Some might say that I have serious control issues. Not a bit of it – I just like all the forks to face west in the cutlery drawer. The blades of all the knives must face east, but the spoons can be any which way. I still stack my mixing bowls according to size and colour, but I’ve conquered my issues with the folding of fitted sheets in the linen closet.
Because of this monkey on my back, for many years, my drug of choice has been 3M Post-it notes. It’s not difficult to maintain this addiction, because I don’t have to buy them discreetly. But the cascade of storage problems for the variety of note styles I now have in my personal stock has forced me to add harder stuff to my repertoire, like Rubbermaid storage products. And when I need a fast fix, I rely on my handy box of Ziploc bags in my bottom desk drawer.
One of the key ways that Post-it notes have actually helped to further my career is through something called a card-sorting exercise. This is custom-made for writers with organizational issues and a parade of marketing issues and tasks to sort out. I can’t do an outline without them now.
To really make this work, you need a broad surface that holds the adhesive on a Post-it really well. A glass patio door is pretty much perfect, but a window or white board will also do nicely. You will also need an assortment of Sharpie pens in colours that you find attractive. I use different colour pens to differentiate different clients: Joe is blue, Rick is green, Sue is orange, etc.
A card-sort exercise can be used for a variety of things, but my favourite is for prioritizing information and processes. If you’re working on a project where you have to stop and ask yourself things like “What comes first?” or, “Have I covered all my bases?”, this trick is for you. It is especially helpful in creating steering documents for group projects, because it ensures that all members of the team share the same vision. I always use it for project planning, marketing sessions, etc., but I also use it for simple stuff like planning my vacations, and my daily to-do lists.
Essentially, anytime a concept, task, challenge, or don’t-forget item occurs to you about a project, you write it on a Post-it using about 4-5 words max. I try to write large enough that I can read the note from about 10 feet away. This means you can relax – it’s now documented, and you won’t accidentally forget it. You can now feel free to open yourself to the next concept.
Once you’ve put all those ideas that were spinning around in your head on their own notes, you stick them all on a wall or glass door. (They seem to stick better on glass than painted surfaces.) Then, simply re-arrange them in priority order, or in columns, or to assign particular tasks to certain people, or whatever categorization you choose. When you’ve got them arranged how you like, use a digital camera to take a snap of the wall, and then you can remove them if necessary. By studying the photo, you can make a lovely chart which can be turned into a PDF and emailed to all team members.
I’m actually quite fond of leaving them up on the wall when I have space. There’s nothing more satisfying than ripping a task note off the wall once completed, and crumpling it up to throw in the fireplace. Plus, all I need is a periodic glance at my wall to remind me of what my tasks are and keep me on track.
If you’d prefer a virtual version of this exercise, 3M has created a cool mini-app that only costs $20 bucks. This hip little program allows you to click on a virtual yellow pad of notes, and quickly type a note to yourself. You can then arrange them all over your desktop in the same manner that you would on the patio door. This is great for doing on a plane – no phone to distract you, nobody tapping on your door.
I just checked, and I have notes stuck on a wall in every single room of my house. That includes the bathroom. I even have them in my car. Try explaining that to the cop that stops you for speeding. He only needs to glance around the car to know what you’re high on.