The Sparky Status Board 2.0

Status Board 2.0 (Click to Enlarge)

A few months ago, I went on a tear about my OmniGraffle-based Kanban status board. I had many people telling me I was doing it wrong and that I should have used one of the dedicated Kanban online tools, like Trello. However, since this board was just for me, I didn’t see the point in that.

However, about a month after that post went up, a beta Kanban plugin showed up for This isn’t an online-based tool but just a simple plugin to create Kanban-style blocks from a markdown file. Moreover, it lets you embed Obsidian page links in the blocks. It isn’t particularly pretty or customizable. (However, the developer continues to improve it and add features.) Regardless, it is a dead-simple way to put together a Kanban board inside of Obsidian.

Since all of my projects are already in Obsidian, this got my interest. I spent just a few minutes with the plugin before deciding it was time for Status Board 2.0

I learned a few things using Status Board 1.0, which initially had four categories: Active, Hold, Waiting, and Done. After using it daily, I realized I only needed two columns: active and hold. Projects to me are either active or on hold. The reason they may be on hold is that I’m waiting on a client, or I don’t have time to deal with it right now, but regardless it is on hold. Also, once the project is done, there’s no reason for me to keep it on the board. I don’t need a trophy case of completed projects. I need focus. These cards are only pointers to the actual project page. Deleting a card does not delete the project. Once I finish a project, I delete the card, and it is, satisfyingly, “off the board”.

So I had already starting to evolve my status board to only have two columns for each area of my life. Bringing this over to the Obsidian Kanban plugin, I could re-create that for every area of my life on a single board. I’ve got these two columns for MacSparky, Field Guides, the law practice, and personal life. Each one has a column with active and on-hold projects that I can move back and forth. Above is a heavily redacted image of the current Sparky Status Board 2.0.

Where Status Board 1.0 had links to the OmniFocus and Obsidian project pages on each card, Status Board 2.0 has an internal link to the Obsidian project page. (OmniFocus links and much more are on the Obsidian project page.) At first, I also included a few short notes about why a project was in the hold column, but that was silly. I already know why every project is on hold and don’t need to spend time documenting it on the Kanban card.

I have incorporated this into my day-end shutdown routine. So, in addition to working through OmniFocus at the end of the day, I also take a look at “the board”. Anything still active gets my particular attention, but I also scan all of the projects on hold to see if I can move them to active status for the next day. This often will spur a flurry of text messages and emails to clients and co-workers to get projects rolling again. Because all of this is in Obsidian, if I want to jump right into any particular project, I need only tap on it, and Obsidian takes me there.

Status Board 2.0 isn’t as pretty as Status Board 1.0, but I find it just as effective. I keep the status board in my root level directory of Obsidian to access it as needed throughout the day. Also, when I put this in full screen on my Mac, it gives me those same feels I was getting before with Status Board 1.0 in full-screen mode.

I know many of my readers will be saying, “I told you so” but in my defense, this plugin did not exist when I first started creating Status Board 1.0. I still stand by my initial position that a cloud-based Kanban board does not make much sense for an unshared, personal status board.

I doubt this is the final iteration of my status board, but this is the current one. Indeed, if money were no object, I would instead build a wall-sized Flipboard machine in my studio just like you used to see in airports and train stations. Every morning it would make a satisfying rolling and clicking sound as it updates to show my active and hold projects across the wall. At least that’s the dream.

More Status Board Details

Since first posting on my OmniGraffle-based status board a few weeks ago, I have received a lot of emails. Some folks like the idea and want to do something similar. Others think this is a dumb idea, with some pretty good reasons for thinking so. In this post, I’ll address both categories of feedback.

Building and Using the Status Board
For the folks who like the idea and want to build their own, here is an OmniGraffle file with dummy data.

Click to enlarge.

The one I’m running for myself incorporates a font (a variant of Futura) that I purchased ages ago. I have removed that in the sample, but you can set the OmniGraffle typography to your satisfaction. Likewise, you can change the box shapes, colors, and general layout. That gets down to the bottom of why I built it in OmniGraffle. I wanted something that I could customize over time, and none of the other apps or web services really fit the bill. Best of all is OmniGraffle’s preview mode that lets me run it full screen (using the Mac’s Spaces feature), so the status board is always just one swipe away.

In terms of mechanics, there aren’t many. Make a template box and fill it in with your project name. To connect links, OmniGraffle has a feature that allows you to do just that. Select the object and then paste in your link. For every active project, I have an Obsidian page and an OmniFocus project. I link both to the status board this way.

To add a link in OmniGraffle, select an object and then select “Open a URL” in settings. (Click to enlarge.)

As part of my daily shutdown, I take the Status Board out of preview mode and make adjustments. If I finished a project, I delete the block. If the project changes status, I move the block. I also check all the “waiting on” blocks to see if anything changed over the last few days. This often prompts a “checking in” email to whomever I’m waiting on.

The Omni Group has some excellent new JavaScript-based automation tools that would let me automate OmniFocus and OmniGraffle’s process. I’m going to set time aside to explore that further, but I’m not in a burning hurry. The trivial amount of time it takes to do this manually helps remind me of what the active projects are and where they stand.

Several folks are interested in the idea of a status board but don’t want to pay for OmniGraffle. I get that. In my case, I already paid for a license, and the app was already on my computer. (I use OmniGraffle for legal- and MacSparky-related graphics.) You could build this as a PDF or even a Pages document.

You could also do this with any number of dedicated Kanban-style apps and services. OmniGraffle’s advantage is how I can combine multiple Kanbans on one screen and my total control over how things look and where they are on the screen. Again, this board is not shared with my team, so collaboration is not necessary.

On Why All of This Is a Dumb Idea
Another frequent criticism was that this whole process is unnecessary. Because all of my projects are already in OmniFocus and Obsidian, I could already have very effective lists showing projects that are active, on hold, on radar, and any other status using tags. Both OmniFocus and Obsidian have excellent tag support, and I’ve already implemented these same tags in them. So with a few key presses, I can put myself in perspectives or views that give me this data.

This means I’m duplicating effort setting up the Status Board and giving myself one more thing to keep updated and current as I work. In reply, I would say, “Yes. You are correct.” It is more work, but it is very little extra work in the grand scheme of things.

I have been using OmniFocus tags for project tracking for years and the doing the same with Obsidian since I first started using the app. The problem was that I was still letting things drop through the cracks. My brain works much better visually than words. That is the reason why if you ask me for directions, I will draw you a map instead of giving you directions. It is also the reason I am constantly making diagrams, charts, and workflows in OmniGraffle to sort complex things out in my own head. And ultimately, it is why I wanted a visual representation of all the active projects in my life on one screen at any time with just one swipe.