Report Back: Personal Kanban for Exercise

Apart from mapping general family activities, chores and tasks in a linear value stream, our family also uses Personal Kanban to address specific challenges in our lives. These contextual kanbans are typically not linear and tend to be more creative and innovative.

This is the second post in the Scrumfamily Report Back Series on how some of these contextual kanbans have worked out for us. In each post, I look at the specific challenge we are trying to address, the original experiment, how it has evolved and what we have gained as a family along the way.

The Challenge – Sticking to an Exercise Program

Ever since leaving university, I have struggled to establish and maintain a regular and sustained exercise routine.  Although I’m not a top sportswoman by any stretch of the imagination, I do enjoy being active.  In my school and university years it was easy to get enough exercise what with organized team sports and plenty of people around for regular games of tennis and badminton. At university, I also spent many an hour in the swimming pool improving my self-taught strokes.

But when you’re a working mom with two boys and a household to run, finding time for yourself is already difficult. Keeping to a regular exercise routine then becomes a special challenge all of its own.  After seeing how well Personal Kanban has helped us in other areas of our lives, I sincerely thought that visualizing my Exercise-In-Progress would help me to do that.  And it has – but not in the way you might expect. And certainly not in the way I expected it to.

The Experiments – Checklist and Small-scale Kanban

The first exercise kanban I tried in 2010 didn’t work well for me at all as a visual tracker of exercise. In hindsight, I had been too ambitious and set myself up for failure by creating a checklist kanban for a whole 12-week exercise program. Although there were extenuating circumstances, I only got as far as Week 6 before the wheels came off.

Checklist turned into Kanban Board for Exercise Routine

Exercise Kanban

This “failed” experiment did, however, suggest to me that I needed a more structured form of exercise and I took up Shotokan karate in January 2011 as a way to provide that. But by June, I had come to the conclusion that I needed to do more to improve my general fitness levels if I was serious about karate.

In a moment of inspiration one morning, I came up with my second Personal Kanban exercise experiment. This time, I was convinced it would work since the new visual focused on the results of only two workout sessions – a much smaller scale than I had used before. The anticipated gradual increase in repetitions over time would be a measurable way to monitor incremental improvement.

New simplified exercise Kanban

Scale-adjusted Personal Kanban for exercise

I give you one guess what happened. Indeed. Like before, I started enthusiastically and managed to keep with it until the middle of July. But this time, instead of trying yet another visual indicator, I realized that the issue was more fundamental than that, and that no matter what scale or visual mechanism I used, I was likely to have the same result.

A contextual personal kanban just didn’t appear to be the solution to this particular challenge. At least, not if used on its own.

The Learning – Community and Cadence are Key

Although it communicates information, a kanban itself does not force you to take action on what you see. That requires a response to the information. In a team (or family) context, the trigger for response  is usually a regular conversation about the visible information. Because everybody is affected by the progress (or lack thereof) action is more likely to follow.

But when you’re going it alone with kanban, you need to add external triggers for action.  These triggers should provide a regular cadence (like the Pomodoro technique provides for desk-bound activities) or involve other people (keeping your personal kanban where others can see it and ask questions). Better yet, incorporate both!

And it dawned on me, that I already had both in my karate classes. Following a set schedule of classes twice a week, with my family and fellow karateka providing community support, I had already managed to grade to my green belt in one year. And on the advice of our sensei, I had also started doing push ups every time before I shower. Following this advice, I had already been able to switch from lady push ups to being able to manage about 20 proper push ups without really thinking about it or adding a lot of gym time to my life.

At last, the penny had dropped!

I have now added two other cadence-based activities to my exercise to add variety and address different training needs. I have found a great body conditioning class at my local gym that I can go to every Sunday morning to further improve my muscle tone. And to lose weight and increase stamina, I’ve started running as well. But instead of relying solely on my own self-discipline, I’m tying my runs to specific race events on the annual calendar and finding running friends to help keep me motivated. Recently, I did my first 10 km race event where I ran more than walked.  I’m pretty happy with that! And tomorrow morning, my son and I are doing a 5 km fun run together.

I no longer use a visual kanban to track my exercise. The continuous feedback I’m getting from my body through the various activities I do is giving me enough information.  But thanks to my experiments, and the principles of cadence and community, I am now well on my way to making a long-term lifestyle change.

Other Posts in the Report Back Series

Teaching Kids Timekeeping with Kanban

Other Series on the Scrumfamily Blog

A series on knowing when to pull the line in your personal kanban, and dealing with the subsequent line stop.

Care to Share?

Using Personal Kanban? Finding it a challenge to stay on top of your life? Or just want to share your thoughts about the way I’m using agile and lean thinking? Leave a comment below, or find me on Twitter to connect.

If you’re new to the concept of Personal Kanban and my blog, use the Getting Started page to find your way around the site. It also has links to other excellent Personal Kanban material to help you on your way.

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One Response to Report Back: Personal Kanban for Exercise

  1. Pingback: Personal Agility « Inevitably Agile

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