Self-management

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix applied to working personal Kanban

Introduction

I have 10+ years of experience in software engineering, but only in the last 6 years I’ve been practicing Agile. Since then, complementing those practices has become a permanent task allowing me to discover many advantages and disadvantages of being an advocate to Agile. My main focus is to simplify my life, both personal and working, so I’m always looking ways to be more efficient. Currently I use a personal Kanban at work for my own tasks given the nature of my role as Software Architect, participating in many projects at a time.

Looking ways to better manage my time, tasks and priorities I’ve been using Kanban a long time. But at some point I’d the need to better do just-in-time (JIT) planning. Then I knew about Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix and immediately made sense to me that would help my priority definition for tasks.

Conceptual framework

In this section I’ll describe briefly all the elements that are involved in the application of Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix to work with personal Kanban.

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

Stephen Covey[1] provides a way to use four different quadrants that allows to prioritize tasks assessing their importance and urgency, helping you to decide whether you need to address a task immediately or if you can schedule it.

Stephen Coveys Time Management Matrix
Figure 1.1: Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

In summary:

  1. Important and urgent: mission critical tasks.
  2. Important, not urgent: continuous improvement tasks.
  3. Urgent, not important: pressured interruptions.
  4. Neither important nor urgent: tasks for sharpen the saw.

Personal Kanban

Personal Kanban is about choosing the right work at the right time. There are only two real rules with Personal Kanban[2]:

  1. Visualize your work
  2. Limit your work-in-progress

Additionally to these rules, Kanban has the following principles:

  • Managing the flow: continuous improvement over process.
  • Collaborative improving: involved participants.
  • Explicit policies: process must be publicly known and defined.

But the fundamental and essential technique to be successful with Kanban is focus: doing one task at a time, ideally from beginning to end.

Applying conceptual elements

Currently I use Leankit Kanban to manage my own tasks at work. This tool allows me to organize my work in a daily-basis. I also apply the essential philosophy of Extreme Programming: “take best practices to extreme levels” by mixing Time Management Matrix with Kanban tasks and doing “JIT time management”. Every time I need to work in a task I evaluate the importance and urgency of every task in the To Do column. I have swimlanes for each topic, so I do this analysis for each one 3 times a day minimum. But in case that one topic gets a new task or I set focus on it I do this assessment. Importance and urgency have the following meaning to my work:

  • Importance: impact on business.
  • Urgency: time to response required by business.

Business is my customer. Customers can be: teammates, managers, business experts, users and providers. Also other IT areas that need my services as Software Architect. In general anyone that needs something from me. Every time someone needs my services I ask them the relative importance and urgency for the task (if I have enough context I answer myself). Then I see my current work and I negotiate a Win-Win alternative. If any task changes priority by means of negotiation or scaling then I send an e-mail to the stakeholders communicating them the reasons why I’m not working on those tasks and if a new due date is scheduled.

Conclusions

The technique exposed works well with 80% operational tasks and 20% management task. But there are people that have reversed proportions in their tasks, especially when they are in tactical or strategic positions. Maybe they have a management role by nature (for instance a project management). In that case they need to reserve time to get operational tasks done, like updating documents. I mean, nobody can have all-day meetings from Monday to Friday without produce something.

Your comments are important so we can share knowledge, ideas and thoughts about time managing in our lives.

References

[1] Covey S., 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2004.
[2] Benson J. and DeMaria T., Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life, 2010.

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