Getting physical with Productivity

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes ( save for later )
A few weeks ago I created a physical Kanban board for managing my life. It turned out to be pretty awesome so I decided to share my thoughts about its positive impact that make day-to-day task management more engaging.
I was sick of most of the digital self management tools promising to make my life easier — bullshit. It’s always the same: I start using an app, add items to my lists, check things I’ve done until my list is empty. Sooner or later I forget about it or I quit using it because I just don’t like the UX and spending that much time in an unfriendly environment.
There are very few wonderful projects that approach this problem well ( e.g. [1]— they encourage you and provide a very user-friendly experience — a great environment to stay and keep doing), but I wanted to try something completely new. So I went to the next stationary store, bought a big sheet of paper, some markers and a pack of colored sticky notes, and eventually built my own physical Kanban board — here is what it looks like:
Each sticky note represents a task, the colors are for task categorization (e.g. I chose pink for tasks I want to make daily habits of hence they are more abstract, yellow is mostly professional life related stuff), the columns represent the current status.
It’s also interesting if you look at it from a data visualization perspective and think of introducing more data dimensions or creative data organization techniques (e.g. stacking/queueing tasks etc…), but this could be a whole blog post on its own (let me know if you want to hear more about it though! ;-) )
So here are some of the effects I’ve observed while working with it for the last few weeks:

Stronger Connection

Creating and updating tasks/the board is physical work. Sticking the notes onto the board and moving them around is certainly a lot more fun than ticking a checkbox or dragging something with your mouse. Physical interaction creates a stronger connection to your tasks. Also, research has shown physical notes (e.g. writing) result in more brain activity than typing. [2]


This was a serious problem I had with task management software. It all required to either open a website or a software to see your tasks, which is a barrier and as a result I more often forgot to update task status digitally.
kanban board omnipresence

– my view from my standing table.

With the physical Kanban board in your work environment there is simply no barrier, it’s always there.

You can see current task states and manipulate them instantly. It also helps you to fully embrace your tasks internally and enables you to keep track of the big picture.

More Rewarding

Moving a task to the last column (done) feels great! And due to your board’s omnipresence seeing what you’ve already done motivates you to get even more tasks done.


When you build your own Kanban board you have full control about how it should look like – that’s a point I really like. Make it awesome, put stickers on it, color it blue, draw a picture around it, whatever you like. As long as it’s something you can be proud of, something that just makes you feel good when you look at it.

marlene kanban boardA personalized board a friend of mine made. Guess what, she’s into music ;-)

I observed that the physical effort I put in building it has also motivated me to use it regularly and that was exactly the effect I wanted to achieve :-)


The physical Kanban board works great for me, I’ve reduced wasted time, and I’m more motivated to finish tasks. I observed those effects for myself but I’m in no way a scientist (at least in the field of psychology) so the effects probably were just subjective.

In the end we all have to find things that work for ourselves. If typical digital task management works for you nicely: great, continue! But if you’re in the same position as I was, I recommend giving alternative organization techniques a try. Even if it’s not the right thing for you, it certainly is a lot of fun. So if you decide to build a personalized physical board yourself, let me know I’d love to see it! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.


[1] Waterglass -the productivity app for business owners and founders

[2] The University of Stavanger. “Better learning through handwriting.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 January 2011.