Illustration: Rocco Fazzari.
Having repeatedly established our credentials as an inefficiency expert - our pinnacle non-achievement probably being a 10-year flirtation with implementing the Getting Things Done time-management system, without actually managing ever to quite get it done - we should have been the last to become fascinated with something called personal kanban.
Kanban, a Japanese word that means ''signboard'' or ''billboard'', was developed to manage the logical chain of lean and just-in-time production tools and principles, used in the production of anything from automobiles to software projects.
Personal kanban applies the same approach to the management of one's work, family and private projects and schedules, including things such as study schedules, end-of-year financials, household projects and personal reading lists. People seem constantly to be developing new applications for it.
One of the creators of personal kanban describes it as a dynamic, interactive map of one's personal landscape, which, unlike ''patronising and demoralising'' to-do lists, provides ''information radiators'' that tell people where they are, where they have been and how they got there.
Highly efficient people - those who constantly get things done - seem to be uniquely inspired by personal kanban and its impressive terminology: ''value streams'', ''work in progress limits'', ''narratives'', ''backlogs'' and ''affinity mapping'', for instance. The truly expert ones have even succeeded in producing hybrids of kanban and Getting Things Done.
What we found irresistible, however, was personal kanban's basic simplicity. Some highly sophisticated psychological concepts come into play - such as the Zeigarnik effect, which essentially is that once people start a task, they feel compelled to complete it to end mental uncertainty - but you don't have to engage with them.
Disregarding all theory, you can get a surprising level of comprehension and control of your routine simply by placing post-it notes on a wall - in our case, the back of a door - and moving them between three columns: to-do, doing and done.
The personal database program Evernote has recently worked with the 3M Post-it note people to computerise that system, essentially allowing users to take and arrange photos of the individual notes, which are sold in a ''quad pack'' of four colours.
They are not available in Australia, however, and we couldn't confirm 3M's plans. Three members of the local 3M operation failed to respond to several phone calls over two days, which suggests that they might benefit from a personal kanban system.
However, there is an extraordinary range of digital alternatives, many of them free, which would allow anyone to learn and use the system without ever touching a Post-it.
As with any of these systems, it pays to do some research. One might start with a Kindle version of a book called Personal Kanban: Mapping Work, Navigating Life for $US9.99 ($11). The authors, Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, provide a substantial amount of free information at personalkanban.com.
Daniel Gold, a lawyer turned productivity manager at degconsulting.net, also offers a blog and ebooks on a range of efficiency resources, including several articles on personal kanban. They include a series by Paul Eastabrook at bit.ly/1n9y7hE.
There are personal kanban board tools that can be used for individuals or teams. They offer a range of plans, the most basic of which are generally free. Two of the best known are Rally Software's AgileZen (agilezen.com) and LeanKit (leankit.com). There is a comparison of the two board tools at bit.ly/1eoRXGv.
Another free resource is Kanban Jovi (bit.ly/1gLxpd3). You can create a free account and set up a board. Kanban Jovi's developers, TLCLabs, is a Lean Design consultancy that uses distributed teams, so the aim is to provide a tool integrated with Google Hangout for voice and video calls and Google Apps. Once you create an account and set up a board, it will give you the option of creating a Hangout for sharing.
We'd be interested in hearing about local implementations of personal kanban: email@example.com