November 28, 2011

Are we overloading our kids with tasks? And if so, what can we do about it?

The answer is simple. Focus!

If you want to get your kids to perform their chores, one of the most important factors is focus. This is one of the keys to your success. The task board is an excellent solution for scope and focus our attention over the most important tasks and getting them done.

Sometimes we get to the point where our kids feel like they have too much to do. This might even be because of us, the parents. Not because we give them a lot to do, but because sometimes even a few simple (to us) tasks seem huge to our kids. Sometimes we forget that they aren’t really small adults at all, but children. Children who aren’t very experienced at setting goals or priorities.

I find that parents come home and immediately start with a list - “take out the garbage, pick your coat up from the floor, why is your plate here, and why is your room in such a mess?”...

Even I can get stressed out from a list like that, and kids take it even worse.

Homework is also a task that can cause stress - what seems simple to us, like four pages in English and two in Maths can create a feeling of pressure to get the tasks done. Ask him to empty the dishwasher as well, and you’ll find that it’s too much for them to handle.

If we succeed in changing the way they perceive their tasks, then we will be able to change the feelings that follow hearing about these tasks as well. So for example, there are tasks that we can head off the pressure before they start - for example, what do I do when I come back from school? Put the coat and bag in the room, eat lunch, clear the table and tidy up the big stuff in my room. Other tasks we will split up into smaller tasks - for example “Maths” would be the header, with “Page 1”, “Page 2”, etc. will be the tasks.

So how does the task board help us here? It’s simple!

One of the Agile principles of managing the work flow is first to be able to visualize it.

So our first step will be to do exactly that.
Draw three columns ( to being with) on a white board. Our flow will be to have tasks that we need to do, those in progress, and those we have done.

Put the tasks on the board, and you can visualize where you are today.

See? Simple!

In the following example. Adam has tons of tasks to complete, AND he’s expected to do his homework. No wonder he is stressed. This stress will probably cause him to drop everything, and try to avoid doing any of his tasks at all.

One of the main advantages of the task board is, that it makes our chore bottlenecks visible.

Now we can place the tasks in the right order, and we can see if we are overwhelming anybody with their task load.

The second, and not less important principle is to limit our Work In Progress, or WIP.

This means that you can only have so many tasks that are in the ‘Doing /In-progress’ column at the same time.

Sometimes limiting the tasks that are overloading our WIPs is the best way to get things done. Starting from doing one thing at a time (Yes, we can set more sophisticated WIP flows, but you are dealing with kids and basic principles, so keep it as simple as possible).

Limiting our WIP load doesn’t mean you should stop doing things. It just means that you need to control what you are doing at the same time, in parallel, and limit it to what we are really able to handle. As all tasks are now visible on the board, we will make sure to do one thing at a time. Adding more and more chores to the ‘Doing’ column won’t help if you child is already bogged down with tasks, and starting more and more new tasks without finishing old ones only leads to delays and frustrations.

Keep in mind that we are at home with our kids - not at work with our team or employees. This means that our ability to control the load is much more simple:

1.    Decide what important.
2.    Decide what comes first (priority).
3.    Divide tasks up into small chunks if possible.
4.    How long will it take?
5.    Work on one task at a time.
6.    Pull tasks from the “To-Do“ column only when your completed the previous one.

So if you told your child to do lots of things at once, now you have a different method. Visualize everything you want them to do, give each task the right importance and priority, pull tasks only when you are done doing the last task, and you’ll feel how the sense of being under pressure is lifted.

Take the first example we gave, what the kid needs to do when he comes home from school. There are a few solutions for the problem, such as:
1.    Planning in advance the ongoing and repeating tasks, and placing them on the board.
2.    Limiting, prioritizing and timing those tasks to the right time and place.

This way, instead of dropping all the tasks on the kids at the same time, when the kids get home they can see the task board and know what they need to get done. The child then selects one task after another, moving them into the ‘Done’ column when they are complete.

Let’s take the example of homework:
Let's teach the child to divide into smaller tasks. Then visualize those tasks on the board, and decide together on right time to perform those tasks.

So, to focus means:
1.    Visualize your flow
     Identify our list of tasks /chores.
     Identify the crowded areas or bottlenecks.
2.    Limit our load, or actions to reduce the load:
     Plan tasks and chores that we know need to be done at a specific time in advance.
     Decide priority, timing and importance...
     Divide to small chunks.
     Stop working on other tasks, and focus on moving bottleneck tasks forward.
     Do one thing at a time at our own pace.
     Pull  - Only start a new task when we complete the previous one

Sometimes we can put a WIP limit over our 'In Progress/ tasks, but this is something for another blog :)

Want to learn more about Kanban?

November 22, 2011

The best way to deal with kids and their chores

Chapter 14 in the Agile Kids book shows how to use the task board in real, every day, situations. Here's a short video showing the highlights.

November 14, 2011

Using the task board to initiate the family dialog.

Agile Kids: 

The Agile task board at home is not only about managing our daily tasks and chores as a family. It is also a good incentive for a family to start discussing those annoying tasks you never get around to doing, and more. The task board is just a tool, a tool that sets the discussion context.

After all, when we place our daily tasks on the board, we create visibility, when enables us to relate to each and every task. This creates balance. We don’t just relate to the problematic tasks that are stressing us out at that very instant, we relate to all of them. Before the task board, we only talked about tasks when we need to do them. For example, we need to brush our teeth NOW!, so that’s the only task we’ll talk and think about.

The task board also enables us to see the tasks in general, not just those that aren’t good, not that aren’t being carried out, which tend to get more attention than other tasks. Our attention to those tasks that aren't carried out can also single out a single member of the family as the trouble maker, as the noise and attention to his tasks are greater than any others. You know what it’s like when one parent comes home after a long day, and immediately loses his or her temper over tasks that weren’t completed that day, making a whole scene that overshadow any discussion and don’t improve the general family mood at all. The task board enables you to set aside a specific time to talk about the tasks, and helps put in proportion those tasks that weren’t completed, and what impact the results really have on the family.

The task board, as you know from work, enables us to see the successes, and give feedback where necessary.

As the family starts getting used to the idea to talking about the daily tasks at a specific time during the day, and dealing with them one by one, you’ll find you have time. Time to talk to your children about things you REALLY want to talk to them about, like values, social matters, and so on, and all this without singling these discussions out as problematic even before we started talking to them. They just become part of the natural flow, and we treat them like any other task. After all, as time goes by, and we talk about tasks, they resolve themselves, and stop being so urgent, which leaves us room to talk about other things.

Talking about the tasks has a magical effect on the kids, sometimes just due to the fact that we dedicated time to talk about what’s going on with them at home, listened and acted, especially when it comes in the shape of a large colourful board and a game, but most importantly, because we, the parents, set aside time just to talk to them. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, they are very efficient 15 minutes.
After working for a few weeks, task boards start to take on different shapes and sizes. Sometimes you can even tell the family’s unique mood and dialog presentation by looking at them.

They might vary from one family to another with the columns, number of tickets and issues detailed in them, but the important stuff stays the same. The communication over the daily tasks which facilitate a family dialog.

See for example, a family that really enjoy having a task board -
  • Note the "issues for discussion" notes, which is the first sign of a family managing to elevate the use of a simple task board into a real dialog between parents and kids.
  • As the task board is actually a wall, the kids use notes to indicate column titles.
  • Kids make the board more elaborate
  • They add new sticky notes in different shapes, with colorful Smilies showing who’s the task owner.
  • Some tasks you can really see that the child has dedicated effort to writing down its content, which shows his understanding of the task, and has a good learning value.

Personal agile board:
Although it singles out a specific family member and their needs, a child initiating his own task board is actually inviting us into a dialog.

Want to learn more? The Agile Kids book

November 06, 2011

Why can’t my kids be ready on time in the morning, and can a simple task board really help out?

Mornings were just a mess’, Rita, a neighbourhood friend, told me over coffee. She had recently started working with a task board at home. ‘Well, what can you do. My daughter is going to day-care, but this year she has to do everything by herself. Get dressed, brush her teeth, eat - everything by herself. And it takes so LONG. Once, we used to dress her ourselves, give her a bottle on the way to day care, and if you get there a bit late, who cares?”

Suddenly, we need to be on time,’ Rita continued, taking another sip, ‘and keep to a schedule. We have to be at the day care centre by eight o’clock. Everything just takes longer, and every day there’s something new. Today it’s pigtails, tomorrow it’s a pony tail. Maybe a dress. No, a t-shirt. And a bag. Every morning we delay far too long. Sometimes I even get the feeling it’s done on purpose, and of course when I do get mad at her, afterwards I feel bad with myself. Sometimes she doesn’t brush her teeth, or she forgets her library book.’

‘And Michelle isn’t a morning person at the best of times.’ said Rita, taking the biscuit I offered. ‘So most mornings we try to hurry her up and she gets annoyed  and starts crying. The thing is, that I’m to blame as well. Stuff that should be second nature to me by now, like making a sandwich for her in the morning, I forget. The pressure gets to me as well, and we don’t always notice what needs to be fixed in the evening, because we’ve forgotten already, or we’re busy getting her ready for bed. Don’t forget, we’ve also got the younger one to look after. And having a baby means that you don’t always sleep at night.. In short, it’s a mess.’

‘It was hard for all of us to understand how the morning should be organised, and how to teach Michelle how to follow the rules, and we always arrive late at the day care centre. It’s just not fun. I don’t want to give up on a hug and a kiss before she goes off, but it’s just not fun when you are rushing all the time. We tried getting her clothes ready the night before, but then she’d change her mind each morning and want something else.’

‘So?’, I asked, offering her another biscuit, ‘How did you work this one out?’

‘Well’, said Rita, ‘At one of our daily meetings, now that we’ve gotten used to the task board, I raised the issue. We all understood that it wasn’t fun. I sat down with Michelle, and together we wrote down all the tasks we have every morning, so that we don’t forget anything, and so we would be able to organise them better. Michelle drew these:

  • A girl getting up at 7 am
  • A girl getting dressed
  • Toothbrush
  • A girl taking a bag
  • Hat and scarf
  • Mother making a sandwich
And that was it.’

‘From there it was easy’, said Rita, brushing the last of crumbs from the table. ‘We put the tasks up on the board, and simply followed them through one by one. It was more fun than efficient the first time around, but we were all pulling together for a common goal. Of course we completely forgot about taking the library book, but we immediately added that to the board the next day.’

‘And did you get to the day care on time?’ I asked.

‘No, we were late again.’, smiled Rita, ‘but we promised to try again the next day. That evening we talked about how much fun Michelle had doing the tasks in the morning, with me accompanying her, and I realised how much I enjoyed cooperating with her. In fact, the best thing that came out of the challenging morning that we had, was the time we spent together.’

‘Michelle suggested we try again, and we moved the notes to the fridge in the kitchen, so they would be in front of us all the time as we get ready in the morning. This time, everything went great, and we arrived on time! Just before I kissed Michelle goodbye, I asked her to think of a fun task to add to the board. That afternoon she drew a book, and added it as a task - she wanted me, not her father, to read her a book every night.’

‘So why do you think this way worked?’, I asked Rita.

‘Well’, she said, ‘it’s not that mornings are impossible, or that we have lots of kids. It’s just that we had tasks that we didn’t pay them much attention. The task board isn’t magic - it just helps you focus and share with Michelle, understand that the morning tasks belong to all of us. As soon as we were each responsible for our own tasks and we put them on the board. we saw things differently, who does what and when. In the end, I did move some of the tasks to the evening, like getting the bag ready, and we saw that her father can make sandwiches earlier in the morning. In short, everyone contributed a bit, we saved time, and felt better.’

So here are a few tips that you can learn from Rita’s story:

  1. It’s better not to be under pressure.
  2. When things are clear, it’s easier to improve. When we and our child know what’s expected from us, we will be able to complete the tasks and track our results. In this case, Rita defining the tasks with Michelle and placing them on the task board in plain sight did the trick.
  3. Prepare in advance. Understand the main tasks that you need to complete, maybe move some of them to an earlier time. Being prepared could also mean preparing in advance a list of tasks that need to be done the next day.
  4. Work with your children. When the children aren’t just following instructions, but they are also active participants in making the tasks lists, it’s much easier to improve things. Making the lists together with the children, and having them place their tasks on the board makes them feel the tasks are theirs as well.
  5. Help the children get ready. Accompany them with their tasks, so they understand what’s expected from them.
  6. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Learn what did and didn’t work. The fact that it didn’t work the first time isn’t a reason not to try again.
  7. Don’t forget to have fun along the way! Hugging and kissing ARE important. Without that, any improvement that you achieve will be temporary.
Agile Kids - The book

November 01, 2011

Want your kids to manage their own tasks? Get AgileBoard

My friend’s kids recently discovered this really neat app called AgileBoard, and really took to it. Other than grading it ‘ultra-cool’ which is apparently a seal of approval for them, it’s exactly what they were looking for.
Kids (and parents of course) can create their own columns very easily, adding and assigning tasks, and managing chores or tasks - even their private ones.
You can customize your own board with the ‘Add column’ button to add more columns as you see fit. In our case we had a four column board for Gill (you can only see three :))

  • Backlog: Where he placed all his tasks
  • Selected: Where he put this week’s tasks, in order of priority
  • In progress: What he’s doing at the moment
  • Done: completed tasks.

I found this application extremely easy and very user friendly. Setting up the board and moving the tasks between the different columns is intuitive and simple, and it really has the coolest visualization.
The down side is, of course, that the application is for iOS only - iPhones and iPads, so when Dad is at work, the kids can’t always get to their task board. But as soon as he gets home, his phone and the task board get more attention than he does, with the kids updating the tasks to go with what they did that day.
Using this app encouraged everyone to add more tasks and it created a really good discussion over the progress of their tasks. It’s also a great solution for all you people who play with your iPhones and iPads over dinner time, for your weekly planning and retrospective sessions around the dinner table.

In short - Highly recommended!