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Discussion Forum > Create "pull" in AF4R (and variants)

Kanban creates "pull" by giving you a visual indication of a "gap" that needs to be filled:

- Something that's out of order and needs fixing
- An empty bin that you need to fill (like the "screws and bolts" example Alan gave)
- An empty spot on a "this is what DONE looks like" chart

There are two keys:
- Visual indication of the gap
- Displayed in a way that emphasizes what you have already completed, what "DONE" looks like, rather than a list of outstanding tasks waiting to be done

For example:

Your "DONE" column could be a kind of Gantt chart, an actual big paper chart on the wall, with empty spots where all the completed milestones go. Your "BACKLOG" is a bunch of index cards or stickies, each listing a major task that makes up part of the Gantt chart.

When you start out, you choose the tasks from the backlog that can be worked on NOW. These will naturally be tasks that will fill some hole on the leftmost side of the Gantt chart.

When you complete a task, you move the card onto the big Gantt chart, filling a hole. This motivates you -- you see your progress, and you want to make even MORE.

So you grab the next task from the backlog -- whatever can be worked on NOW, whatever will fill the next gap on the Gantt chart.

Every morning (for example), your team meets in front of the wall where you have all this stuff posted. You review what you've completed, and your overall performance to schedule; you review the work currently in progress; and finally, team members sign up for new tasks, moving them from the Backlog column to the Work column, writing their names on the card (for example).

On the same wall, you could have another row of stuff -- another bunch of backlog stuff, another work area, and then, instead of a Gantt chart, a chart showing all the regular maintenance that needs to be done. If everything is in order, then there are NO cards in Backlog or Work -- all the cards are in their usual place in the rightmost area.

I've seen a chart like this for a restaurant kitchen -- it shows a fridge, which can hold cards for milk, vegetables, meats. If everything is well stocked, all the cards are in the "fridge" (in the picture on the wall). If Milk is getting low, then whoever notices it first, moves the Milk card from the "Fridge" to the "Backlog". You can suddenly SEE the need to go buy some Milk.

You can also have other things drawn on your "kitchen" -- stoves, ovens, floors, sinks, dishes. If anything needs attention, it has a card that gets moved to the Backlog. And someone can grab that card, move it to Work, and start working on it.

Anyway, that's how a Kanban creates "pull". It uses our natural desire to visualize COMPLETION and ORDER, to make us want to fill that gap, put the card back into it's place, build out the next part of the project, etc.

Next, how to duplicate this in AF4R... some thoughts.
December 12, 2010 at 1:12 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
AF4R (and all post-DIT MF systems, as far as I can tell) are "input driven", whereas Kanban gets its pull from being "output driven", as Erik and Alan have said.

But AF4R does have a bit of "pull" built in. It happens on the Unfinished pages. Basically, "DONE" means getting rid of all those Unfinished pages.

It happens in SAF, too. DONE means getting rid of all the 2nd-column tasks.

DWM had a little bit of this -- I felt "done" when I had everything (or nearly everything) cleared for the next 7 days -- no tasks there.

DONE in all these cases means you have SOME part of your system showing "ZERO TASKS".

Previous AF type systems didn't have this. T3 didn't have it either. They didn't segregate tasks in any way that made you feel "DONE" when you got a certain amount of them completed. So, DWM, SAF, and AF4R are a step in the right direction (if you want more "pull").

But still, Kanban paints a MUCH more vivid picture of what DONE looks like: a perfectly ordered kitchen (referring to the restaurant example I gave above), or a Gantt chart showing great progress. You are BUILDING something that you can SEE, not just getting to "Taskbox Zero".
December 12, 2010 at 1:22 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+

Well, one can try my AF4 tweak of maintenance checklists,

I actually got the idea from Erik's Kanban system, so I guess that counts, right? ^__^

God bless!
December 12, 2010 at 1:31 | Registered Commenternuntym
There is an inherent problem of creating a vision of DONE in all the AF/DWM systems. All these systems avoid crafting final outcomes -- they let your intuition guide you along the way.

One way we could alter the system to indicate what we are actually BUILDING, is to keep a list in the back of the notebook of accomplishments. I could keep a page for my wife, and every time I finish something that's important to her, I cross it off my list, but I add it to her page.

I could keep another page or two for other focus areas in my life or work. And whenever I accomplish something that MATTERS for that focus area, I can add it to that page.

This doesn't have nearly the pull of Kanban, but I think it would be motivating to want to keep adding things to those pages. Especially if I need to review them with someone else from time to time.
December 12, 2010 at 1:31 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Another reason it's so hard to change AF* from input-oriented (push) to output-oriented (pull), is that Kanbans have an inherent pre-defined structure.

The kitchen example -- you know what needs to be cleaned, you know what needs to be restocked, etc. You can define it. You can manage it.

The Gantt example -- you have a pre-defined project plan you are working toward.

Even if it's an Agile sprint, rather than a full-blown project plan, you still have some objectives you are trying to meet, a feature or two you want to release, which provides some structure to your "DONE" column.

None of these is anything like the "grasscatcher" function of an AF list.

I guess the key to creating PULL is finding ways to provide structure to your "DONE" column. That's what I tried to describe in my last post (above). Any other ideas how we can provide structure in this way, using AF4R or similar systems?
December 12, 2010 at 1:36 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
nuntym -

Yes, this is the same kind of idea, I think -- creating a structured way of seeing what "DONE" looks like. Your maintenance lists accomplish the same thing. It does it with a set of supplementary AF1 lists that you always want to be able to go through and say "nothing needs to be done here -- everything is in order". Your system of dots and symbols gives you a visual cue.

I'm wondering if it's possible to build something like this from scratch, following the AF1 philosophy of simplicity -- just write a few things down and get started.

Is it possible to build in a few rules into the system, that would generate your checklists automatically?

Is it possible to build a few rules into the system, that would start painting that picture of "DONE" automatically, and then start pulling you towards it?

Just some thoughts...
December 12, 2010 at 1:47 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Here's an idea -

When you think of some big idea, some big accomplishment, some big goal you want to achieve -- put it on your AF list, as always.

Then, while processing your AF list, if something stands out, ask yourself, is this some big thing that is going to inspire me, that's going to make me feel great if I accomplish it, will make my spouse really happy, move my career along in a significant way, or otherwise be something that really matters to me?

And does it involve a lot of work -- a really major accomplishment?

In other words, is it a Big Deal?

If yes, then write it at the top of a page in the back of your book. Then think what needs to be done on it. Go write that task on your AF list, on the Unfinished page if it's AF4R. And get to work on it.

Every time you accomplish something that's part of the Big Deal, go write it on that page in the back, building your list of accomplishments, your list of milestones toward your goal.

Every now and then (a Recurring task), go look at all your Big Deals, and let yourself get inspired by them. Any new ideas that come up -- new tasks -- write them on your New page. If they ever get completed, write them on your Big Deal page, so you can keep building something there.

Over time, maybe some of your Big Deals will turn out to be Big Nothings or just Dead Ends. OK, no big loss, just put a vertical line through the page or something.

This is a lot different than keeping a Project page in the back, like many of us already do. That's a "push" approach. This has more "pull", I think.

But still, it's pretty far from a Kanban approach, which gives you a much clearer picture of what you are trying to build and where you are trying to go.
December 12, 2010 at 2:00 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
interesting Seraphim. I was just observing today that an AF based project plan might be built incrementally or whatever, but the process of working the project destroys the work list. So let's change a little:

As you define some tasks towards a project, draw a box beside each. Voilà, there are your wholes "pulling" you to work on them.

2. instead of just writing what to do, write the raison-d'être of the work item. Clean house -> company coming. Plan meals -> live healthy. In fact, start with Live Healthy, and let the idea pull you to do things that meet the goal.
December 12, 2010 at 3:09 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
There's a couple of interesting points here and I'd like to add my 2 cents.

First, thanks Seraphim, I was aware of the use of Kanban in maintenance fields such as the kitchen example you gave. I REALLY liked your Gantt chart example because I never thought of it even though I use it. Putting the completed picture at the end helps see the done. It will broaden my use of Kanban in the fields that I work in. Thanks again!

Then you raised the situation that obviously, AF and DWM systems are more intuitive so they don't have a clear idea of what "Done" is. And I believe you are right in thinking that the answer is to provide structure to the "done" column.

I also find that life is not a manufacturing chain and needs more flexibility. The "done" for maintenance stuff is obvious and goes well into kanban. Major projects that have clear steps also do. But you get some projects that evolve as they go.

Let's take a look at what Steve Jobs said he was doing everyday for over 30 years: "Each day, I wake up and look in the mirror and ask myself if I would be happy if what I will do today was the last thing, the last day I was alive and if the answer is no too often in a row I take a good look at my life and re-orient how it goes. All our indecision, created illusions of due dates and factitious values just melt away in the face of death". Well I didn't quote him directly but that's what the message was...

That is why I don't even bother with what the "done" looks like. It is a determiner of my maintenance and big projects but it is not the MAIN goal for me. I noticed that it didn't fit well in the done column so that is why I aimed for balance in your day. In the end, if this is my last day on earth, I would want it to be a nice fulfilling one. So that's what I aim for everyday. I changed the nature of done from an actual definable action to a state...

Now while this is all nice and may be doable to a list system, there are a few things that are in the way. First, lists even though they grow somewhat organically are quite rigid once they are laid out. Your use of it will take some of that rigidity out so that is where Mark is a genius. The problem is things don't move and Kanban cards move to the place of completion opening a slot for the next thing. It's the actual movement that brings all the magic to it and you can't understand it unless you tried it even with a simple task bunch from "to do", "doing" and "done" for a day. The moving forward to completion of a thing opening the door to the following things and seeing that everything evolves toward a completed state is what Kanban is all about. It needs movement and liberty which a list by it's very nature does not offer.

Don't get me wrong, I would really like for it to be possible and provide all the AF and DWM users out there the big sensation the Kanban gives while being able to use their list system of choice. I believe that the Done column is not the real problem, I think that the lack of movement once something is written down is. So how can it be addressed?
December 12, 2010 at 3:13 | Registered CommenterErik

Yes, it counts ;)
By the way, are you still using the same tweak?
December 12, 2010 at 3:24 | Registered CommenterErik
I am using his system checklists idea.
December 12, 2010 at 3:27 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan - I think Erik is right. It's the sense of movement, physically moving the colored card from the Backlog into the Work column and then into the final Done area that gives the Kanban a more visceral feeling of completion. Watching it move like that, and then finally plugging the hole in the Done area, is a lot more compelling than just "checking the box". I've used little checkboxes like that for years, and for me it has the same feeling as any other kind of "push" approach. It is enough to get my attention that action is required - but not enough to really pull me toward a sense of balance and completion.
December 12, 2010 at 3:30 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Erik wrote:
<<<I believe that the Done column is not the real problem, I think that the lack of movement once something is written down is. So how can it be addressed?>>>

Have you tried SAF or AF4R or my combo version?

I do get the sense of "movement" here. Moving an item from the New page to the Unfinished page (or in my case, using SAF+AF4R, to the 2nd column), it feels very much like moving a card from the Backlog to the Work column.

If I've worked for awhile on something and it's "good enough for now" but not *completely* done, then I can park it in the Backlog again -- put it back on a New page.

And I'm thinking that by adding a few "Big Deal" pages in the back, and adding tasks there when they are COMPLETED, will give me the sense of "movement to done". I'll try it and let you know how it goes.

Keeping the Recurring tasks separated also helps. Scanning through them and finding nothing to do makes me feel that everything is in order.

And finally, cycling through New, Recurring, and Unfinished really does give a sense of balance. I work on really hot stuff, the "most important" things, which are on the Unfinished pages / 2nd columns. After awhile, I start worrying about my inbox or the pile of mail on my desk or the trees that need watering, and I switch to Recurring. After I'm satisfied that I'm caught up and things are basically in order, I move on to the New stuff, which is usually the new and the diversionary. Then it's back to the Unfinished "hot items".

Actually I've never felt so "balanced" as I do while working this way.
December 12, 2010 at 3:40 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Anyway, any other ideas how to create "pull"? Here are the ideas so far:

- Movement - keep things moving towards Done, in a way that you can feel it / see it. AF4R actually provides that sense of "movement".

- "Done" - define it better, structure it better -- Nuntym's idea for maintenance items fits in this category, but seems idiosyncratic and overly complicated to me. Any way we can simplify it, and/or build it automatically with a new rule or two?

- Building a visual record of accomplishment - My idea of keeping a record of accomplishments in different focus areas / key goal areas, fits in this category. Maybe keep a page of "Uncategorized", also, so you can see what stuff you're doing that DOESN'T help you reach what is really important to you. Make a rule that every completed task (except recurring ones) MUST go on one of these lists in the back of your book.

Did I miss any?

Any more ideas?
December 12, 2010 at 3:46 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Two ideas. But my browser crashed and I only feel like retyping one now :-/

On a project page use the left column to write ideas for tasks. When you pick one to work on, write it in the second column and cross it out of the first. When you finish it, Highlight it instead of crossing out.

Your project is complete when the left is all crossed and the right all highlighted.
December 12, 2010 at 4:08 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
+Ad Jesum Per Mariam+


<<I'm wondering if it's possible to build something like this from scratch, following the AF1 philosophy of simplicity -- just write a few things down and get started.

Is it possible to build in a few rules into the system, that would generate your checklists automatically?

Is it possible to build a few rules into the system, that would start painting that picture of "DONE" automatically, and then start pulling you towards it?>>

<<Done" - define it better, structure it better -- Nuntym's idea for maintenance items fits in this category, but seems idiosyncratic and overly complicated to me. Any way we can simplify it, and/or build it automatically with a new rule or two?>>

I fleshed out in my head a theoretical time management system using I would call a "layered" AF. It involves at its highest level an AF of GOALS, not tasks, which leads to an AF of the tasks of the goal selected. The goal is to group ALL tasks into respective projects or checklists; if a task is not grouped into any task or checklist, it will not get done.

Let me flesh out the instructions for possibly a few hours, then tell me what you guys think.



<<By the way, are you still using the same tweak? >>

Yes! Thanks again for the inspiration ^__^



<<I am using his system checklists idea.>>

Glad I could help! ^__^


God bless!
December 12, 2010 at 6:30 | Registered Commenternuntym

<< Previous AF type systems didn't have this.>>

I think there was a degree of this. For instance in AF1 there is a strong pull to complete a page.
December 12, 2010 at 12:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Some interesting ideas here and I will be looking forward to seeing how they develop.

My own feeling is that, however important the visual aspects of Kanban are in a group context, they are not going to prove enduringly motivating in a personal context where one is dealing with possibly hundreds of tasks.

The key to the whole thing it seems to me is that one creates a sense of pull by having a large chamber, a choke, and a partial vacuum the other side of the choke. Think in terms of the suction effect created in a pressurised airplane when the hull is pierced.

In terms of time management, the large chamber would be the full list. The choke would be a selected number of items from the list, and the partial vacuum would be created by having vacancies in another list which need to be filled.

Gotta go. I'll think more about this later.
December 12, 2010 at 13:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
All very interesting. I'll be glad to read of a wholistic work-pulling system. Meanwhile here's an idea on creating project-level pull. Okay my idea isn't mine but Barbara Sher's from Wishcraft and the chapter on brainstorming. It's called a Backwards-Planning Flowchart:

1. Take a large sideways shhet of paper.
2. On the right side write your goal, and circle it boldly.
3. Think "can I do this tomorrow"? If yes, great! Draw an arrow pointing at the goal and write "Now". Otherwise:
4. Think what must be done before you can reach your goal. Write these left of the goal, circle each, and draw a line to the goal.
5. For each of the new goals, repeat steps 3-5.

Now you have a goal on the right pulling you forward. You are on the left, and to reach your goal you must move towards it by completing the intervening circles.
1. pick one of the leftmost undone circles.
2. Do it. Mark the circle done.
3. Go to 1.
December 12, 2010 at 14:17 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Ok, following on from my previous post, here's a suggested way of creating "pull".

The "large chamber" is a full AF-style list.

The "choke" is 3-T.

The "vacuum" is a selection of, say, twenty tasks from the full list.

So what you would do is make a selection of 20 tasks from the list by putting some sort of sign next to each task. For the sake of the example I will use a small circle.

You then feed these 20 tasks, in any order, into 3-T. While a task is being processed by 3-T the small circle is filled in.

Once a task has been finished it is deleted.

Urgent tasks which come up and can't wait for the 20 tasks to be completed can be fed directly into 3-T. They do not count towards the 20 though and therefore have no sense of pull attached to them.

I haven't tried this out at all, but I can't see any reason why it shouldn't work. The figure of 20 by the way is completely arbitrary. One could experiment to find what figure would work best - or maybe no set figure is needed at all.

Once you are down to the last task, another selection is made.
December 12, 2010 at 14:54 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I don't see how this is pull. It looks to me like AF with a big list and a list of 20 and you focus on the 20 list.

Another analogy might be helpful. In computing there are two opposite algorithms: data-driven computation and goal driven computation. They are both equally capable but work in different ways and more suited to different problems. Data-driven says when I get the info I will compute the result. Goal-driven says I know the result I want and I will compute what I need to achieve that result. AF is more the former, being triggered by seeing tasks. Kanban is more the latter, being triggered by seeing a missing input.
December 12, 2010 at 19:22 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

I must be totally misunderstanding Kanban then.

I thought what it consisted of was a set of columns in which tasks or projects moved from the start point to the Done point. There was a restriction on the number of tasks which could be in the action column at any one time.

In my proposed system you start with a restricted set of 20 tasks/projects, and the aim is to complete each one (i.e. fill in the missing inputs). To do this you move them across a "column" in which only 2 or 3 can be actioned at any one time, and finally they end up in "Done".

If you wanted to you could put the 20 tasks on cards, write their names in the Done column and then move the cards across the 3-T column as they are worked on and stick each card on its name in "Done". I don't personally think that this visual input adds much, and it would eventually drive me crazy, but if it's the sort of thing you like then I'm not attempting to stop anyone from doing it.

Which bit of Kanban am I missing out?
December 12, 2010 at 19:58 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I'm not sure. At this point I'm confused on the issue myself.
December 13, 2010 at 0:07 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Ok, maybe I can help a little here.
Both of you are right in my eyes.

You are right in saying that the basic mechanism of pull in a Kanban is that there is a chamber with a choke point and a vacuum on the other side. This produces pull. I also think like Alan that the system you suggested is just a pre-selection of tasks on the backlog that will be pushed through the choke. The real pull comes from a space suddenly opened on the other side. Having 20 tasks done triggering 20 new tasks to be chosen only focuses on the tasks themselves, not the end product (the effort done). Alan's analogy of Data vs Goal driven software explicitly illustrates the principle.

Let's take any task and ask the question why? Why do my dishes or why do my taxes? That is the pull! It's the void in your life/feelings/needs that wants to be filled. The action or process itself is determined by the present circumstances but more importantly by the pull itself.

If I'm hungry, my need is to sustain myself, now what will I eat? Depends a lot on my state of mind and circumstantial situation right now. The action is only the vehicle to fulfill your need. Having a need to finish 20 tasks is what? To be productive? I understand that each task has a reason behind it that may be very important but they are shadowed and often skewed by the lens of productivity... And often, one realizes very late that what they are doing is not what they should or want to do...

Now, let me address 2 last things and I hope I'm not seeming too challenging here.

First, I know that there are a LOT of actions one might attempt during a day and with a list system, this is exacerbated quite a lot in my humble experience. But I could quote quite a few people that swear by the Kanban for all different reasons. I don't believe having a lot of tasks is an issue.

Second, the very nature of a kanban is that you can and should adapt it as your situation changes so the system is always evolving. No set of rules will do because they have to be changeable. But that said I would encourage you to try a kanban for a limited aspect of your life and I'm willing to help and coach you through it if need be. Nothing big or time consuming. Certainly nothing confusing where there are hundreds of tasks to take care of.

I really think that creating a kanban pull feeling on a list might be feasible and I think only someone like you Mark can pull it of (pun intended). You are a master at list systems and make them do what mechanism you design them for. But to understand some of the visceral parts of the Kanban, you need to experience it first hand. Both the Kanban and the Personal Kanban which are somewhat different in feel.
December 13, 2010 at 2:51 | Registered CommenterErik

Thanks for your exposition, but I still have no idea what the difference is between what you are saying and the system I suggested.

In my system there *is* a space on the other side which is open. In fact there are 20 open spaces and the aim is to fill them.

I actually agree with both Alan and you that the system I suggested is just a pre-selection of tasks on the backlog that will be pushed through the choke. Unlike you, I think that's all Kanban is too.

As far as I can see, Kanban is simply a useful visual tool for co-ordinating what action is needed in a group context. In a personal context I can't see that it achieves much at all because there is no need for co-ordination.

I'm happy to be proved wrong!
December 13, 2010 at 12:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
It occurs to me that one could increase one's conformity to Erik's description of Kanban by abandoning the notion of task altogether and going back to the sort of system which I described in "Get Everything Done", in which you have a fixed list of "projects". It would look something like this (items in square brackets are for clarification only):

Communications [email, paper, phone, etc.]
Office Management [filing, tidying, maintenance, personnel]
Learning [professional reading, courses, research]
Project A
Project B
Project C
etc etc

In this case one would simply circulate through the projects, maybe using 3-T, filling in anything that needed doing under each.

Again, this leaves me wondering what exactly it is that Kanban adds to what is a fairly simple concept.
December 13, 2010 at 12:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Sorry, every time I write a post I go back and read your long posting again and I get new questions.

You say:

"Let's take any task and ask the question why? Why do my dishes or why do my taxes? That is the pull! It's the void in your life/feelings/needs that wants to be filled. The action or process itself is determined by the present circumstances but more importantly by the pull itself."

I'm sure this is good stuff, but what I don't understand is how Kanban itself addresses this in a personal context.
December 13, 2010 at 12:45 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
My puzzlement over Kanban has led me to read the Wikipedia article on the subject, in which I discovered that Kanban is actually a method of stock ordering to maintain inventories at their optimal level. Instead of estimating what demand is going to be when making an order, you let the demand itself trigger the order.

A good example is how I manage the stock ordering for my office. Take printer cartridges for example. My printer uses six different colours of printer cartridge. I keep one spare of each colour. When a cartridge runs out, I replace it with the spare and immediately order a new one of that colour.

That is basically the kanban system. Supply is pulled by demand. It works well in this sort of set-up and ensures that, if I use twice as much Magenta as Cyan, I don't end up having three spare Cyan cartridges while running out of Magenta.

What relevance has this to personal time management (apart from avoiding wasting time because you've run out of printer cartridges)?

None at all as far as I can see.
December 13, 2010 at 13:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think I agree with you Mark in that the kanban chart is a visual thing, not the essential thing. In a production line, it's useful to sequence and coordinate operations. In the personal system where the columns are backlog/doing/done, these states are evident even in basic AF by simply looking at crossed-out lines. No big deal.

I believe the meat of the system is not in the rules or the recording, but in the philosophy and approach.

Eric wrote: "Let's take any task and ask the question why? Why do my dishes or why do my taxes? That is the pull! It's the void in your life/feelings/needs that wants to be filled. The action or process itself is determined by the present circumstances but more importantly by the pull itself."

Mark asked: "I'm sure this is good stuff, but what I don't understand is how Kanban itself addresses this in a personal context"

I think perhaps the board is the sideline, and the asking of Why (and Why Now) is the essence.

Again in a manufacturing context, the pull is not really a space, but the station which has a space. Or by a slightly different representation, it's the card the station gives to its supplier station. So the Attach [car] Door station pulls the Make Door station to produce a door because it will be needed in order to attach.

In a personal context, buy groceries because it will be needed to eat. Buy cocoa because brownies are wanted. In summary, focus on the reason for doing things, and not on the things done.

Mark: "Again, this leaves me wondering what exactly it is that Kanban adds to what is a fairly simple concept."

I think it's nothing more than (1) Follow the simple concept, (2) Visualize the same. and (3) continually improve how you achieve (1) and (2).

If this is so, then perhaps the equivalent in AutoFocus is just this ? :
December 13, 2010 at 13:54 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I suppose a key benefit of kanban is how it focuses attention on a very limited NOW. Instead of cycling through a long backlog list to determine what should be done next, you work from a short list of things that you have predetermined to be "ready to be done". 3T is in line with that...

There is an iPhone app called Put Things Off ( that does that well. I just find paper and pencil much more practical and efficient for tracking things to do. Just need to figure out a way to duplicate this workflow on paper.
December 13, 2010 at 13:57 | Registered CommenterScott Hutchins

So Kanban is just a philosophy then? That doesn't seem to be very much in line with the original concept of Kanban in which the answer to "Why do I need to order a Magenta cartridge" is not "Because Magenta is a beautiful colour" or "Because I want to print lots of lovely photos" but "Because the system says so".
December 13, 2010 at 14:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

But Kanban isn't about things being "ready to be done". It's about things must be done now because the necessary trigger for them has just been activated.

Using my real-life example of the cartridges, I don't order a Magenta cartridge because it feels ready to be done. I order it because I have a system which says that I order a new Magenta cartridge whenever the current one runs dry.
December 13, 2010 at 14:08 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, I'm just exploring the concepts myself. I'm seeking to understand whether or not there is any real value in the kanban approach that I'd want to use.

"Why do I need to order a Magenta cartridge"?

- not "Because Magenta is a beautiful colour"

- Not "Because I want to print lots of lovely photos"

- but "Because the system says so".
Agreed. But the system is merely a means of communicating a need to a supplier. The need is "So I can print lots of lovely photos".

The philosophy is "no work unless it's fulfilling a need". Again, a hole is not about "we must get things done", but rather "a particular thing is needed to move on".

My contention is that the system has less value in a personal context than for an organization. You already know your own needs and obligations. So a system only needs to organize your needs so you can more easily choose for yourself which to fulfill next. Watch Erik's video and see how he organizes his day to suit his needs.
December 13, 2010 at 14:36 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

No, sorry. I have to disagree with you there. You are confusing two different questions:

"Why do I need Magenta cartridges?"

"Why do I need to order a Magenta cartridge now?"

The answers to these two questions are quite different, and confusing them will lead only to, well, confusion.

Erik has a video? Where can I find that?
December 13, 2010 at 14:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

The video is an hour long. Most of it is can skip to the end to see the details of Erik's system.
December 13, 2010 at 15:36 | Registered CommenterScott Hutchins
I'm confused then. I need magenta cartridges to print photos. I need to order a magenta cartridge now because I'm planning to print some photos and I will run out of magenta. If I wasn't running out, the whole question wouldn't even come up, so what's the value in distinguishing?
December 13, 2010 at 16:00 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

Because Kanban is about the second question, not the first.

When a Kanban ticket for a Car Door is passed from Auto Assembly to the Car Door providers the Auto Assembly workers don't ask "Why are we building a car?". They simply adhere to the system, which tells them to order a car door now.

Similarly when I use up a magenta cartridge, I don't ask myself "Why do I need magenta cartridges?", I ask myself what the system tells me to do and do it.

You could extend the questions ad infinitum if you like:

Why do I need magenta cartridges? In order to print photos.
Why do I need to print photos? In order to show them to friends and relatives
Why do I need to show them to friends and relatives? So they will think I am a nice person
Why do I need them to think I am a nice person? Because <breaks down in sobs> nobody understands me <sob>

I just don't think you'll get much work done.
December 13, 2010 at 16:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks, Scott. I'll check it out.
December 13, 2010 at 16:57 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I think rather you should start with problem (your "why") and end with what and how. But hang on to the why, as you'll need that when you finally have the cartridges.

Put into the system to replace magenta cartridges, print photos, and show photos to relatives -- because relatives are coming on Thursday.
December 13, 2010 at 18:09 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

Yes, but I already know why I want magenta cartridges. I want them in order to keep my printer ready for any one of the myriad uses I put it to. Showing photos to relatives is only one of the many things I do with it. And I want it to be working regardless of whether I have any particular job in mind.

Kanban, in its orginal sense at least, is simply a means of ensuring that supply is drawn by demand. It's not part of Kanban to enquire why that demand has taken place. In fact Kanban was designed to get away from that sort of enquiry, which was the sort of thing that the systems it replaced based their estimates on (and usually got wrong).

Let me spell this out in an example:

I've already shown that the Kanban ordering system for magenta cartridges is based purely on the trigger of the current cartridge running dry. There is no reference whatever to what likely demand is going to be in the future. It's a very efficient system which ensures that I never run out.

The alternative way is to base my ordering on likely future demand. I will look at the fact that relatives are coming to visit and will try to estimate how many cartridges and what colour I will need. To do that I will also have to estimate how much is left in each existing cartridge. I'll probably decide this is all too difficult and order all six cartridges just to be on the safe side. And of course if I forget that the relatives are coming until it's too late to order throught the internet, then I'll probably run out and have to drive to the local office supplies store. It's a very inefficient system which has the maximum likelihood of it all going wrong.
December 13, 2010 at 18:35 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark wrote: Using my real-life example of the cartridges, I don't order a Magenta cartridge because it feels ready to be done. I order it because I have a system which says that I order a new Magenta cartridge whenever the current one runs dry.

But if you have seen you need a new Magenta cartridge, then you will put an entry on your AF list: Order a new Magenta cartridge. And you will do it as soon as it feels ready to be done. It seems to me that the Kanban system is some kind of intelligent tickler which pulls the entry of a task into the AF list.

December 13, 2010 at 18:54 | Registered Commenterwowi

You're right in that that is what I in fact do. But I have a very fast turn-over with that type of action so it happens virtually on the trigger. But the point is that Kanban is a system for ordering inventory, not for dealing with personal time-management.
December 13, 2010 at 19:04 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
This thread was originally about trying to create "pull" in an AF4R/SAF-type system.

It's devolved into a discussion of "what is kanban really all about, anyway?" since kanban exhibits some "pull" features that we wanted to see if we could emulate in AF.

Can we get back to the "pull" idea?

In this post -- -- I tried to summarize some things that help create "pull". Some kanban systems exhibit these characteristics -- but it's precisely these characteristics that are missing from Mark's "chamber/choke/vacuum" model and the corresponding AF implementation where your AF list serve as the chamber, 3T serves as the choke, and 20 pre-determined tasks targeted for accomplishment serve as the vacuum to provide "pull".

Here are those characteristics again --

MOVEMENT - Keep things moving towards Done, in a way that you can feel it / see it. AF4R actually provides that sense of "movement" -- tasks move from "New/Old" to "Unfinished" and finally are crossed off. The movement really does make a difference in how the task "feels", and those "unfinished" pages really do draw your attention, you really do feel extra motivation to get those tasks done -- the very definition of "pull". Can we enhance that? Make the effect stronger? (BTW, the "20 choke" method doesn't do this at all -- everything is static on the AF list, just with different symbols attached. It just doesn't have the same dynamic feel.)

DONE - define it better, structure it better -- Personally, asking "Why am I doing this? What ultimate purpose does this task help fulfill?" doesn't create any pull for me. I still have to push myself to work on those tasks. Creating a visual sense of completion -- something that triggers an emotional response because you can SEE and FEEL how much more "DONE" something is -- this DOES create pull. You see how far you've come, you see how close you are to completion, and this motivates you to FINISH. AF4R helps with this -- it's very motivating to finish off the Unfinished pages. AF1 also does - it creates powerful motivation to finish up each page as the number of tasks gets smaller and smaller. Can we enhance this, make this effect even stronger?

BUILDING A VISUAL RECORD OF ACCOMPLISHMENT - This is where the "personal kanban" and the "team kanban" really shine (as opposed to the Wikipedia kanban), and to me, this is the key feature that's missing from the AF systems. With AF/DWM, your visual record of accomplishment is a lot of pages with all the tasks crossed off. That's a good feeling, but it's "destructive" rather than "creative". You're knocking each item off the list -- but what are you actually BUILDING?

With each AF and DWM variant, I have always struggled at the end of the day to give a clear accounting of what I actually got done. I want to see it for myself, but so does my boss, so does my wife. And it's never really easy to see. I FEEL like I got a lot done, and I FEEL like I'm on top of my work -- but what are the actual RESULTS? It's hard to get a sense of that.

If we add some new rule or feature to capture this, it would help you see your results, and that would create pull. You'll be drawn to keep building more, to make the end results even better.

That's why I am trying this idea: When any task is actually really COMPLETED, then you write it down in the back of your book. At first I was trying a set of categorized sheets, and each task would go on one of those sheets. But now I'm trying just a dated page, and everything I completed gets moved to that page. I can look back at the end of the day and see what I FINISHED -- not just what I touched. Seeing an empty list there is motivating to actually finish ANYTHING, any small thing at all. And that gets the snowball rolling.

Anyway, does this help at all in defining more clearly what is meant by "pull"? To me the clearest distinction is as follows. "Pull" means that when I see the task, I am drawn to work on it -- I don't have to force myself, the motivation just appears. AF1 already provided lots of pull -- this discussion is all about making the pull stronger. "Push" means that I have to force myself to work on the task whether or not I feel motivated.

We can probably never get to a 100% pull system -- we will always need to involve our own effort and force of will. But still, it seems we all want a system that is helps create strong pull, and helps pull us toward the things that, looking backward when we're done, we feel very happy that we did the things we did.
December 13, 2010 at 19:18 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

The site below purports to show you how to use a Kanban for time management. They say the key is to limit work in progress to avoid overload. I feel this is also a strength of TT.

December 13, 2010 at 19:33 | Registered CommenterGerry

I shall be only too pleased to leave the subject of Kanban.

Let's apply what you are saying about pull to AF1:

1) MOVEMENT. The idea of re-entering tasks which either need further work or will recur in the near future has become such a commonplace on this forum that it's difficult to remember that it was quite a startling idea when I first introduced it. Once of the things I particularly liked about AF1 was the sense of movement that this produced.

2) DONE. I agree with you that AF1 already has this.

3) BUILDING A VISUAL RECORD OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. When I started using AF1 I used a simple method of keeping track of what I'd done. I didn't blog about it until AF2, but you can see how it worked here:

The records were kept by:

a) Writing the date in the left-hand margin at the beginning of each day. It would be easy to see then which tasks were entered on which day.

b) Writing the day of the month (i.e. 13) in the left hand margin whenever one deleted a task. You could then see which tasks were done when.

This would save all the business of writing out again what one had done. But if it was really necessary one could re-create exactly what had been done in a day, and how long each task had been on the list before it was actioned. If you wanted to distinguish between completed tasks and unfinished tasks, then you could put a circle round the day of the month for a completed task.

That seems to address all the points you have raised.
December 13, 2010 at 20:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
There seem to be two (related) definitions of pull here.
A) a request for something spurring action. Printer lights blinking red. Space on a shelf. Toyota implemented this in the factory bu having door-attaching people physically signal door making people when they need doors. (they have a limited number of signal cards so they can't request excess.)

I think now Mark's 3,20 scheme is a fair example of this except preplanning is not in the kanban spirit. But I think more interesting ideas are possible too.
B) psychological factors that encourage you to get stuff done by showing work and progress.
What do you think of my previous Suggestion (as an illustration of progress) Seraphim? Write tasks in column 1. As you finish them write in column 2 and highlight.
December 13, 2010 at 20:39 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

Having watched Erik's video he seems to spend a lot of time pre-planning what he is going to do,so I don't know what you mean by it not being in the spirit of Kanban. (And that is the last time I am ever going to mention the K word).

With regard to writing completed things in column 2, aren't you creating a lot of system overhead here? I found even writing the date of completion was an effort. Writing the task out again in column 3 (as well as writing it at the end of the list if it's a recurring task) would be a real pain.

It would be worth it of course if it made a real difference, but I honestly cannot imagine that would be the case.
December 13, 2010 at 20:56 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark: To answer the first paragraph question, let me quote you on the subject: "There is no reference whatever to what likely demand is going to be in the future." In other words, it's preferred that things get marked as necessary only when they become so, not by picking 20 in fiat.

Paragraph 2: "A lot"? Absolutely. I was just trying to get at Seraphim's notion of a constructive view of progress, not recommending it.
December 13, 2010 at 22:13 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
P.S. This is the argument for using cards. Then "a lot" becomes trivial, though other things get harder. So it seems a different medium motivates a different process.
December 13, 2010 at 22:40 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Hi Mark,

You wrote:
<<<Once of the things I particularly liked about AF1 was the sense of movement that this produced.>>>

I agree with you. But I also think AF4R / SAF provide an even better sense of movement that creates more of a “pull”.

The AF1 movement captures the feel that the task is “moving forward”, little by little, till it’s done.

The AF4R / SAF does the same, but gives a clearer idea of which items are actually “on the move” and which ones have never moved at all. This distinction is important.

But to get back to my main question – What else can we do to improve upon this feeling of “movement”, and create even more of a sense of pull?

<<<2) DONE. I agree with you that AF1 already has this.>>>

Yes, AF1 gives you “pull” by whittling down the number of items on a page, giving you extra motivation to COMPLETE the page.

AF1 also breaks down resistance and creates “pull” simply by the repeated, cyclical exposure to the task, and by encouraging you to work “little and often”.

AF4R and SAF have these same features, but build upon them by giving greater emphasis to things you have started but not finished yet, and by separating out the recurring tasks (which, by definition, are never really “done”). This creates even more “pull”.

What else can we do to improve upon this sense of “done”, that would create even more pull?

<<<3) BUILDING A VISUAL RECORD OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. When I started using AF1 I used a simple method of keeping track of what I'd done. I didn't blog about it until AF2, but you can see how it worked here:>>>

Yes, I used the same method myself continually, until I started using DWM in Outlook. It did provide some useful metrics.

But one thing it really did NOT provide was a clear record of what I accomplished that day.

It was pretty easy to go back and reconstruct, if desired, what tasks I actually TOUCHED on any given day. This was fairly tedious, however, since they would be scattered all through my notebook, and it was easy to miss a couple items here or there. So, it was really clear or easy to see.

And it really did NOT tell me what I had actually FINISHED – only what I had TOUCHED.

Personally, I am very motivated by seeing what I accomplished, what I actually FINISHED – not so much so by seeing simply what general activities I was involved with.

I admit it is somewhat tedious to write the finished tasks down in a separate list. It does just take a second or two, and it does build some motivation. But if that’s too much overhead, perhaps we could re-purpose the highlighter. Instead of using it for dismissal, we can use it for completion. If something is actually DONE – not rewritten back into the list – then we highlight it. For dismissal, just draw a vertical line through the page. You could use a few different highlighter colors, maybe one for each day of the week, so it’s easier to see what I got done TODAY and in recent days.

Are there any other ideas for how we could provide a clearer record of accomplishment that would help provide “pull” by motivating us to build up those accomplishments even more?
December 13, 2010 at 22:51 | Registered CommenterSeraphim