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Jim Benson


Finding Our Own Value—Growing by Understanding

Tracking learning, creating, and health

Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - 12:03

There are those days where your personal kanban is on fire. You’re in a state of flow and tickets are just moving right along. The days go by and you look at your “done” column… it’s full. Really, really full.

The “done” tickets seem to swim. There are so many of them! You’ve been productive, but what might all that work actually mean?

A few weeks ago, I started a side experiment. By hand, each day, I wanted to see what the actual impact of my work was… on me.

What was I getting from the work I was doing? What was I learning? How was I making sure I was becoming healthier?

Was I stuck in the productivity trap and not growing… not being truly effective?

Image 1: Tracking learning, creating, and health

Each day I gathered my inputs, outputs, and maintenance, which is an overly technical way of saying:
• What did I learn today?
• What did I create today?
• What did I do to make sure I stayed healthy?

In the first four days shown in image 1, we see that talking to clients and reading made up the bulk of inputs. Almost immediately this section paid off. I noticed that I specifically set aside time to start reading Humble Inquiry, by Edgar H. Schein (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013), simply so I’d have something to put in the block. Since starting this, my reading radically shot up, due to this one simple adjustment.

Creation was anything for work or otherwise. So we have writing proposals, recommendation letters, and even sous vide ribs. The question wasn’t necessarily what made me money, but what did I create that kept me… well… creative?

Image 2: Toni’s PK reading list

Since starting this, I was taken down by a nasty little bit of pneumonia, but we can see here that from the outset I started walking (a peak of 13.2k steps and 81 floors that week), that I’m talking to friends, and that I’m scheduling needed doctors visits (hard to get time to do when you travel a lot).

Immediately, visualizing the very loose goals of simply learning, creating, and maintaining created tickets on my personal kanban board, changed the way I organized my day (to allow for frequent short walks), and got me to focus each day on a balance of learning, creating, and being a whole human being. Shortly after putting the books I was reading on our board, Tonianne added the book column, shown in image 2, to our shared board.

Why is that important? Because my starting to do this was due to her putting, out of the blue, reading time into her personal kanban. She had simply written that she was reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) on the board.

That got me to thinking about what I was reading and one thing led to another. She made a little improvement, I ran a little experiment, she made another little improvement.


When we visualize for ourselves or others, new information is created. When we expose ourselves or others to new information, improvement opportunities are exposed.

First published May 12, 2017, on the personalkanban blog.


About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.