Kanban Boards - how do they help?

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of using a kanban board. My current setup is to use Things to track my current projects and tasks. I use Obsidian for everything else. Project details and notes, etc. I see that Obsidian also has a Kanban plugin.

What would a Kanban board add to this setup? Or is it just extra work to keep it in sync with Things?

My use in the past of Kanban (mostly Trello) has been to monitor either status or project, depending what I’m up to.

So, for example, when I was overseeing a project with a large number of tasks, there were more statuses than simply done or not done e.g., phase 1, phase 2, phase 3… or not yet approved, approved and waiting, with development team, completed, not progressed. It was easy to drag a task from one column to another during reviews.

Similarly columns could represent projects e.g. New Website, HR Training etc so you can at a glance see the status of tasks in each project.

You could simply use columns like To Do Sometime, To Do Soon, Doing, Done, Not Doing.

It’s a visual way of organising tasks in 2 dimensions when a simple list wouldn’t quickly provide the information.

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The main purpose with Kanban is to make the work visible. It tells you what is ready to be started under “To Do”, what you are currently working on in an “Active” column. You can also track where things are if you have multiple states to track, like Design, Coding, the Test phases etc.

It gets powerful when you implement “work in progress” limits, so you can’t start additional tasks if you are already juggling 2-3 other tasks. This forces you to push stuff forward to completion. Teams can also use it as a negoation tool - “Sure boss, we can do that on priority. Just tell us what you want us to remove from the board.” It is a way to reduce overcommitment to an established delivery capacity.

Kanban is a simple but powerful system, of course with many other uses and nuances. For fun, you can search Amazon for books on kanban - it is a popular concept. Jira boards, for example, have all the power to be configured for kanban.

I have not used it much in a personal system, but am hoping for some sort of visual support to manage “in progress” tasks in the next OmniFocus release. (And please, OF gurus pulling their hair knowing exactly how to do it in the current version, please point me in the right direction :slight_smile: )


I don’t use Kanban boards for tasks, though I’ve worked with teams that do (see below).

I do use Kanban boards to keep track of projects, however. I’m often juggling multiple projects, and my priorities shift, sometime by the day.

I try to keep at most three or four projects in my active column; others go to “next”, the back burner, completed or dormant (ie, not even on the back burner, but also not spiked or completed). It helps remind me what to turn to when I can’t make further progress on the most urgent project, or just need a change of pace.

For teams, I’ve found Kanban boards (usually Trello) useful for tasks – especially understanding what tasks other people are working on or turning to next.

Edit: I’m also considering using the Obsidian Kanban plug-in (which is very good) to keep track of bug fixes and feature additions for the apps I maintain – I’m the only one developing them, but I need some way to keep track of what’s in progress or next up besides just a git branch.

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My experience with Kanban is also in Trello. I found it useful as a visual pipeline so you can see where things are if you have different phases/stages.

First, everything @airwhale said gels with my experience.

I’ll just add that there is one twist to using a Kanban board to display tasks — in all systems I have used (not many, but some of the well known ones) you get to see your “bucket” structure where each bucket represents a state or some other categorisations, but you potentially lose visibility of any hierarchy or relationship between the items on the board.

This is quite obvious with my work hat on, where we use Microsoft’s Azure DevOps (ADO). We have a hierarchy of work areas, technology areas, work items, and tasks, in that order. (Epics, Features, PBIs and Tasks in ADO lingo.) If you are looking for something then the hierarchy is a huge help. If you are creating new items then the hierarchy is most efficient. But the hierarchy is invisible on the Kanban board.

The flip side of this is I can generally see more information more easily about an item in the board view than the hierarchy.


I use Kanban boards to track projects. I use OmniFocus to track the tasks in each project.

  • What would a Kanban board add to your setup?
    Perhaps only extra work. Or perhaps beneficial insight. Do you find yourself missing a “big picture” perspective on your work flow? Do you find yourself being overwhelmed by so many tasks that seem all equally reasonable to do at any given time? Do you find yourself devoting extensive time on tasks at the starting point on projects only to miss doing tasks in a timely manner that could have closed a project in short order? If some or all of the above apply, you are probably in need of a better way to manage the status on projects, not just the completion of tasks in projects.

  • … is this extra work to sync (with Things)?
    My Kanbans are self-built in Curio. I link a project on the board to a project in OmniFocus via an AppleScript. The set up took time to build. I can now click on a button icon to initiate a link to sync between a Curio Kanban project and OmniFocus project.

In Summary: Do you feel that you need to improve your oversight on projects (not tasks)? Do you know that the programming tools exist to allow you to automate the process to sync between your choice for Kanban and your choice for task management (Things)?

Final Thought: You imply that you do not track tasks and/or projects in Obsidian. I see no reason therefore to be chained to using the Kanban plug-in from Obsidian.



Kanban is for teams - if you find yourself using it personally I tend to think you’re making it more difficult than it has to be.
But if that’s what you’re used to, then all power to you :slight_smile:


You might try out the extra visual layer using https://kanbanview.app/ which creates a Kanban board based on Things3 data. It requires a certain Things3 set up of labels and is read only, so some people don’t like it.

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I use Kansan boards personally. I basically use them as a big list. I have one where I track books and another where a track a learning plan/projects for a hobby I have. Each note on the board links out to a document or program.

Now, I’m not using them at all in a way to breakdown a project and get things done. There are no tasks, to dates, no details. There’s Doing, Next, Someday, Plan, Done, and On Hold.

It’s actually a lot easier setting those in a Kanban board than setting it up in Omnifocus or a Taskpaper document.

Nothing I’m doing with it NEEDS to be a kanban board. I could just as well use a list on a text doc, or use file folders, or create tags in a task manager etc, etc.

But, there is something useful for keeping my focus on things by having that visual layout. And it takes very little time.

I know you were referring to a more professional use of Kanban boards and not how I’m using them. And I’m sure you’re right in that context. But I thought I’d toss this out…I’ve been surprised by how useful the visual layout for me has been after years of doing things in task managers – it really does help.

Note that I do NOT use Kanban boards at work. I’m guessing if I did I wouldn’t find it so useful for hobbies. I don’t like my hobbies to feel like work.


I’m a recent convert to TaskPaper so I’m unlikely to jump ship again anytime soon. But as I like the visual layout Aeon Timeline provides over simple lists of historical events, so I probably I would like a visual layout of tasks, too.

Background: I make my living as a Certified Scrum Trainer - helping Teams use Scrum and Kanban to make their work more effective, engaging, fun etc. I’m not an expert in what works for individuals who’re not part of teams. I share this so you see where my comments are coming from:

I don’t understand the recent interest in Kanban from the Obsidian/OmniFocus/… world.

Kanban is a tool to help improve the flow of work through a group of people (aka a Team). In a team environment it helps make work visible, enforces WIP limit, challenges people to collaborate, is a source of data for improvement.

When applied to individual work this all just breaks down. Why do you need a board with ToDo/Doing/Done to achieve all of this?

I made some recent notes in a comment to a few others who have been talking about Kanban on their podcasts:

  • Kanban is as much about mindset and discipline as it is about mechanics
  • A Kanban board is only a trivial part of Kanban
  • Just as important: Measure the System and Improve Experimentally
  • Also Kanban tends to work best when there is a team and a large
    enough volume of work to spot trends and patterns

This is a bit like what I see in professional work - where people take
Scrum - something to organize teams of 3-9 people (ideally 4-7) full
time and make it work with three part time team members. A good tool
misused gets strange results.

Hope this helps you see a bit of why a Kanban board alone was never
going to be very useful. From what you described you might well
benefit from a couple of Agile tools
Story Mapping | Agile Pain Relief Consulting and
Impact Mapping | Agile Pain Relief Consulting - both of which
help gain a strategic overview of your work and its priorities.

Both Kanban and Scrum are fantastic tools in the bounds of their primary context, they tend to break when pulled far outside.


My introduction to Kanban was in 1981 when my company hired some consultants from Japan to assist us in converting to just in time manufacturing. Our Kanban boards were 4’x8’ sheets of plywood with cup hooks holding metal tags. I would have never dreamed they would become software. :slight_smile:


FWIW The Kanban that most people talk about today has its roots the work of David Anderson and others in lifting the ideas of “kanban”/Lean from Toyota and transporting them to the world of software development. If you want to read on the subject, the best source currently is Dominca DeGrandis: https://www.amazon.ca/Making-Work-Visible-Exposing-Optimize-dp-1950508498/dp/1950508498/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

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I, too, have been looking into Agile and Kanban as possible sources of inspiration for personal knowledge innovation work. From what I’ve learned, I tend to agree with the critical sentiments here. It seems like Kanban processes are invaluable for teams, but get weird with individuals.

The fundamental goal of Kanban seems to be to coordinate the use of limited resources (time, materials) by a team. That point is literally lost when there’s only one person using the resources.

The four principles of Kanban are, roughly:

  1. Make the work you have to do — and the status of each piece of work — visible
  2. Limit work-in-progress
  3. Make sure work flows forward
  4. Regularly review how work is happening, enacting changes to workflow based on feedback

What I take from this as an individual knowledge worker:

  1. What are the different statuses of my tasks? What does the progress of one task look like from “not started” to “complete”?
  2. Limit work-in-progress — try not to take on too much, and try to constrain the time you spend on one thing (although this is difficult when you’re your own boss)
  3. If you know the status of different tasks, use status to catch when you’re getting stuck. Interrogate what’s causing stuck-ness.
  4. Be sure to include double-loop-learning in your working habits. E.g., Are you getting stuck by the same thing often? Is there a different way of working so you don’t get stuck again?

Otherwise, the “card boards” people often call “Kanbans” are really just a neat visual way of representing what’s happening. But just using a card board to lay things out =/= implementation of the kanban principles… nor should it!

Nice pullquote!

PS: @jcarucci nice topic!


There’s a key distinction to be made here though: between implementing Kanban as a management philosophy/tool and implementing a Kanban board-type display to more readily visualise information.

I think you could make only limited use of Kanban as an individual, but plenty of use of Kanban board software for visualising lists, tasks, people… anything that lends itself to readily movable cards in columns.


I once cobbled together a kind of Kanban view for TaskPaper document.

It wasn’t interactive, but it generated a local web page (on Mac) that placed TaskPaper tasks in different post-it like colored boxes on a canvas, with checkboxes next to the incomplete ones so I could check them off visually as I did them (even though I would also have to check them off in TaskPaper if I wanted the change to stick).

It turned out not to be quite useful enough to keep working on, but maybe I’ll take another stab at it one of these days.

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Yeah, this is a good analysis.

Kanban as a team-oriented productivity or project management system – I know little or nothing about that (other than having seen some teams use it) and have zero interest in learning it (until or unless I need it).

Kanban-style boards as a tool for organizing my own thinking and projects? Definitely.

Go head and tell me I’m doing it wrong. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. I’m using a tool in a way that works for me. :man_shrugging:t2:


I agree. I definitely am not using a Kanban board as anything other than a nicer way of organizing sticky notes.
Well, I suppose I’m using the barest level of the skeletal structure of the idea, but there’s nothing in the defined philosophy I’m using. I think there’d be some cognitive dissonance going on in my head if I did use the full philosophy for my personal projects.

I also use a steamer to cook salmon and keep it moist. Sure, it’s not grilled salmon, but it’s very tasty.


I think that’s the second time you’ve brought up Aeon recently. I did a trial of it once years ago, but thought of it only as a writing tool for projects that need a defined time line of events.

How are you using it? It sounds like you’re doing something different with it outside of a writing tool?