Bookpiles is Kanban for Books

April 1, 2014

The Personal Kanban book came with a feeling of déjà vu: I had already been doing all that with my books! When I wrote, a little web application to track the books I read, I had no idea I was doing Kanban.

Rule 1: Visualize Your Work

Visualization is central to bookpiles, the book covers are the books, and they move between “piles”. I wanted things I could manipulate, making an analogy with the physical world.

personal kanban cover

Ceci n’est pas un livre?

It would be nice to see the books in different piles at the same time, but while a Kanban board contains a handful of tasks, my bookpiles contains hundreds of books. The books also spend longer in each column, and forever in “done”.

I was surprised to find that the name and purpose of piles in bookpiles were very close to the recommended columns in Kanban.

Kanban columns versus piles:

the book piles

You hear about books and hold them in “maybe” or even “buy”. This is similar to the concept of the “wishlist” on Amazon, except to express the level of commitment that you feel.

You select books (presumably buy books) and they become “ready”. At this point, you have already committed yourself.

You read books, and they hold their position in “reading”. There’s a maximum number of books that makes sense here, see the next section.

You might get derailed and banish books to “stalled”, the pen.

You, hopefully, retire books to “done”.

Rule 2: Limit Your Work-in-Progress

This is a lesson I learned the hard way, but early on. With my newfound clarity, I started reading too many books at the same time. The results were disappointing: slow or uneven progress, losing track of content – I was juggling too many balls.

Since then, I have tried to limit myself to 1 or 2 concurrent books. I try to do a “fun” book and an “improvement” book.

I found that audiobooks allow me to add one more book to the WIP. Audiobooks don’t steal time from regular books; they are a parallel track: I listen to audiobooks when I commute, wash dishes or do other chores.


Bookpiles has certainly kept me focused. I know what I’m supposed to be reading, what books are coming up, and it holds a reference to all the books I’ve heard about that I might want to read someday.

I also love moving the books from one pile to another–especially to “done”. Then, I can get excited about what I’m going to read next.

Discuss on Twitter