This article was originally published on January 01, 2020
Summary / TL;DR
I use a kanban board to document project ideas while staying focused on current projects. Notion template here.
If you’re more of a video watcher, the video below covers most of what is written :)
Stepping into parenthood triggers many life changes. I’ve learned that one of those changes was the sudden and apparent importance of time management. I found myself jumping from project idea to project idea without the time or focus to complete any of them. This resulted in frustration which added unnecessary stress to my daily life. Giving up these side projects all together didn’t seem like a viable option as they are my primary source of growth for me.
After some consideration, I realized that the source of the issue wasn’t that I abandoned ideas too early or even that I didn’t have enough time to complete a project. My issue was the lack of an environment to document an idea while staying focused on what I am currently working on. I was abandoning ideas because of new ideas taking up head-space. I was granting these new ideas priority because I didn’t want to forget them or lose momentum.
I tried a couple of systems but ultimately landed on a 3–4 column kanban board to help keep my thoughts in check. The primary columns are “Backlog”, “In Progress”, and “Completed”. “Backlog” will most likely always be the column with the most ideas in it. Anytime I have an idea for a project I immediately create a new item in the backlog column. Using Notion (more on this later), I add as many details about the idea as I can. This is a very free-form writing experience where I mention anything and everything regarding the idea (ie. description, what inspired the idea, who the audience/customer is, etc). The next column, “In Progress”, should be the column with the least ideas in it. When I want to start making progress on an idea I drag it from the “Backlog” column into the “In Progress” column, however, I limit myself to only having 2 ideas in the “In Progress” column at a time. If I ever want to remove an incomplete project idea from the “In Progress” column I have to document a very good reason for doing so. Lastly, the “Complete” column houses all of the completed project ideas. The “Complete” column allows me to have a running list of all of the projects I have completed.
Optionally, I have also played around with adding a “Tabled” or “Archived” column. This column would be designated for project ideas that hit hard stops while in-progress. An example scenario would be if I discovered a project idea is impossible or would result in a negative outcome. Ideas in this column would also document why and when it was tabled for future context.
Lastly, it’s important that each project idea has a clear path to measure completion, otherwise the idea will be stuck in the “In Progress” column forever. For example, a project idea with the vague title “Learn Illustration” would not be very measurable. Instead, do something like “Complete First Editorial Illustration”, which would have a clear path to completion.
Before implementing the solution, I felt I had to act on every project idea immediately or else they would be lost forever. By using the kanban board my mind was at ease knowing that the idea was well documented and is ready to be picked up when I have the time. This allows me to forget about the idea and focus solely on what is in progress. Additionally, when I have follow-up thoughts regarding an idea in the backlog I can easily add to it and keep doing so until I am ready to move it to “In-Progress”.
There are many options out there to build kanban boards (ie. Notion, Trello, Basecamp, physical sticky notes, etc). I chose Notion because of how intuitive it is, its mobile app, and the overall extensibility. I plan on continuously adapting the templates I use day-to-day to fit my project needs and I encourage you to do the same.
There isn’t anything revolutionary about how I overcame my side project focus hurdles. In fact, the kanban board will look very familiar to engineers in the industry.
I have since started using a similar solution in other areas, outside of professional side-projects, such as home improvement projects.