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Kanban Time management tool

The agile learning method of self-directed education has really resonated with our family and lifestyle because one of its core beliefs is that learning happens best through cycles of:

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A challenge in the beginning was how to make this process more explicit for children. I wondered, how could children be empowered to set their own intentions, plan their own experiences, and what processes could support their reflection and sharing of those experiences?


When my child attended Philly ALC, I was introduced to the agile tool called Kanban, a simple time management tool that lets people visualize their daily intentions and track their progress. It also serves as a useful reflection tool because it is easy to see what the intentions were along with what was actually accomplished.

Kanban helps me visually organize everything I intend to do through the course of the day. The simplest kanban has three columns -- TO DO-- DOING--and DONE, and it can be created on a small white board, a cork board, or even on a sheet of paper. Tasks are written on individual post-it notes, which makes it easy to prioritize tasks and move them from TO-DO list through completion.

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My Kanban is on a giant corkboard in my office. I’ve used string to compartmentalize my personal to-do list, and each of my lists for my two businesses. Having the tasks in their own “swim lanes” helps me prioritize what is most important and stay organized. When I am most organized, I also use different colored stickies for each of the categories, but often, I just grab whichever stack is closest. I’ve also added a little envelope at the end of my business lanes. I put all the stickies that make it to DONE, so I can look back and see all that I have accomplished.

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Sometimes my 8 year old chooses to use a much simpler Kanban that she created on a small white board. She adds her daily to-do list to her kanban in the morning while setting intentions.

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Part of our daily family rhythm is our morning intention-setting conversation. This informal check-in usually happens over breakfast, where everyone talks about what they want to do and need to do that particular day. This involves reviewing our Set the Week calendar to remind ourselves of what we already have planned, changing those plans if we feel like it, reviewing any to-do lists, and talking through what materials or other supports might be needed.


Sometimes we also talk through personal goals we are working on. For instance, in addition to tackling various work projects, I am often working on a personal goal such as “being more present,” “drinking more water,” or “making time for creative writing.”


Each person adds their intentions to their to-do list, and prioritizes them if it makes sense.

After setting intentions, we get on with our day. As we choose tasks and activities we are working on, we move them from our TO DO column and into our DOING column. We limit the number of things we are actively DOING at any given time, so we can be truly focused and most effective. If the thing I am DOING has multiple steps, I’ll add the steps to the sticky and put a strike through each once completed. I may also add reminders and other notes to the stickies to support my process.

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Having this tool around during the day reminds me of the things I set out to do and helps me honor my intentions. This is especially helpful when I am feeling distracted or conversely, when I’ve become totally immersed in a project and need to remember to make time for other things. I also often find that I get things done a lot faster because it is focused, intentional work, that I end up having extra time to fill as I please.

If I want to take a break from one task and move on to another, I’ll move the sticky aside and add the next task to DOING. While I often try to begin tasks and work on them to completion, I am flexible with myself and realize that some days are for getting more ideas out on the table and exploring options, while other days are about rolling up my sleeves and getting stuff done. As I finish any tasks, I move the sticky note to the DONE column.

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At the end of the day, I can review my kanban to quickly and easily see the progress I made by reviewing everything that it made to the DONE column.

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If I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to, I use it as an opportunity to reflect on my experiences that day.

  • Was I focused and intentional?

  • Was I distracted and battling procrastination?

  • Did I need a break from a project?

  • Was I tired and needing some self care?

  • I can be honest with myself and then make a plan.  What can I do tomorrow to get back on track towards reaching my goals?

This end of the day reflection also provides a sense of accomplishment because I can see all the tasks I completed. I add my DONE stickies to an envelope that allows me to look back and see all of the tasks I complete over time.

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What is kanban?

setting intentions

having experiences + creation


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