New products or services that fail to find an audience are often described as “a solution without a problem”. But this is exactly how one of the most successful inventions of all time started out.
In 1968, Dr. Silver Spencer, a chemist at multinational conglomerate 3M, was attempting to create a super-strong adhesive, but instead made a weak, reusable, pressure-sensitive glue. With no immediate idea of what to do with his new invention, Spencer continually hosted internal seminars about it until, a few years later, his colleague Art Fry, used the adhesive to create a sticky bookmark. One day Fry tore a piece from a bookmark to attach a note to the front of a report he was sending to a colleague and the Post-it note was born.
Though conceived by accident, the simply Post-it note has gone on to solve a myriad of different problems for millions of people around the world. The applications are endless: in the Oscar-nominated 2014 movie Gone Girl, a detective uses Post-its to highlight blood splatters at a crime scene, while the criminal plots out evil plan to-dos in sticky notes.
In an age of efficiency-inducing digital apps, the physical Post-it note remains a powerful productivity tool. Here are three ways that Post-it notes help people communicate and create more effectively every day.
1. Give each project a Post-it
Matt Stewart is a marketer at financial app, NerdWallet. Life at a startup is busy and requires a lot of multitasking so Matt needs to ensure he’s using his time effectively.
“My previous organizational method was procrastination then needing to pull an all-nighter to get the project done on time,” he recalls. “About seven years ago, I adopted a method from David Allen’s Getting Things Done to maximize my productivity and, crucially, do it stress-free.”
When a new project comes in, Matt divides it into the smallest divisible tasks each led by an action verb, like ‘Research’, ‘Write’ or ‘Email’.
“I have a large Post-it for each project,” he continues, “and I list the tasks on it in sequential order. Every morning I rewrite tasks from my various project lists on a daily Post-it. Mixing up tasks from different projects helps keep my day interesting and spreads out mentally taxing and easy tasks. But if I hit a groove on one project, I might go back to the main project Post-it and keep knocking off tasks.”
For Matt, the physical nature of Post-its not only makes it easy to reassess and adapt his task list, it also gives him a unique satisfaction when the job’s done. “When I complete a task, I cross it out as a haptic reward”, he says, “and once a day’s tasks or project are complete, I tear the Post-it in half.”
2. Put your Post-its on display
Designer at Pittsburgh firm ocreations, Nina Zivkovic has a unique system that helps her stay on top of her current projects and impending deadlines.
“I’m big on visuals and seem to remember things much better that way,” she explains, “so I’ve always been a huge fan of using Post-its for organization, especially with color coding. I had a system where they were laid out on my desk but I’m a neat freak and the clutter was becoming more of a distraction. Last fall I started sticking the notes to the borders of my Mac screen. The left side is for upcoming meetings and events, arranged by date from top to bottom. On the bottom of my screen I have urgent deadlines, usually for that day. And on the right, I have all my current projects and little notes to myself about them.”
Like Matt, Nina enjoys physically removing a completed task: “It’s such a great feeling to grab one of those bright orange notes off the screen. My goal is always to complete all the Post-its at the end of the day and put a bunch more up the next morning.”
And unlike a digital app, the visual impact of Nina’s system is not easily ignored. “Always seeing bright colors on the side of my screen has made me more aware of what projects, events and meetings I have, which helps me stay on top of all my deadlines. Plus you can’t go wrong with orange Post-it notes in an orange office.”
3. Make Post-its part of the team
Post-it productivity methods are not just useful for individuals. Sticking notes to a white board or wall makes an effective project management tool to ensure teams always know which tasks have been completed and what’s coming up next.
In this excellent three-minute video, Jamie Bonini, head of Toyota’s Production Systems Support Center, teaches radio host Manoush Zomorodi how to use Post-it notes to help her team prepare for their weekly show. After just a few weeks of sticking multi-colored notes to white boards, Manoush noticed that her team’s creative process was running smoother because people could just glance at a white boards to know how a project was progressing.
Those are just three ways of using sticky notes to be more effective, but the simplicity and adaptability of the humble Post-it means that there are many more ways to use it. What’s your Post-it productivity tip? Let us know in the comments below.