Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Three, part 3

As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here. Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.

There are many ways to manage TASK AVOIDANCE.

xxx <— this is my place holder for “needs more cowbell,” in this case some examples of structured procrastination before I get to kanban. (You can leave your system in comments if you’d like me to include it!)

My favorite way of making sure that my TASK AVOIDANCE is productive (and not just laziness) is the Japanese system known as kanban.

Kanban was originally developed at Toyota as an inventory control system and has been adapted for use in other areas, such as software design. Jim Benson and Tonianne Demaria Barry have developed a “personal kanban,” and I highly recommend their website ( and their accompanying book.

Kanban involves writing down your tasks and subtasks on cards or sticky notes, then subdividing them into workflow stages such as Ready, Doing, and Done. (Benson/Barry emphasize that the system is ultimately adaptable to your workflow, terminology, and needs.)

This first key concept is called “visualizing your workflow,” and the first time you do a kanban dump it’s scary: all those sticky notes with all those things to do! But take a deep breath and remember: you’re going to procrastinate on most of this. You’re just getting organized about it.

The second key concept is “limit your work-in-progress.” Decide on how many of the sticky notes you’re going to actually work on at a time. The usual number is three, certainly no more than five.

As you complete a task, move the sticky note over to the Done column.

That’s all there is to it. (Of course there’s more to it, but that’s it for the basics.)

As Benson/Barry describe the process, the rest of the value of kanban manifests itself through these two key concepts. You’ll begin to get an idea of the tasks you’re avoiding and why. You’ll begin to examine your work practices as you watch the flow of sticky notes.[1] You’ll begin to adapt the system to your needs.

There are a lot of ways to implement a kanban. The easiest way is simply to take a white board and stick sticky notes on it. (The important thing to remember is that your kanban has to be where you can see it as you work.)

There are of course software versions, including free add-on apps for Google Drive.

For a while, I used my laptop, creating a desktop image and using Apple’s Notes app to create sticky notes there.

Let’s take a look at this for a moment and see how I modified the three-phase model for my own workflow.

Across the top are the three standard columns: To Do, Doing, and Done.

Across the bottom are the modifications I made to the kanban to fit my workflow: Holding, Daily, and Future.

Holding is where I’d put the tasks in the Doing column that I couldn’t work on until someone else did their thing, e.g., budget figures or travel plans or something they had to get done before I could finish the task.

In the Daily section, I put things like blogging that I did on a daily basis, stuff that it didn’t make sense to keep creating in To Do and then move across the screen every single day. Notice the small vertical line: the Daily section was like a mini-kanban loop inside the Doing column. I could move my blogging sticky from one side of the line to the other to check it off—then move it back.

The Future area was stuff I knew I needed or wanted to work on—just not right now.

Your mileage may vary. It should vary.

Note that kanban is not a to-do list. I still have my to-do’s on my phone: mow the lawn, do the laundry, prep the labyrinth. My kanban is for MAKING THE THING THAT IS NOT and keeping my TASK AVOIDANCE on track.

XXX… <— some kind of conclusion


(Each of the chapters on the Nine Precepts ends with a SO… summary.)

Task Avoidance- SO…

  • Use “structured procrastination” by alternating your projects—avoid working on one project by tinkering with another.
  • Kanban[2] your projects—know what you’re putting off and why.
  • Don’t be afraid to let projects simmer.
  • Don’t grind your gears: give yourself some slack.


[1] see RITUAL

[2] Start with

13 thoughts on “Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Three, part 3

  1. May have to use kanban to structure my banjo practice. Thanks.

    As to Task Avoidance, my response is in two parts. In this first part, I note that I have taken time to respond and put off my “walk.” I have deliberated briefly over whether or not to forego the walk completely and give myself over the task of composing a comment and have decided to “postpone” the walk only long enough to begin to create this “2 part” structure to my illustration which, in itself, will serve as the illustration in action. So to speak. After my walk, I will write a second installment in which I elaborate upon and enrich my example. “Walk”is a structure that allows me to have a discipline without having a “creative discipline.” I can use it to create all kinds of leverage and double blind situations which help me find my ways to the pleasures of creative activity while also muting the isolation and misery also associated with such activity. Plus, during the “walk” I can actually also “create” as I ruminate and confront the tedium of the journey. I could go on, but I ‘ll wait till I get back.

  2. Part 2. A sense of completion. The walk, my thoughts, my promise, etc. I also find that the “walk” functions like a container for assorted resistances and preoccupations I generate as I struggle with the call to create. Often I “people” my rumination as I walk, i.e., I carry on conversations in which I unfold whatever thoughts or notions or obsessions that seem to want to hold sway. I am perpetually having to trick myself out of panicking over the solitary nature of creative work. I perpetually assert that the actual nature of what I want to express is collaborative and, therefore, not always available. During walks I can pretend I’m collaborating. Once I tried to exploit the “walk” as my featured expressive medium. I was going to write a blog in which I documented my rumination in an associative style. True to form, however, I determined that I could not find a collaborator with the HTML know-how to make my blog text scroll as if it was vanishing somewhere down the road in the distance. So “walks” seem to process and facilitate a great deal.

    Unconnected thought. Found myself with a renewed appreciation of the “blue crayon.” I thought to myself: what if my thoughts and concerns are delusional and specious? Doesn’t that mean my further elaborations are invalid? (I’m referring to any or all ruminative preoccupations.) Then I thought: all I need to make a doorway is a blue crayon. Then anyone can walk through, even the genuinely perspicacious who might know how to explore the implications properly.

    Maybe not an unconnected thought: During my walks I draw doors.

  3. Using the Underpants Gnomes model—

    1. Procrastination
    2. ???
    3. Profit!

    — can you elaborate a bit more on Step 2? What gets you from your walking meditation to productivity?

  4. Yes, purple crayon. Just remembered. Was running to the computer to try and find a bit of redemption by noting my goof myself. Truly perspicacious of you to point it out so quickly.

    2. The Hoodwink

    In other words, it’s a con in which I am both player and patsy.

    By taking care of discipline related issues with the walk, I open up an opportunity to be undisciplined and play (i.e. create–at least, I call it creating).

    The word “profit” inspired the con notion, of course.

  5. What is Symbolic Castration from a Lacanian perspective? Its structure is found in the phrase: “Yes, of course, but you have failed to answer my question…”

  6. Knowing that’s how you would perceive it, I tried to make my request for more information as gentle as possible. Try putting some Bactine on it.

  7. One other aspect that may have that practical and tangible flavor you crave. I can commit to a daily walk without attaching any high stakes (other than an investment in staying healthy) and the ruminating just happens without my feeling I have to yet again prove my talent or worth or legitimacy by the end of it. I’m walking, so I’m just stuck doing it. “Productive” elements emerge on occasion and I can simply observe them and respond or ignore as the case may be. Maybe to pursue, maybe not. Often the rumination are repetitions, so I have to sort out new fruitful variations. The walk gives me time for reflection, but because I am engaged in a regular and disciplined task seemingly for my betterment, the reflection does not feel like the usual escapist song and dance of the n’er do well that I will have to excuse away…

    In other words, if I think of good durable stuff while I’m walking, I can write it down later and voila. Profit. No pacing on the veranda and staring out at Lake Como required.

  8. OK, first off, I managed to avoid this task (posting) for 24 hours.

    Just want that noted.

    Task avoidance — besides being one of the joys of life, giving me the time I need to make it through the complete Shakespeare canon, investigate the remote corners of Tennessee Williams apocrypha, etc. — has also been quite the generator of creative output for me. For instance, my as-yet-unpublished mythic poem cycle “South Song” was the direct result of avoiding completion of a National Park Service report. (In fact, I don’t think I ever really completed it.) My play “Flies at the Well” was avoidance for getting a real job. Didn’t work. Most everything I do is in avoidance of something else I SHOULD be doing. Exercise, for example. I can’t exercise today. I have to work on my novel. And so it goes. I’m sure this post is in avoidance of something.

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