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BattleBoard

The one thing that I usually break out when I’m in the final stages of shipping a project/preparing for a trip is

The BattleBoard

The BattleBoard is a Kanban board named Today that has a simple, essential function:

Take the pile of things I need to get done and turn it into an ordered, scored, estimated list of things that I can move to Completed.

It’s a Trello Board set up as a Kanban board. On the right of each card, it looks like there are a bunch of pixelated tomatoes.

I use Trello for my BattleBoard. You could use Notion for it. Or you could use your tool of choice. (You can find a Trello and a Notion template to copy at the end of this article)

How To Play BattleBoards

Here’s how you get started.

Start Your Day

You start your BattleBoard by doing a brain dump and calendar dump of everything that you have to do today. Write it on paper with pen or pencil.

Schedule 30- to 60-minutes to just brain dump every single task, project, action, and item that you need to tackle. Get messy with it.

Alright, you’ve written down everything that you need to get done.

Build Your BattleBoard

Spawn a new Trello/Notion/Whatever board. Create the following columns:

  • Backlog
  • Working On (2)
  • The Pen
  • Completed

That “(2)” is important. We’ll come back to it in a bit.

In Backlog, you want to create a card for each thing on your list.

Boom. You’ve got a messy list.

Now, for each card, ask yourself:

Why should this card stay?

Make the default deleting the card.

If you can’t identify the reason why you need to tackle this today, stop thinking about it.

Get it off your board.

πŸ… Score Your Cards

The Pomodoro Met –

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.

https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique

Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks.

https://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-pomodoro-technique-1598992730

Ahem.

The Pomodoro Technique has you work in a 25-minute working session followed by a 5-minute break.

The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to score your projects. Is it going to take:

  • 25 minutes? One Pomodoro = 25 minutes = πŸ…
  • 50 minutes? πŸ… πŸ…
  • 75 minutes? πŸ… πŸ… πŸ…

That’s a very convenient way to estimate how long something will take.

And, hey, it works well on individual Trello cards.

Go through your board and do a rough time estimate for each card:

  • πŸ… (25 minutes)
  • πŸ… πŸ… (50 minutes)
  • πŸ… πŸ… πŸ… (75 minutes)
  • πŸ… πŸ… πŸ… πŸ… (100 minutes)

“But Kai, what if a task will take less than 25-minutes?”

Score it as one tomato πŸ…. If you finish a card early, take your break early and then get started on the next card.

Prepare for The Game

Alright, now you’ve got:

  • A BattleBoard
  • A bunch of cards in the backlog (your ‘deck’ )
  • Tomatoes all over your cards

Here’s how you prepare for your game.

Stack Your Deck

You want to sort your deck of cards (your ‘backlog’) so the most important cards are at the top.

Go through the cards in Backlog (your deck) and stack it.

Put the cards you want to tackle first at the top of the deck. The cards that, when completed, will have the most impact.

Prep Your Notes

The back of every card is a spot you can leave yourself notes: instructions, links, summaries, checklists, or quick notes.

Click on the card. Add to the description and comments.

Hide Your Phone

Store your phone outside of your working space. Put it in your bedroom, your bag, your car, or leave it at home.

Capture Distractions As They Happen

Get a pen and a piece of paper or a legal pad.

During each Pomodoro, write down distractions as they happen.

When you’re distracted, make a hash mark on a piece of paper.

This is what my “Distraction Log” looks like:

Each time I get distracted – tabbing to Slack, grabbing my phone, checking iMessage, whatever – I make a hash mark on the paper.

This technique comes from Scott Hanselman’s talk Scaling Yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FS1mnISoG7U

Get Your Timer

You want to be reminded to take breaks. Remember, you’re following The Pomodoro Technique. That means a 25-minute working session and then a 5-minute break.

I use an app on my Mac to run 25-minute timers (https://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/47506/timebar). A timer on your phone works quite well.

Get Your Time Tracker

“Kai, a time tracker?”

Yup.

I love using a time tracker. (I hate hourly billing.)

Using a time tracker lets you see how accurate your time estimates are.

If you say “This is going to take me 25-minutes,” how do I know if you spent too much time on it? How do you know if it only took you 10-minutes?

A time tracker lets you close that loop and see how long it takes you to finish a card.

I use Noko (https://nokotime.com/) for my time tracking and like it. Any time tracker will work.

When you move a card from “Working On (2)” to “The Pen” or “Completed,” you can log your time as a comment.

Then, when you complete the card, you can compare your estimate (πŸ… πŸ… πŸ…) against the time and see how accurate you were.

This feedback loop lets you adjust your scoring as the day goes on. Find that you’ve under-estimated the time required for a few cards? Review your deck, adjust your estimates as you see fit, and re-stack your deck.

Playing BattleBoards

Your goal is to move cards from the left (your deck) to the right (completed) and through:

  • Working On (2)
  • The Pen

Cards can only move to the right, with one exception explained in “The Pen.”

As you tackle new cards, pull them from your deck and move them to

Working On (2)

You get to work on two cards at a time. Maximum. You can’t be working on more.

When you’re done working on the card, move it forward to “Completed” (if the card is complete) or “The Pen” (if the card isn’t finished)

What if you’re waiting for someone to send you information so you can complete a card? Let me tell you about

The Pen

The Pen is where you put cards that are stuck, stalled, or waiting on other people.

  • Stuck and need to hit pause on a card?
  • Waiting for someone to send you some information?

Put the card in The Pen.

When you’re ready to move a card out of The Pen, move it back to “Working On (2).”

When you’re done working on the card, move it forward to “Completed” (if the card is complete) or “The Pen” (if the card isn’t finished)

Completed

Completed is where you put cards that you’ve completed πŸŽ‰


Start Your BattleBoard Game

You’re ready to get started.

To review, you have:

  • Your BattleBoard
  • Your Cards (a ‘deck’) on your BattleBoard
  • …with a Time Estimate (πŸ…) on each card
  • Notes on the back of the relevant cards
  • Your Timer (to take breaks)
  • Your Time Tracker (to measure the accuracy of your time estimates)
  • Your Paper (to track distractions/interruptions)
  • Your Water Bottle (because it’s cool to stay hydrated 🚰)

You’re ready to play BattleBoards

Start your timer. Start your time tracker.

▢️ Take the top card or two in your backlog and move them to “Working On.”

πŸ“‡ Work on your card. Move it forward to “The Pen” or “Completed,” depending.

⏰ Take breaks when your timer tells you to take a break

⏲️ Track your time in your Time Tracker. Record how much time you’ve spent on a card

πŸ“ Write down distractions as they happen in each Pomodoro.

🚰 Stay Hydrated

2️⃣Two cards maximum in “Working On (2)” at a time

🌟 Your goal is to move as many cards from your deck (“Backlog”) to “Completed” as possible

When you’re done for the day, count up all the cards (and πŸ…) you completed.

Congratulations, friend. That was a great workday.

Here’s the truth: you aren’t going to complete everything you intended to in a day. That’s just how life is.

At The End of The Day

You’ll have cards in:

  • Completed
  • The Pen
  • Working On (2)
  • Backlog

Get rid of all the cards in “Completed.” They’re done. You don’t need to think about them anymore.

You want to prep for tomorrow’s BattleBoard. That means:

  • Create a new column named “Tomorrow”
  • Move all the cards all the board (The Pen, Working On, Backlog) into “Tomorrow”
  • Get out a piece of paper
  • Brain dump anything that comes to mind that you need to take care of tomorrow

Tomorrow, you’ll start with two assets:

Your Brain Dump

Take this as a jumping-off point for your brain dump process. Write down everything that comes to mind.

Your “Tomorrow” Cards

Tomorrow, start by reviewing all the cards in your “Tomorrow” column. These are notes to yourself from Yesterday.

For each card, ask yourself:

Why should this card stay?

Make the default deleting the card.

If you can’t identify the reason why you need to tackle this card today, stop thinking about it. Get it off your board.

Templates for BattleBoards

Trello BattleBoard Template

Open this board in Trello and make a copy of it and you can get started with your BattleBoard: https://kaidavis.com/battleboard/trello

And if you’re new to Trello, you can sign up through my referral link: https://kaidavis.com/loves/trello

Notion BattleBoard Template

Open this board in Notion and duplicate it and you can get started with

your BattleBoard: https://kaidavis.com/battleboard/notion

And if you’re new to Notion, you can sign up through my referral link: https://kaidavis.com/loves/notion

Excelsior!

Kai

  1. 🚨 Very Important Footnote: Stacking the deck doesn’t mean ‘put the easiest cards on top.’ If you do that, when your energy starts to drop, you’ll be looking at a stack of challenging cards, and your enthusiasm will wane.
    Instead, put the most impact generating cards at the top. These might be small (πŸ…) or large (πŸ… πŸ… πŸ… πŸ…), depending.
    There’s always a chance you won’t finish your entire deck before the day ends. If that’s the case, you want to make sure you’re tackling the most important cards at the start of your day. ↩
  2. Hell, if you’re feeling particularly courageous, walk up to the barista at your coffee shop and say, “Hi, I’m working on a project. Can you put my phone in the lost and found with my name on it and I’ll pick it up when I’m done?”
    Then give them a tip. ↩

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