In my audio production works, I've found the kanban board to be an essential tool to keep focus and sanity. I wonder how could I survive so much time without using it.
The kanban board is one of the few Lean tools that have made a mainstream transition to the personal productivity world (hopefully, more of them will find their way into the masses as time goes on).
The main responsible for this transition is Jim Benson, author among others of a book called 'Personal Kanban', in which he describes the very simple (deceptively simple) tool that the Kanban board is.
A tool is good when it is transparent, when it doesn't get in the way of your work, when it doesn't require extra maintenance (=yet one more thing to do).
The kanban board, in that spirit, has only two rules:
1) Visualize your work
2) Limit your work in process
That's it. As Benson frequently mentions, this is so simple to understand that nobody does it. It seems too simple to be a good working method. But hell yeah it is.
The discipline that kanban imposes makes you continuously go to and fro to the board. Stare at the pending items for a while before you dive into doing stuff. Clusters emerge. You understand better your work, and that's the whole point of the exercise.
The Kanban board, in its purest form, is composed of only the 3 columns shown in the above picture. However, as the understanding of your work (its shape, its needs, its bottlenecks) grows, it can become functional to subdivide some of those categories. In my case, I soon discovered in the "To Do" column 2 evident groups: tasks born of watching tutorials (stuff to try out, things to configure in the DAW, maintenance), and actual work that modifies or creates sound. The original column, therefore, has been divided into "To Do NAV" (non added value - no new sound created) and "To Do AV". With that additional clarity you can start to tweak how much time goes to each.
Additionally, given the amount of items in those first columns, I tested and soon find useful to create a column called "Next", before the "Doing" one, as a "funnel mouth" limited to the 1-3 next work items coming up next.
The kanban board shines in keeping me focused while I'm producing. Before I had this tool, it was easy to become overwhelmed; I was trying to make the kick more audible, when I realized that some notes in the solo guitar were still protruding too much. Everything became a decision tree, a new bifurcation. As a lot of brain and productivity literature remarks, the problem with those occasions is that the brain thinks he has to deal with all those items AT THE SAME TIME.
The immediate solution is writing down whatever you're not doing in the moment. You go through that discipline, and your brain gasps with relief.
And if, going back to the former example, you write down "revise guitar compression", and put it on the "To Do VA" column, the disturbance of that (good) idea to your workflow is minimal.
As another option, you might decide that you want to be done right away with those spiky points in the guitar melody; then the "revise guitar compression" note would go directly into the "Doing" column. But then, as you are limiting your work in process (rule #2), you may need to take what you were doing (the note would say something like "make kick audible") back to the previous column.
We desperately need tools to make our work visible. As visible as it is for the guy who is building a chair or repairing plumbing. On this regard, Kanban is king.
As a side note, I cannot fail to mention that Mr. Benson used to be in a punk band, as he often mentions and you can tell by the irreverent style of his presentations. The guy is a joy to listen to.