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On using Post-It notes for GTD projects, instead of lists

I recently found my GTD Projects list getting a little, well, stale, and decided to spruce it up. This was partly to add some excitement (and therefore attraction to the list - important for the Weekly Review), and partly to test different ways of organizing Allen's "buckets" that might appeal to people with less linear thinking styles. (I've started coaching people in GTD-like methodologies, and it's important for me to test their breadth.)

So in the spirit of self-experimentation, I've switched my projects from a tab in my paper planner to a full-size file folder (special color!) that contains small sticky notes, one per project. (Hey - Allen claims they're just lists, so why not play around?)

Thus far the results are positive: I'm able to more freely move projects around as priorities/deadlines change, and I do like looking at them better than a plain list. (And it treats projects a little more specially than my other GTD lists.) The appearance is similar to the photo shown in Tammy Cravit's article Introducing the Post-It Portable Workspace. Note that I don't place the stickies on separate pieces of paper, I just attach them right to the inside of the folder, and open it like a book to access them.

More on creative note use

More generally, I find using stickies for productivity an interesting topic, and the most useful book I've found so far is the aptly-named Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes, by David Straker. This little book describes five key principles for problem-solving (Chunking, Problem patterns, Guiding decisions, The FOG (Facts/Opinions/Guesses) factor, and Note sessions), and then details six tools, two per problem pattern type: Lists (Post-up, Swap Sort), Trees (Top-down, Bottom-up), and Maps (Information, Action).

Here are a few other articles on using stickies for productivity:
  • In the GTD forum thread The GTD Type, user CKH writes about doing GTD in a "right-brain-friendly manner," and addresses lists in particular:
    Why not use different colors of Post-Its for different @ tasks? @phone, @errands, @computer, @spouse, etc. could each be a dedicated color. Or not; whatever helps you out. Stick them into a 3-ring binder (the UCT) w/a separate page for each @.
  • In Best Tool For the Job >> Two Great Uses for PostIt Notes, Marcus Vorwaller describes using stickies as both a task focus tool and a keeping tool.
  • Bert Webb, in his Open Loops: Post-It Possibilities, suggests a variety of ways to use notes.

What do you think? I'd like to hear from any other closet sticky notes users, or anyone using non-traditional tools for GTD.

Reader Comments (21)

This approach mirrors what we architects have done for 50 years ... it was originally developed to assemble all the "parts" of the design process, approvals stages etc. The genius of this approach now lies in a software program that could simulate this. Do you know of any (other than Mindmanager)? Cheers.

January 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJeff H

Thanks for the perspective, Jeff. Fascinating, and it makes sense for that field. It's no wonder that David Allen uses the design and construction of buildings as the extreme example of planning.

Regarding digital versions, I haven't tried any (I seem to prefer a paper implementation), but here are a few threads from the davidco forums that may be of use:

[ Post-It Digital Notes | http://davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4801&highlight=post-it ]
[ Organize your daily notes! | http://davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4799&highlight=note+software ]
[ Note-Taking Software | http://davidco.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3215&highlight=note+software ]

Thanks for reading!

January 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Matt: thank you for the 'threads' ... it's been a struggle for me to find a good niche software program that helps me visualize and manage (like your post-it notes). I'd like to try your method, but I can't afford all the post-its! :)

Cheers ... and thanks for the great BLOG.

January 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJeff h

Interesting that you mention this... When I first implemented GTD for myself, the thought of rewriting and reorganizing lists didn't do much for me. I decided that having post-it notes that I could remove/add/change made much more sense during the initial phases. As for me, it became the best non-technical means of tracking stuff, and I just stayed with it...

January 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterThomas "Duffbert" Duff

That's interesting, Thomas. I'm curious to hear more about how you use post-its in your GTD system, e.g., are they for all of your lists? And thanks for reading!

January 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Matt: F/U on your suggestions for software. I tried all the ones you posted; Post-It Digital Notes is GREAT! You can create what they call "memoboards" (virtual tackboard) -- then post as many notes onto it as you wish. I've experimented with 2 versions: 1) Memoboards for each GTD category (i.e. @Agenda, @Calls etc), and 2) one note for each category on one memoboard. They jury is still out, but I'm favoring version 2. It's very easy to move notes around, copy/paste text, as well as set alarms for the tasks. Hope this helps...

January 27, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjeff h

Hey, Jeff - thanks for the update. I think this will be very helpful for others who want this sort of 2D space for organizing their GTD artifacts, in the digital domain.

January 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Not specifically for GTD, but "Rapid Problem Solving with Post-it Notes" by David Straker is a good book for getting further info on using Post-its for something other than random scrap notes. I have a big whiteboard in my office that's pretty well littered with project or problem post-its of various colors.

January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTodd

You know... had I read the post throughly, I wouldv'e seen the reference to David Straker's book. Sorry for about that.

January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTodd

Thanks for sharing your appreciation of the Straker book, Todd. I'm always glad to hear that someone else has discovered the book before me. Please keep sharing other related works.

Thanks also for the information about how you use your whiteboard (project or problem notes). Do they stay around long for projects? Or do you move them or delete them after some point?

January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell


I *try* to keep some record of completed or "trashed" Post-It projects in a 3-Ring binder for archive or End of Month Reporting, but I'm probably not as diligent as I should be. Basically, I have a bunch of tabbed dividers in the binder and I just stick the Post-its on them. I also have a fairly up-to-date index... but like I said, not as diligent as I could be.

I move the ones that have been around a while up higher on the Board as a visual queue to focus on why they're still there. The time spent on the Board varies pretty widely from days to months.

February 21, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks, anonymous - I like the idea of keeping around completed projects.

February 21, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

That "anonymous" above was me answering your post, Matt. Sorry for the confusion.

February 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTodd

I like this! I used post-it notes on brown paper stuck upon the wall for project planning (getting all the atomic and less atomic tasks listed in brainstorm fashion, and being able to move them about easily as we went along) and liked it a lot.

This is a bit different, but keeping a list of projects like that appeals to me.


September 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Hi Stephanie, thanks very much for your comment, and for reading. I'd be curious to know how using Post-Its for projects works out for you.

P.S. [ Lausanne | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lausanne ] looks wonderful.

September 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Nice concept! I found your post while searching for new organization for my Projects list (I'm leaning on a choice of "simple" is better!!).

I understand the need to portability via a notebook for GtD. But I have used a similar idea for single project brainstorming. It works wonderfully on a blank wall or a piece of tag board or brown paper. These provide big space for visually organizing, color coding, and rearranging to find a coherent theme or pattern on a project (or it could do the same for ALL of your open projects).

A digital camera to capture the moment is quick and easy documentation. And, if you use brown paper, it can be rolled up for portability!

March 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDel DeVries

Thanks very much for the comment, Del. I agree - they do make great brainstorming tools. You may enjoy [ Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1555611427?ie=UTF8&tag=masidbl-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1555611427 ]

March 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Thanks Matthew,

There is one another sticky notes program that i would like to suggest:

[ Notezilla Sticky Notes | http://www.conceptworld.com/ ]

I found it better than Post-It Digital Notes.

April 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGautam Jain

Thanks for the pointer, Gautam.

April 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Actually we're implementing the different colors post it notes in our warehouse at the [ salon equipment | http://www.empire-beauty.com ] store I'm managing.
It has come to my attention that people respond better to different colors and tend not to overlook the instructions left to them if they are properly "illustrated" :)


August 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeauty supply

Thanks for commenting. I'm curious how your beauty supply business uses stickies - examples?

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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