As I prepared my workshop for 2023, I went through the annual ritual of clearing and resetting my kanban board. In doing so, I once again reflected on how helpful and nifty this minimalist tool has proven to be over the ~5 years I’ve been using it.
At its heart, a kanban board is a super simple way of visualizing a workflow or process. That’s it – all the rest, the breathless blog posts and TED talks and online courses on how to maximize your kanban – is probably just ASMR for process geeks. I prefer to embrace the simple, diamond-sharp core of the kanban board: help me see what I’m working on right now, what stage it’s at, and what’s coming up next.
As you can imagine, this approach works perfectly for painting and modeling. It’s already an inherently visual hobby, so a visual planning tool slots right into the mix. Several friends in my local game group are engineers of varying sorts, and they introduced me to the concept of a kanban board a few years ago.
Here’s a look at my current kanban board. Literally it’s a piece of paper with 4 columns, each with a label suggesting successive steps in the miniature painting process.
Each project, large or small, gets a sticky note. If it doesn’t have a sticky note, it’s not on my radar and probably won’t get done. As projects move forward, you simply move the sticky note to the next colum, showing progress toward completion. The columns also suggest the tasks required for that step in the process, which helps me match up my desired hobbying effort from day to day. If I’m in the mood to do some painting, I probably won’t pick up by dwarf ram riders, because as you can see in the photo above, they’re still in the “needs assembly” phase. On the flip side, if I decide I want those ram riders in a game 3 weeks from now, I can see that I’ll need to dedicate some effort to moving them along to completion.
This approach also aligns with my current hobby interests. I’m no longer painting entire armies in a single go – those days are behind me. Nowadays I’m more likely to tackle a small group of models from a Kickstarter, or a batch of long-delayed reinforcements for one of my existing armies. So my kanban board projects are almost always small morsels, relatively easy to pick up and work on, with a clear end point that allows me to finish them up and move on to something else.
Anyway, this approach really oils my gears in a weird, lizard-brain sort of way. I’m really not a terribly organized person – I sort of thrive amidst low-level chaos – but this simple sheet of paper helps a lot. I’ll probably redo the labels one of these days, because I literally came up with them in about 5 minutes when sketching this out in Word.
My favorite part of using my kanban board is the “complete” column. I know you’re probably supposed to remove finished projects shortly after they graduate to the “complete” column, but over the last few years I’ve kept them there for the entire year, slowly accumulating sticky notes like a stack of dried butterflies, giving me a deep sense of satisfaction as my hobby achievements pile up slowly over the year.
I’d like to hear from you, gentle reader. How do you organize your projects? What tools help keep you on task, while also leaving room for the creativity that is so essential to our hobby?