Why you should ‘Kanban’ your development learning

You may be familiar with Kanban as a team tool from your work in development, but have you considered using it as a tool in your ‘personal development’ journey?

Whether you’re a student or an experienced developer (or some combination of the two, because that’s pretty common in our industry) there is always beauty in progress over perfection.

Our current hustle culture constantly eggs us on to be so excited and pumped and ready for everything and anything we’re doing, that it’s often easy to lose sight of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place.

I get it, mad respect, but also, *cough* bullshit *cough*.

Now don’t get me wrong, Confucius was definitely on to something and there are definitely some people out there that live their life with this concept and I celebrate their happiness and devotion.

I am also painfully aware that I’m not one of those people and guess what?
That’s perfectly fine, no problemo. Whatever floats this here boat.

The 2020 curveball has introduced us all to a very different version of ourselves. Mine is a bit stereotypical, but here goes: I put on a good chunk of weight, read a lot of boring books I’ll never remember, played way too many video games on auto pilot mode and basically just basked in existential dread on my pandemic walks with my cats.

I lacked motivation. Everyday. On one such day, I happened to look inward and remember something. Focus and motivation are two very different things.

You can be incredibly overwhelmed and still be able to do one simple little thing.
You can be absolutely demotivated and still find enough focus to complete a single task

My overwhelming task was getting back into development. I never really left it per say, but it was not an active engagement on my part until recently, oof what a long irrelevant story… let’s yeet that outta here and continue shall we?

Kanban’s simplicity works well for small, independent teams. So I thought why not, let’s work it’s magic on me. With Kanban you’re looking at visualizing your work in 3 main categories:

You can go manual, invest some time in a physical board and stock up on some colorful post its or you can go digital and Trello it up with a board like the one I use below:

The todo is lengthy, but I only have to worry about 1 little card at a time

It’s important to personalize it to your needs, which is why I have a fourth column. It’s not particularly important to drag learning items into the CONFIDENT category, it’s a bonus, a ‘yay me’ and sometimes you just need a little pat on your back.

If you would like to add priority labels I suggest keeping it simple and low pressure like:

  • Good to know
  • Optional
  • Improvement needed
  • Master it

Whatever you do, focus on positive actionable items (that includes labels). Like many developers, imposter syndrome is like our shadow, we constantly feel like we should know more and do better. On that note, please give a round of applause to Ethan Urie who wrote a brilliant article on it and says:

Essentially, your feeling of inadequacy is a signal that youโ€™re being challenged. To really become a great developer, you need to embrace that challenge and actually seek it out. View it as an opportunity to learn, to become better, and to grow.

Here’s what kanban-ing has done for me:

  • Given me the flexibility to learn or refamiliarize myself with what I want in a very visual manner. It’s also given me insight into which topics I tend to avoid or spend a lot of time in.
  • Focus ‘continuous delivery‘ rather than overwhelming completion (in this case, learning in small chunks, moving cards in a forward direction).
  • Efficiency in planning a single “card” by focusing on what I need to know about it in a simple checklist format. Added ‘feel good moments’ when I tick off those requirements
  • Increased productivity because rather than scatter brain learning or practicing many different (sometimes unnecessary) concepts at once, I focus on a high priority card, before moving to a new one
  • Demonstrated multiple ways of thinking in terms of project and time management. I am the product owner, scrum master and 1 lady development team in all my independent projects. Putting yourself in those shoes, helps you relate to what a successful project, or a successful YOU needs in order to create progress
  • Allowed me to practice being kind to myself. Often underrated but supremely important. Being able to literally see how far I’ve come is very valuable.

Let me leave you with this:

Success feels good but it’s not always the best teacher. Failure on the other hand is an entirely different ball game. The learning and growth opportunities that arise from failure are honestly, endless.
You can choose how to react to failure and it will then show you that success is simply just a few failures away.

The reward is not in the accomplishment alone.
It is in all the little pebbles that you slipped on getting there and in all the moments you dusted yourself off and kept climbing.


Amina Khalique | Aspiring Developer, Kanban Enthusiast

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