One could say organization has always been an interest of mine. When I was a kid, my brothers and I were avid baseball fans, and we collected a lot of baseball cards. I have especially fond memories of sitting in my basement, sorting through the cards to make sure each set was in numerical order. Life was nice when my biggest responsibility was making sure that my baseball cards were in order.

Fast forward thirty years and I unfortunately have a few more things to organize than baseball cards. As many grown adults do, I create ranked lists when juggling an overwhelming set of work and personal responsibilities so that I can focus my attention on singular tasks, checking off my list consistently over time. Today I’d like to share with you my secret to graduating beyond the crumpled piece of paper or smart phone notes app to keep organized, both personally and professionally: Instead, I use of Kanban boards.

Kanban is a Japanese word that means “visual signal card”. Toyota originated this concept and used it to improve their manufacturing process starting in the 1940s. I use it to organize my groceries and honey-do-list at home, and my non-project related work in the office. Below is a sample of a Kanban Board.


The Kanban board is easily customizable for all of your needs; however, I keep my boards simple. Columns on the board help to visualize progress using categories such as “Backlog”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. I recommend using a column limit on the In Progress column to only allow yourself to take on the amount of work you can handle at one time, staying focused on the task at hand and allowing yourself to only add more work to In Progress as you finish tasks. I am also continuously re-positioning the cards on the Backlog to make sure that the highest priority cards are at the top of the list.

My grocery list board is probably the simplest example of how to use Kanban boards in your everyday life. Below is a real example of my family’s grocery list in Kanban. It contains columns for Things We Buy, Grocery List, and a column for each of the aisle/department of the store we frequent such as Chips/Bread. In between shopping trips as we run out of things, we move the card for that item from the things we buy column, into the needs list column, basically making our “grocery list”. Before we head to the store each time we take those cards and sort them into the correct aisle/department columns. Then we walk around the store in the order of the aisle/department columns and clear the board as we shop. A mobile friendly app like Trello helps us collaborate on the grocery list, so if the teenagers forget to add something, they can still add it from home and our board is updated while in store.


Kanban boards have helped me both personally and professionally to organize custom lists with ease. The benefits of using the boards are most noticeable with the capabilities to visualize and improve organization skills in real time. Whether it’s on the go at a grocery store or on a laptop at work, Kanban allows for collaborative and customizable assistance with lists, tasks, and much more.

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