HKanban - A Holistic Approach to Getting Things Done

Standing on the shoulders of great men.

Like so many Project Managers and busy professionals I too have discovered that is not just enough to manage other people, or the work at hand, we have to manage our efforts in and out of the office, and daily life can be the biggest challenge of all.

The first author to show us ways to improve our productivity was David Allen, his Getting Things Done book was a landmark that I continue to browse occasionally. However I could not get the system to work for me. I wanted something simpler, but still effective.

Upon discovering the Kanban Method, and especially David J. Anderson’s book on the subject it became clear to me that the principles behind Kanban could be taken beyond software development, or manufacturing into our daily personal life.

Kanban is an Agile Software technique and set of tools that makes work visible by dividing it into individual tasks, and then those tasks are grouped into different stages in time. We have a backlog where all the inventory of stuff to be done is located. A Ready stage where we place the relevant tasks from the backlog, think of it as the list of tasks or projects we believe we can handle in a period of time, usually a week or a month. Secondly we have the Working area where we track the efforts we are doing now, and finally a Done area to archive our success.

Jim Benson, also noticed that Kanban’s division of effort into a logical work flow, from backlog to done, not only helps in software projects, it also helps regular people. It achieves this by reducing complexity, and making work visible. Our brains can not handle unlimited efforts; we have to limit those efforts in time, and in quantity. Kanban calls this Limiting Work in Progress (WIP.) When we limit WIP we suddenly see our work actually move from Ready, to Working to Done fast! We reduce complexity, and life starts to make more sense, we have this wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Jim has written extensively about this, so I won’t go into all the details, but I recommend you check his site:, and yes he will have a book quite soon. By the way Jim, thanks so much for your comments on the first draft of this article.

The H in Kanban

As you have probably guessed it, the H in HKanban stands for Holistic. I would also call it humane, and human friendly.

HKanban goes beyond simply achieving goals, its main objective is to achieve goals but to do it while keeping your health and well being intact. What’s the point of achieving goals and dreams or being super effective, if we get a heart attack, lose our family or stop enjoying life?

A quick introduction to hkanban & the hkanban equations

After some reflection, I realized that our capacity to achieve meaningful work is limited by a series of factors. Effort being just one of them.

The Capacity Paradox

Capacity is the availability of time, well-being, strength and resources to make our dreams reality. The cheapest and most valuable resource is time and well-being. Well-being means you have good health, and a positive spirit. 

There are many dreams we have, but only limited capacity. We must deal with capacity to succeed. But without health and well-being (the Holistic factor) our capacity tends to zero, therefore it is critical we achieve our objectives in a wholesome way.

Here are the main equations behind HKanban’s Theory:

HKanban Capacity Equations

PersonalCapacity = [WorkTimeAvailable * FocusedRatio] ^HolisticWellBeing
We can also express the above equation this way:

pCap= [WorkTA * FocusedR] ^H

Oversimplifying, let’s assume pCap refers to a specific dream or goal. We will call it pCap for x, or pCap(x), x being a specific goal or dream.

HKanban Achievement Equation

Given that:
pCap= [WorkTA * FocusedR] ^H

Achievement(x) = pCap(x) - HoursOfEffortRequired(x)
When Personal Capacity pCap(x) exceeds HoursOfEffortRequired(x) you get achievement!

pCap= Personal Capacity                     | WorkTA = WorkTimeAvailable
FocusedR= Focused Effort Ratio %    | H = HolisticWell-being

Interpreting the Equations

A full explanation of the equations is beyond this brief introduction to HKanban, but here I would like to focus on the key factor. Notice that to achieve anything we must maximize our Personal Capacity or pCap.

Personal Kanban, GTD and so many other methods help people improve Personal Capacity, but they focus on the left side of the Personal Capacity equation, meaning the overall focused, effective effort. Even fewer methods go into the Achievement Equation. When you read that one, you realize how important that Holistic Well Being or the power of H is (^H.) Given that:

PersonalCapacity = [WorkTimeAvailable * FocusedRatio] ^HolisticWellBeing

If H is zero you deliver next to nothing and are probably on the quick way to a heart attack, if your H is equal to 1 meaning healthy you do fine, if you are super-healthy and with a good spirit, you can actually make H > 1, you will be incredibly productive. How much more productive? Probably up to twice normal, but the fact remains if you forget your well being everything collapses.

HKanban Wholesome Principles

There is mounting medical evidence that you need to follow these principles to achieve meaningful, sustainable success:

  1. The Rules of 8s. 8 hours of work, and 8 hours of sleep are fundamental for steady, reliable capacity. Study after study confirms the importance of sleep and you’d do well to follow that good advice. And just in case you wonder, those remaining 8 hours are yours! Live life!
  2. Body Equilibrium. Not just eating healthy or doing exercise, but resting are key factors for sustainable effort.  
  3. Spiritual Well-Being. Avoid situations where you feel hopeless, have a positive outlook in life, and have faith. All these hard to quantify elements are fundamental to keep you healthier inside, and maintain good spiritual well-being. Psychology and brain studies do show that it works, and surprisingly it seems that indeed we are wired for faith.
  4. Avoid Loneliness. Friends, the ones that actually talk to you and help you out, are not only worth keeping, they are a key factor in your overall productivity in and out of the office. Cherish them, and treat them with respect. And be even more close, and grateful with your own family. Because after all, who’s got your back?

I hope these principles from HKanban and beyond help you. Reflect on the equations, challenge them if you wish. The more you do, the more you will realize you have the key to productivity staring you in the face. So what are you waiting for? Take the next step, and make it happen.