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How to Use Colour Coded Kanban Boards to Bring Laser Focus to Your Productivity

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Introduction

If you’ve been struggling to manage the various facets of your life using a single to-do list or Kanban board, you’re not alone. As we discussed previously in two separate articles and video on Kanbans, attempting to cram everything into one board can quickly become overwhelming and counterproductive. The first article addressed using Kanban boards as a easy visual solution to task management. The second took that concept further and discussed using multiple Kanban boards to break things down even further. It could be overwhelming though. So, the solution? Divide and conquer with multiple, colour coded Kanban boards tailored to different areas of your life.

The Core Kanban System

At the heart of this productivity system lies two essential Kanban boards:

  1. The Daily Kanban
  2. The Main Board (complete with appropriately tailored name to reflect your individuality)

The daily Kanban serves as your command center for the tasks you need to accomplish each day. Start with a blank slate every morning, then populate it by dragging over cards from your other boards into the “To Do” column. As you work through tasks, move them into “In Progress” and ultimately “Done” when complete.

Figure 1: Daily Kanban Board

Figure 1: Daily Kanban Board
Source: Screenshot by author

But what if you hit a roadblock or don’t finish a task that day? This system has you covered with an “Alternative” column. Move any unfinished tasks here as a visual cue to return them to their original board at the end of the day. This would also apply to anything in the “In Progress” list that hasn’t been completed. You would also move that back to its home list and place it in the “In Progress” list. If it needs to be followed up the next day, perhaps you could short circuit the process and move it into the Daily “To Do” list for the next day.

The Main board provides a high-level view of all your tasks and responsibilities across every area of your life. Imagine if this was just one monolithic board – it would be chaotic and difficult to parse visually. Just imagine trying to maintain sanity with a board like the one below!

Figure 2: Unmanageable Kanban Board

Figure 2: Unmanageable Kanban Board
Source: Generated by AI

By breaking it down into dedicated boards for areas like work projects, home maintenance, reading lists etc., you can maintain a clear perspective.

The Power of Colour

As we discussed, one pitfall of having multiple boards open in Obsidian is the cognitive overload of trying to visually parse them all at once.

Figure 3: Kanbans all with same background – no distinction between each one

Figure 3: Kanbans all with same background - no distinction between each one.
Source: Screenshot by author

The solution? Leverage the psychological power of colour by giving each board a distinct coloured background. With differently coloured backgrounds, your eye can effortlessly focus on just the board you’re working on in that moment without the others clamoring for attention.

Figure 4: Colour coded Kanban boards to ease overwhelm

Figure 4: Multi coloured Kanban boards to ease overwhelm. These are all colour coded kanban boards.
Source: Screenshot by author

Implementing this in Obsidian is straightforward using a custom CSS snippet. Simply designate a hex colour code for each board, tweaking the opacity to around 60% to avoid overly vivid colours. The snippet links each colour to the specified board name, so you just need to input your board names.

Figure 5: CSS snippet to colour backgrounds

Figure 5: CSS snippet to colour backgrounds
Source: Screenshot of source code by author

Working With Workspaces

Having more than four Kanban boards open at once can still lead to some screen clutter and overwhelm. The optimal number for most setups is 2-4 boards visible, keeping your core daily and overview boards present with 1-2 others you’re actively working on.

To streamline juggling multiple workspaces, the Obsidian Workspace Plus plugin is invaluable. Set up workspaces tailored to what you’re doing – one with your daily/overview plus home maintenance boards, another with academic boards, and so on. Then it’s just a quick keyboard shortcut to switch between these predefined workspaces as needed. Setting up workspaces has been covered in a previous article and video so this will not be duplicated here. If you are not familiar with workspaces, go and have a look at the previous article.

Figure 6: Switching workspaces in the Command Palette

Figure 6: Switching workspaces in the Command Palette
Source: Screenshot by author

The Flexibility of Kanbans

The beauty of this system is its flexibility to accommodate any aspect of your life using Kanban boards. A student could have boards for academic courses with columns for modules. A hobbyist could track gardening or DIY project progress. The applications are endless.

Conclusion

No matter how you divide up your responsibilities, having a visually distinct, colour-coded Kanban system promotes focus and clarity. By separating areas of life into dedicated boards while keeping a core daily perspective, you’ll be amazed at how much more organized and productive you can become. So bid farewell to monolithic to-do lists and embrace the power of Kanbans!

Links

Obviously, many people can set this up by following the instructions. But if you prefer a “done for you” package, you can obtain a Readme file, four Kanbans and the CSS file already done for you.

Video

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