An Exercise in Kanban

After successfully turning the kids’ morning and evening checklists into kanban boards, I wondered if this approach could be applied to something in my own life that I had been struggling with. Like so many out there, I find it challenging to establish and maintain a regular exercise routine.

So sometime in September, I decided to reboot my exercise regime based on the Body for Life program. Now I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do the full prescribed six training sessions a week, so I set a single policy for my board:

As long as I do 3 sessions per week, every week, for twelve weeks that would be acceptable.

A Life Exposed

We say that Kanban is all about seeing patterns, finding your natural cadence and seeking continuous improvement. Well I certainly learnt some things. The biggest, and most obvious, lesson?

My problem with setting an exercise routine has very little to do with the system I’m using, and a lot to do with an innate inability on my part to maintain personal routines, especially where a certain level of predictability is inherent.

The Data

Let me drill down into some tangible patterns from the board below. The picture was taken at the end of Week 5, just before a work trip took me out of the country during Weeks 6 and 7.

  • Weeks 1 and 2 show an attempt to stick to the policy and a regular pattern of training.
  • Weeks 3 and 4 show a drop to two sessions per week, with some regularity, but consistently petering out towards the end of the week.
  • Week 5 shows a committed attempt to get back to 3 sessions. Even if I have to do it on a Sunday, darn it!
  • The first half of the week seems to be better, with Monday coming out with the most sessions, and Tuesday and Wednesday second with equal sessions.
  • I don’t exercise on Thursdays. Although that’s the official Mom’s Night Off
  • I don’t exercise over weekends. I may take the kids to the gym pool on the odd occasion (not reflected here), but that’s it. The one Sunday weight training session is a clear outlier here.

Note: The board flat-lined in Week 6 and 7 while I was away. I shall not discuss the one measly training session the week after I got back.

Checklist turned into Kanban Board for Exercise Routine

Exercise Kanban

The Pattern

Although this is only a small data set, it echoes many other similar data sets I have gathered over the course of my life. I therefore feel quite safe in interpreting the pattern that this experiment suggests:

  • I tend to be a starter of things, not a finisher.
  • After a good start, I usually dip and then claw my way back.
  • I use time set aside for exercise for other things.

The Surprise

The one really surprising discovery from this exercise was that I don’t exercise over weekends. You’d think that’s the one time in the week that lends itself most to working out. Apparently that’s not the case in my life. I can think of some reasons – like playtime with kids and chores  – but that still doesn’t explain it completely. Reflection on this aspect continues.

Failing my way to Success

At first I was rather despondent at yet another failed attempt to establish a regular exercise routine. But that’s not what kaizen is about.  Kaizen is about continuing along a path of improvement, even if the improvements are small. I have learnt at least one new thing about myself, and identified at least three tangible, measurable patterns of behaviour. That gives me something to build on.

The next experiment is already on the horizon!

I started out well, with Weeks 1 and 2 showing an attempt to stick to the policy.
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