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The word is... "Stick*" Notes, Girth, Laziness, and Pasta

This week I'm experimenting with an IdeaLab variation called "The word is..." It's an excuse to share a mix of stimulating ideas related to a particular concept. This week, in honor of my cio.com blurb in Tips for CIOs: Marketing IT, Avoiding Jet Lag and Making a To-Do List, the word is stick*[1].


  • In your research, stick with small problems. Solving them will lead to mastering larger ones. You and Your Research
  • In On Using Post-It Notes For GTD Projects, Instead Of Lists I wrote about using sticky notes as a non-linear tool for GTD-like lists. My thinking was lists for the visually/spatially-oriented.
  • How about sticky notes that get progressively stinkier as they age? Put them on videos or books that have a due date. Use Them for your Waiting For list! An End-of-the-year Idea Grab Bag: Smelly Videos, Photo Stickers, Dissolving Staples, And Darkening Ink For NAs
  • From The Lure of Laziness:
    "Instant reward is the default setting of the brain, but we like ourselves better when we tackle unpleasant tasks ... Write out your goals daily. We're more likely to stick to our plans if we monitor our progress toward a goal."

  • Because clients hire me to give them a productivity overhaul, and because lasting changes like this are difficult, I'm always interested in ways to get the work to stick. A client likened this to Alcoholics Anonymous: the program is easy, but staying with it is hard. Agree? Related: Reader Question: Getting Personal Productivity Changes To Stick? and A Dozen Small Ways To Get Productivity Improvements To Stick In An Organization.
  • From Are You Organized For Failure?
    "Using digital communications tools allows you to try everything out and see what sticks. It allows you to embrace failure at minimal or zero cost. Technology enables you to open source parts of your business."
    Naturally I love this. It connects directly with my How Do You Treat Life As An Experiment? philosophy.
  • In the life-as-experiment category, a psychologist I know suggested this overall procedure:

    1. Dream up options
    2. Try one
    3. Stick with it
    4. Evaluate results. Done?
    5. Repeat

  • From Daydream achiever:
    "Many scientists argue that daydreaming is a crucial tool for creativity, a thought process that allows the brain to make new associations and connections. Instead of focusing on our immediate surroundings - such as the message of a church sermon - the daydreaming mind is free to engage in abstract thought and imaginative ramblings. As a result, we're able to imagine things that don't actually exist, like sticky yellow bookmarks."

  • Via Put Your Money Where Your Girth Is, stickK is an accountability tool to "facilitate personal commitment contracts," including weight loss and other types of personal goals. If you don't live up to your end of the contract, StickK will give your money to charity or a person you designate.
  • From Improvise Like a Jazz Musician:
    The essence of improvisation is to churn out ideas and see what sticks.
    What's your wall look like? Sticky Spaghetti makes marks!
  • Here's a mind blower: The brain can shift events forward or backward. Via Time Out of Mind (joystick is a stretch, I'll grant you):
    Another ingenious bit of research, conducted in Germany, demonstrated that within a brief time frame the brain can shift events forward or backward. Subjects were asked to play a video game that involved steering airplanes, but the joystick was programmed to react only after a brief delay. After playing a while, the players stopped being aware of the time lag. But when the scientists eliminated the delay, the subjects suddenly felt as though they were staring into the future. It was as though the airplanes were moving on their own before the subjects had directed them to do so.

  • From the master Nicholas Bate on Productivity101:
    30. And seven that can reduce productivity ... 35. (5) Yellow stickies. Everywhere.

  • From The Hamster Revolution:
    ...email is both slippery and sticky. It slithers and squirms into the oddest places and it sticks around forever. When it's unprofessional, it points a giant flashing spotlight back on you.

  • From Little Red Book of Selling:
    Principle 12.5: Resign your position as General Manager of the Universe. Don't stick your nose in someone else's business.

  • Me on email processing:
    Remember that email messages are sticky. Think flypaper - you touch it, you handle it - it doesn't go back. Also, it's a little poisonous, so be quick! (2 minute rule).


  • [1] The asterisk (AKA splat - see Know Your Keyboard: Bang, Splat, Whack!) is from my programming background. It's a special character used as a wildcard, esp. for matching file names. For example, "stick*" would match "stick," "sticks," and "sticky." More general is the idea of regular expressions, one of the most powerful and (for me) complicated tool I've encountered. A productivity spin: Look for positive patterns in your work and life, and turn them into habits. For work, "compile" them into automated checklists or delegated work.

Reader Comments (6)

Based on an [ old talk by Richard Hamming | http://www.paulgraham.com/hamming.html ] that I recently re-read, I've started trying to dedicate my Friday afternoons only to "Great Thoughts". That is, daydreaming and following the interesting bits where they lead to see whether the fantastic might actually be plausible now or soon.

So far I've dug up some interesting ideas from the past.

I'm also creating an IdeaFile to store the results, based on your recommendation of keeping the same. Until now my Someday/Maybe list has basically been my idea file, but they're not really the same thing, are they?

April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrock Tice


Re: your comment about the psychologist who suggested the following:

1. Dream up options
2. Try one
3. Stick with it
4. Evaluate results. Done?
5. Repeat

This is another version of the Lean mantra of PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act).

Is there *anything* new under the sun?

April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Markovitz

It's the article I referred to above, and I love it. I need to re-read.

dedicate my Friday afternoons only to "Great Thoughts"

Lovely! Here's the passage:

Along those lines at some urging from John Tukey and others, I finally adopted what I called ``Great Thoughts Time.'' When I went to lunch Friday noon, I would only discuss great thoughts after that. By great thoughts I mean ones like: ``What will be the role of computers in all of AT&T?'', ``How will computers change science?''
I'm actively collecting experiments to try, and that's a good one.

I'm also creating an IdeaFile to store the results, based on your recommendation of keeping the same.

Share! What tool, how you're using it, how it's working, etc. I'm a firm believer that it's critical to success for the people I consult to.

Until now my Someday/Maybe list has basically been my idea file, but they're not really the same thing, are they?

That's a question I'm tacking right now, as a matter of fact. My thinking is that the Someday/Maybe file might be a specialization of the idea file. I'm calling it the latter to emphasize the importance of having a system in place, and I don't want yet another box on my workflow diagram. (Mine continues diverging from Allen's.) However, as you imply it's a wider mix. Mine has:

  • Ideas that are gestating (2x2s, experiments-to-try)
  • Projects "" (including ones off the Projects list time horizon)
  • Professional journal/log
  • Candidate blog posts
  • Book and article notes
  • Productivity topics (meetings, procrastination)
  • Non-electronic communication history (who I talked to, met with, or sent something to)
  • ...
Generally, things that might be useful, and which I don't want to lose track of. Any other names for this?

Good comment, Brock. Thanks.

April 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Yet another workflow model!

PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act)

Thanks very much for bringing that up, Dan. I'm tracking workflow models (43 entries at last count) and yours is a good one. I need to think about it. Note: Few of these models have memorable acronyms. "PDCA"? Ponies Deserve Candied Apples.

Is there *anything* new under the sun?

My Think, Try, Learn colleague points out that having a unique perspective is valuable. Tim Ferriss packaged 80-20 to have a hipper outsourced vibe, with great utility and success. [ Perspective is still the most valuable commodity | http://www.capitalspectator.com/archives/2008/03/perspective_is.html ].

Much appreciated.

April 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I've actually started my idea file in [ FreeMind | http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page ], because it's cross-platform and I'm familiar with it. I have branches on either side of center -- personal on one side and professional on the other. Right now I create leaves for categories as they come to me, and branch as necessary.

I'm thinking my someday/maybe will mainly be for things that I've put on the back burner, whereas the Idea File will be sort of a brainstorming / archive of things that occur to me area. This is influenced by the fact that the current version of phpMyGTD makes it easy to flip projects and next actions back and forth between current and someday.

I think IdeaFile is a perfectly good name.

Regarding people and conversations, I used to actually keep little dossiers (is this public? heh) in my address book, which was synced between my phone and my computers, but I've stopped doing that for now. It was a lot of work and it creeped people out. Did help remembering important things about people, to their delight. I think the simple act of writing it down somewhere helped me remember. Apparently this was a big thing for Bill Clinton.

April 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrock Tice

Much appreciated, Brock. I like the dossiers idea. I have entire files dedicated to some people. Good idea.

April 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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