One Track

Jessie: In New Hampshire, trying to admire the daffodils through the swarms of black flies. 

When I was a child my parents often criticized me for having what they called a “one track mind”. I would become passionately interested in a subject and would investigate it, consider it and talk about it animatedly until they pointedly asked me to keep my enthusiasms to myself.

As an adult, I’ve delighted in giving my interests their head and have followed quite willingly wherever they may lead. I love to live my life that way and I have fallen down many research rabbit holes I am so glad to have traversed.

IMG_1058 copyAn ongoing passion for me is goal setting and productivity. I know it isn’t for everyone but it is the only way I know to stay on top of the things in my life that are important to me. I use planners and notebooks and calendars and mind maps. I have a yearly theme and quarterly action items. I list top three items I will almost always complete.


One of my recent discoveries is the concept of the Personal Kanban. I had been looking for ways to keep on top of multiple looming deadlines. My lifelong habit of delving into a subject headfirst served me well as I dashed round the internet looking for solutions.

PERSONAL KANBAN2016When I fetched up at Personal Kanban I was sure I had hit on the right method for me to sort myself out. It was everything I could have hoped for, including permission to indulge in two of my favorite organizational tools: color coding and sticky notes. I was hooked at first sight. To the left is the one I have set up in my office, which I have been using every day for the past two months.

The system is simple. Anyone can do it using minimal supplies and little time. It isn’t complicated or time consuming to learn. It doesn’t even require access to technology of any kind. It creates a tangible, clear view of the items on my ongoing to do list versus the things currently on my plate. It even addresses those things I must keep track of, but that are in someone else’s hands at the moment.

To make one of your own you simply create four columns on a white board, chalkboard or even a mirror, as I have done. You can use dry erase markers, if appropriate, or sticky notes. The columns are labeled BACKLOG, DOING, PEN, DONE. Mine are in purple at the top of my mirror.

Then you proceeed to write down all the to do list items on your mind in the backlog column. I write mine on colored-coded sticky notes. Pink is for actual fiction writing. Yellow is for administrative tasks like blog posts, emails and banking. Orange is for personal life. Small blue stickies are for travel plans. Green flags are knitting projects.

Every morning I take a look at my board and evaluate what I am actually doing until around lunchtime. I place no more than five items in the doing column and hopefully, a maximum of three. I check the pen column to determine if I need to check about progress with anyone else on an item. I scan the backlog for items that have increased in urgency.

I move stickies back and forth between the columns, if necessary,  as the mood strikes or circumstances demand, until I am finally able to move them into the done column. At the end of the week I am able to look at how I have spent my time and whether or not it pleases me. I don’t have to keep all my obligations in my head and I feel far less overwhelmed.

Freeing up the head and heart spaces allows me to continue to burn with enthusiasm for the ideas that intrigue me and makes me more productive too. That’s one track I’m sure I’ll be happy on for a very long time.

Readers, do you have a one track mind for your passions? Do you use organizational tools to free up mental energy for things that interest you more than keeping on top of your to do lists?


21 Thoughts

  1. Thought I left a comment earlier! Anyway, I love this system, Jessie. My current one is a combination of daily lists and a white board with the backlog, but it’s kind of messy. Love color-coded sticky notes, of course!

    How long do you leave stuff in the Done column? A week so you can admire it? Forever? Or do you move those notes off but keep a record so you don’t forget you’ve done that task?

    1. Glad you think it might be of use, Edith! I leave the done items up for a week. I do my weekly review, scheduling and goal planning on Sunday mornings along with my gratitude journal and clearing my done column on the kanban is a natural fit along with those other activities. It is also a good time to review the backlog to see if I need to add anything to the tasks for the upcoming week.

  2. I have a mind that leaps from project to project instead of a single minded focus. I’m trying to keep a to-do list on my desktop. I’m guessing I’ll never get to the level of tracking that you use, Jessie.

    1. I think the internet has made so many things appealing at a time that we all struggle with leaping from time to time! I believe one of the strengths of the kanban is that it is perfect for grabbing those little ideas that pop into your head and coralling them into a flexible, low-pressure format. It doesn’t force me to decide anything in terms of scheduling. It just helps me to remember the majority of my obligations and to give myself a concrete way to really understand the difference between the things that need to get done and the things I am doing right now. Obsessive color-coding is optional:)

    2. You and I must have minds that are related, Sherry. Honestly, I used to be so focused when I was teaching and raising three kids–perhaps because I had to be. But now that I’m semi-retired, my focus is all over the place. So I am relegated to writing lists and lists like Edith. It’s the only thing that helps me get done what has to be done and in what order!

  3. I have recently begun this program (at Jessie’s suggestion!) which I love. I feel you can never have too many sticky notes and now I can buy them (because it’s one of my obsessions!) without feeling guilty. I really do need them! I am also reading the Jack Canfield book, The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. It is a great book and also filled with helpful suggestions on organization. It was recommended to me by my newly appointed life coach (aka Jessie!).

  4. What a lively mind you have, Jessie! I enjoyed seeing how you keep it focused and productive in so many ways, all at the same time. –kate

  5. I admire your organizational skills, but my Backlog stickies would shrivel up and fall off before I ever got to them. Still, I think the visual component is important to help you see what you need to do (and you can move them around).

    1. I have had a couple of stickies that have lost their stick before I got them completed. Fortunately, I have plenty of stickies to rewrite the backlog notes!

  6. I don’t have time to get organized!

    Okay, seriously, I’ve never been a list maker or keeper. I’ve tried various times, but I never go and look at the list when I’m done. If my mind ever stops slipping, I’m sunk.

    The only exception is the list of Upcoming Blog Tour Stops I keep on my blog. It’s as much advertising as anything else, of course, but it is a convenient place for me to look (since I always have a tab with my blog open on my computer) to make sure I am reading books in the proper order for the proper deadline.

    1. I think that is the key, Mark, organizing the things that matter to each of us. I don’t organize my spice cupboard or the pantry. But deadlines and things that support my family are important enough to me to bother. It sounds like your blog are what makes your short list for organizing.

  7. Ah, so now I see how this thing works 🙂 As Jessie knows I’ve been experimenting with finding a system that works for me. I probably wouldn’t go as far as color coding, because that sort of thing tends to overwhelm me and feels like too much pressure. (I have friends who swear by the Erin Condren planners, and they are beautiful, but I know they would distract me) But I might give this a whirl. There’s a perfect spot right next to my desk and I do love stickie notes.

Comments are closed.