.4.2. How downstream works

Below the upstream, the downstream starts. In-between them is the commitment line: everything above the line, in the upstream, is the area of ideas and prioritization, strategy (I can switch my focus at any time if sticking to the WIP limit). Everything below the line, in the downstream, is the area of tasks, steps, and goals, it becomes a tactic.

 

 2.4.2. How downstream works

My downstream begins with IN PROGRESS. It is counter-intuitive, as the further up you go, the more in the future, the further down you go, the nearer to the current moment. However: I do not have a column for “in process” for a task that I am doing if I can do it in a single sitting. I use this IN PROGRESS for the tasks that will span over multiple days, and add a limit of max 3 (as otherwise, it takes a toll on my mental capacity to think about multiple items constantly).

IN PROGRESS section of the Personal Kanban Board

Notice how I use bi-directional links, hashtags, color ball for category (blue = activity) and emoji for size estimation (2 trucks = XXL).

 

After IN PROGRESS, there’s a section for plans: QUARTER, MONTH, NEXT WEEK (each with individual WIP limits).

QUARTER, MONTH, WEEK section of Personal Kanban Board

The further in the future, the fewer details I add. But for all items, there’s color (as I like to have an overview of the type of activities that will fill my life in that period: e.g. learning versus activity versus wellbeing versus work/job). I usually do not size them out at this point (but I also might, note the truck in the top item in the MONTH column).

An important note to emphasize again: the UPSTREAM feeds the DOWNSTREAM, each of these items is related to some of the items I have in the ACTIVE segment.

 

After QUARTER, MONTH, NEXT WEEK comes THIS WEEK.
This is the point where I estimate my items and group them by size: S, L, and XL, each item put to the proper column, and each item with emoji for a visual illustration of the size, and a color ball for a visual illustration of the area.

THIS WEEK segment of the Personal Kanban Board

 

Below THIS WEEK, are TOMORROW and TODAY. Each with columns for size, and the same visualization principles.

TOMORROW and TODAY segments of Personal Kanban Board

 

Below TODAY, my Personal Kanban Board ends with DONE and DONE FOR RETRO

DONE is for the finished items, DONE FOR RETRO is for the finished items, about which I wish to have an internal retrospective (how something made me feel, what I learned etc.)

As mentioned, in the future I might add subcolumns MADE ME HAPPY, NEUTRAL and SAD, or LIKE, DISLIKE, to track the amount of work that makes me feel good or not good.

Notice how I also use {{[[TODO]]}} and {{[[DONE]]}} for some items, which may seem excesive, but I also like to fetch them outside of Kanban, e.g. in TODO page.

I also try to use many different Roam features that make sense (bi-directional links, hashtags, filter, search etc.) and this was a huge personal selling point to move my Personal Kanban into the Roam ecosystem / Second Brain I’m building.


 3. Additional Material and Links

If you would like to learn more about Roam Research:

If you would like to learn more about Personal Kanban:

Links:

 

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