Setting Up Kanban With Evernote

This article describes how you can use Evernote to setup a simple, yet easy to use Kanban “system” to manage your projects, workflows and tasks using (shared) notebooks, tags and notes. For optimal use at least one premium subscriber evernote account is needed.

Evernote was not intended to be used for this, so there are some drawbacks of course. The most important drawback is that you will be missing the typical visual representation of a Kanban board, with its vertical lanes that represent a state in the workflow.

What is Kanban?

Kanban, very simply put, is a way to manage and optimize workflow. It was originally invented by Toyota for their manufacturing, but nowadays it is also applied to software development and other kinds processes such as household tasks.

For more details, just google on Kanban or use Wikipedia as a starting point to learn more about it. I strongly you suggest you do some initial reading on this, so that you can easily understand the rest of the article and see the benefit of a setup using Evernote.

Minimalistic setup in Evernote

The most minimalistic setup is just for one person. This can be a free account, but in that case the normal limitations apply. With a free account you can only attach PDF’s and images to a note. With a premium subscriber account you can also attach Word document and basically any other type of attachment. PDF’s will be searchable and even text in images is searchable.

What do you need?

You need the following:

  • an evernote account (free or premium)
  • a single (synchronized) notebook
  • tags to represent stages in the workflow, such as for example:
    • todo
    • doing
    • done
  • notes representing tasks (these are the Kanban cards)

The setup described will work with any modern browser. You can also use any of the evernote desktop clients (Mac/Windows) or one of the mobile apps (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone).

Note that a synchronized notebook is not the same as a shared notebook. A synchronized notebook created in one of the desktops clients syncs with your online evernote account. With the desktop client you can also create local notebooks however. These notebooks are not synced with your online evernote account and will not be accessible with a browser or one of the mobile apps.

How does it work?

The notebook you create basically represents the Kanban board, but without the same visual representation of it. It is the placeholder for your notes that represent the Kanban cards, where each note/card represents a task or any kind of item that you want it to represent, as long as it fits within the Kanban way of working.

Once you created the notebook, you can start adding notes that represent your tasks, such as:

  • buy bread
  • bring out the trash
  • clean garage

Each of these notes will be assigned one or more tags. In the example tags given above, a task can only have one tag, because the states of the workflow are mutually exclusive.

Initially, assuming you aren’t doing any of those tasks yet, all these notes will be tagged with todo. When you then decide to take up a task, you change the note, remove the todo tag and assign it the doing tag. And when you’re done, well, you remove the doing tag and assign it the done flag. After a while, you can decide to remove the notes that have the done tag as you may not want to keep those forever.

Based on your tags, you can easily see in which state a particular note is and when it may be ready to be pulled into the next state of your workflow.

That’s it!

A more advanced setup: other people in the game

Setting up a Kanban approach just for you is nice, but could be a bit of overkill. It is very useful however when more people come into play. In case of the household related tasks given earlier, it might be that other people in your household/family add new tasks or do them. So how would you do that?

One “shared” account

The most simple setup here is by using just one evernote account that is shared by the other people in your household. They all know the account user name and password. You just create an extra set of tags representing the names of your household/family members, for example:

  • John
  • Mary
  • Junior

When you create a new task note, you assign it both the todo and one of the name tags if you already know upfront who is supposed to do it. But you can also leave it “blank”, i.e. you don’t assign a name tag to it, meaning that anyone can do it. In that case, if someone picks it up to do it, he/she would remove the todo tag and assign it the doing tag and his/her name tag, for example John.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

However, there are situations where you don’t want the other people to use your account. You may have other notebooks in your account that you don’t want other people peeking into, not even when they are your family members. Even if there is nothing confidential, there is always the risk that another member deletes notes or changes them just for fun (you don’t here me laughing however).

But there is an alternative to that, just read on…

One premium subscriber account and multiple other accounts

In this case each person involved needs his/her own evernote account, but one of them needs to be a premium subscriber. The reason for this is that only a premium subscriber account can share a notebook with individuals that are able to create, modify or delete notes in that shared notebook. A free account can only share a notebook for viewing, which is not what you want in this case.

So how does this work?

The premium subscriber account needs to create a notebook as normal and then share it with individuals. Basic information on how to share a notebook from the desktop client of Evernote can be found here.

When you want to share a notebook from the desktop client, right click on it and choose to share it. You will be presented with the following screen (or something similar): Sharing Notebooks

Now choose Share with individuals and enter the email addresses of the persons you want to share the notebook with.

Don’t forget to check the Modify this notebook setting and Require log in to Evernote setting: Settings shared notebook

The invited people will receive an email with a link to the shared notebook, which they can either access online with a browser or integrate within the desktop client. Note that if you want to access this shared notebook with one of the mobile apps that you need to integrate it first in the desktop and sync, otherwise it won’t show up. Further details are left up to the reader to find out.

That’s all!

Additional thoughts

The above more advanced setup can of course be further extended. If you are working within a software development team, you could think of the following:

  • Using multiple shared notebooks to represent different teams
  • Using multiple shared notebooks to represent different projects (not recommended, see next item)
  • Using tags to identify a project
  • Using especially tagged notes to describe the projects, tagged with charter
  • Using tags for bug, incident, release, feature, story etc. (yes, the hint to Scrum is intentional ;–))
  • Adding comments in the body of a note to describe whatever you like
  • Attach files to notes with additional information
  • Create saved searches to quickly filter on specific tags
  • Create “template” notes for specific entries that are often needed, pre-tagged

Shortcomings

The above setup still has a lot of shortcomings:

  • You don’t get a nice visual representation of the Kanban board
  • It’s a manual process to set the tags (and ownership of a task)
  • In fact it is all manual…
  • No other advanced features that some of the online tools have to offer

Another shortcoming is that there are a lot of companies that have their firewall block access to Evernote (and other cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox).

Advanced alternatives

If you need something more advanced, take a look at the following online services:

Or look at this article which lists 15 tools for Kanban.