The Lean Life Backlog

My new mantra is “Stop Starting, Start Finishing”.

It’s a Kanban term I rediscovered recently. It’s simply a call, to stop trying to show progress on so many things, all at once. It’s a call to remember that you are human, not a machine. It’s a call to remember that there are only 24 hours in a day: 8 of which you are (or should be) sleeping, 8 of which you commit to your 9 -5, and the other 8 of which you should be using to tend to yourself and your loved ones (the hygiene factors of life).

It’s both a command and a caution:

Start Finishing!“: You must finish what you’ve started.

Stop Starting“: You can’t finish what you haven’t started , so just don’t start if you have too many other things you’re trying to finish (i.e.. its a caution to hold strain on starting yet another thing).

The mutual exclusivity of the parts of the statement, is brilliant! If I start and don’t finish, I violate the first part of the command, and because I won’t break promises to myself, I won’t start. It keeps my WIP (work in progress) in check.

As an Agilist, I don’t know why I allowed life to spiral out of control with just too many WIP items in the backlog I called my life. I have been overcommitted and burned out. My burn out started manifesting itself into symptoms that I’ve wrestled hard with to reverse so many years ago. I was fatigued, anxious, weepy and so easily triggered, that I knew I needed to step back and simplify life – again.

The Solution: The Lean Life Backlog

So how did I simplify my life, to help me push back against the dis-ease that was resurfacing in my body? Well, I put my systems thinking to work, and thought of my life as a product I was building.

First, I extended love and grace to myself and embraced all my limitations understanding that Christ, who redeemed me, called me to cast all my cares on Him. Its a simple sentence, but it continues to be a daily heart battle. Stilling myself in Bible-reading (which felt so unproductive because there’s so many other things to do!!!) was an important first step.

Second, I created two backlogs: A product backlog and a timebound sprint backlog in Asana (You can use any tool you’d like, like Google Keep, or simple pen and paper). Now, if you’re an agilist like me, you must be wondering why I used a Scrum method for the Kanban inspired term. lol. Its nothing noteworthy – just a bias I have for scrum… don’t focus too much on the methodology.

The product backlog was a mind dump of all the in progress and wish list items floating in my brain. I needed a space to get it all out so that my brain was free to focus on the high priority items (that would eventually end up in the Sprint backlog).

For the sprint backlog, I split the board into what I called “Critical Categories”. These are the big categories of my life that need focus, for me to thrive. Some categories can include:

  • Health (I’ll focus on EAT, MOVE, REST pillars here)
  • Career
  • Parenthood
  • Marriage
  • Finances

I personally don’t have a “Spirituality” category, as much as I don’t have a general “hygiene” category to bathe and brush my teeth. I however have a Health pillar because there are some nuances to a “nouriched” life that I want to apply some intentionality to. If I am doing something – like a bible reading challenge I would list the activities for the week, for that challenge under the “Rest” subsection for example. Hope that makes sense.

Here’s a snapshot of my (empty) Sprint board below:

The sprint backlog is the one week to do list, holding ONE to TWO items, for each critical category created. By doing this, I am 1) covering all the important areas of my life, 2) I’m staying focused and starting only the things I’m intent on finishing in ONE WEEK.

Gracious Tasks are Small, Estimatable and completely Executable.

This means I am breaking tasks down into their manageable components. For example, I am not putting “Meal prep all of this week’s meals for the entire family by Wednesday afternoon.” Instead, I’m stating gracious objectives like “Eat 5 different vegetables each day this week.” Do you see the difference in these objectives? The latter is more flexible, and while hard, likely more attainable than the former.

Also, failure isn’t final. You may not achieve everything on your backlog. Disruptions, though you’ve done your best to implement a system to limit them, may come. Learn to retrospect, be flexible, learn the lessons life is trying to teach in this moment of failure. The sprint may not be lost, push on through or pivot as necessary. But if it is lost, that’s ok. The next sprint is there to mop things up. C’est la vie!

Assessing True Value

I am also making space in the backlog for “urgent work”. Something may pop up unexpectedly. So, I’m not putting so many items in the sprint backlog, that doesn’t allow room for the unexpected. The inverse is also true: only urgent, valuable items can enter the Lean Life backlog. There are tight boundaries that prevent anything else from popping in. For instance, I got a call today from an advisor who wanted to discuss my portfolio. Was it urgent? Nerp. Therefore I pushed her request to to product backlog. Why? Because whatever she’s gonna talk to me about, will require action I know I won’t be able to follow through with given the other items in the Lean Life backlog.

Manage the Product Backlog

Its also okay to straight up say “NO”. Some things don’t align to your core values. Don’t even put it in the Product backlog. It doesn’t deserve that clutter. Just say no, and move along. This goes for all those emails that are pulling for your attention too: reply “no”, delete, move on.

Continuously inspect the product backlog, and wisely wean. Ask the questions: “Is this task still necessary?” “Will this get me to the goal I am trying to achieve?” Sit and think though the “whys” behind your backlog items and eliminate as much wasteful work as possible.


There are so many layers to what I’ve set up that I could probably do a whole series on my lean life backlog. But, this is all the time I bucketed for Nouriched this week, and so, I’ll pause here, and figure out what new thing I’ll promote to the Lean Life backlog for Nouriched on the next Sprint.

I hope you find this useful!

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