Action Table: A Board for Getting Shit Done (experiment)

My system for getting things off the ramp is something I care deeply about. Over time, it has evolved into a mashup of GTD®, Personal Kanban and Whiteboard Accounting. These days, I’m prototyping an actual, physical, board, as an experiment for Wallo. Thought it’d be fun to share.

The “board” itself is a 100x70cm frame, from my postershop at Wallo.  I used tape for the seven columns, representing a week (mon–sun). A column = a days work, 6-9 hours. And yes, that means some postits are evenings, though exact clock time isn’t focal here.

Post-its are the work/tasks I have to do, to make certain things happen. Those things are marked in green, and they cannot move, they are commitments and/or goals for the week.

📙= $$ (work in the biz)
📘= ++ (work on the biz)

The glass on the frame works very well with dry-erase markers, the little insight that sparked my idea of making Boards for Wallo, and thus this prototype. Imagine printing journey map templates, biz model canvas, etc. and use them like this!!

But I digress.

From experience, a week is something I can plan reliably, and I break individual estimates of work down to increments of three hours. I find my accuracy to be near 100% when I stay below that. And it’s for all work, on any project, not just with clients.

Weekly Budget

I budget a regular workday (8 hours) as roughly 2 units; ie. six hours, allowing a 2 hour daily buffer for breaks, lunch, mails and ‘busywork’. My weekly budget are then 10 units = 40 hours, which becomes my limit on work-in-progress, in Kanban terms.

I use the weekly review (a GTD ritual) to assess the priorities for the coming week, using my quarterly roadmap; a simple list of things I want to see happen over a 3-month period. Most importantly, though, this weekly review helps me preempt bottlenecks on a micro-level.

I can safely say this part of my approach has helped me identify many problems early on, in all kinds of projects and teams, that could’ve become bigger problems down the line. Further, it also helps me optimize for flow:

When I see highly related work, I’ll try to chunk as much as possible. As is the case in this very snapshot, this sometimes mean I’ll do a 12-hour workday, if I know I can uninterruptedly pound on a problem for prolonged periods (sry, had to).

Visualize!

When I’ve done this budgeting (cf Whiteboard Accounting), I know my schedule for the week, I can *see* my workload, and I have a visual pulse of cashflow and goals. But, more important than anything, and, to a great extent, the reason for doing this:

This weekly overview helps me balance work and life, *the* hardest challenge for anyone running their own biz.

For instance, this week I’ll be a bit busy mon–wed, but then thu–sun are super flexible. I’m picking up the kids early and couching with my wife in the evening!

So yea, others would prefer the stability of a regular nine to five schedule, type of employment notwithstanding, but I like this a lot. I’ve tried, but I am unable to spark creativity on a fixed schedule, and I need to optimize for energy, not time.

Trust the system.

I’ve evolved this system over a five year span, to a point where it helps me be incredibly efficient, utilizing flow for a consistently high throughput. Of course I get thrown off the tracks sometimes, but the system always picks me up.

As the owner of a very tiny agency, I simply cannot afford to let bottlenecks snowball, so it is imperative that I manage risk like this; nipping it in the bud and maintaining a high buffer for black swans.

My boss is a goddamn micro-manager.

Local vs. Global

You might wonder if this atomic view prevents me from seeing the bigger picture, but that’s where my system of quarterly roadmaps comes into play. It’s perhaps for another thread, but part of this exercise is that I want to slim down the system, all-digital until now.

Curious to see if a physical board will help me do that, though I’m a bit anxious about not having The Week available on my devices.

(This post was birthed as a thread on Twitter:)

Would you want to use a board like this? Perhaps with a different template, like a To-do > Doing > Done Kanban layout, or something else?