Post It Notes Will Set You Free

There is no amount of confusion or complexity or overwhelmed-ness that can’t be soothed and unlocked by a pad of Post It Notes and a Sharpie.

Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about this.

My ability to separate my creative, chaotic, random self from my organized logical, methodical self is responsible for all of the best stuff I’ve created in my life (with the notable exception of our kids).  Much the way word processing has unleashed many a creative writer who would have responded less favorably to being shackled to a linear, cumbersome, unforgiving typewriter, Post-It notes make it possible to capture gems and tactics and to-do’s and questions and issues and reminders and pithy thoughts….at the moment they pop into your head.  Then once you have purged your head full of stuff, you can sit back and sort and group and arrange and sequence….and then decide what in the heck to do with it all.  And an added bonus: if you are good at the “mind dump” but bad at the organizing part, you can turn that part over to a friend with those skills.  The reverse works, too.  If you are a terrific organizer, but at a loss for original ideas or inexperienced with the thing you’re dealing with, enlist a pal or two who IS creative and have THEM create a big stack of Post-It’s for you to play with.

When kids learn this skill, they discover the art of turning a giant thing into a manageable thing.  My youngest is a little piglet when it comes to her room.  If we leave it alone for a while, she could be buried alive in there.  Instructing her to clean her room is like asking a kid to clean up after Krakatoa.  Overwhelming.  She could hardly begin.

So I showed her how to brainstorm the project on Post It notes.  We sat amongst the rubble and listed everything that would have to happen.  Gather trash. Collect and fold towels.  Make the bed. Pick up the spilled beads.  Change one of the light bulbs.  Throw away old homework. Dust. Collect clothes to donate.  Organize books. Fold clean laundry. Vacuum. Collect dirty laundry. Organize shoes.  Dust furniture.  Clean under the bed.  Wow.

Then we decided to add a couple of happy Post It’s that said, “Take a Break” and one that said “Celebrate Your Clean Room!”  We added “Take a ‘Before’ Picture” and “Take an ‘After’ Picture”.

Then we closed picked a bare wall to be our project map, and we started to arrange all of those Post It Notes.  We put the “Take a ‘Before’ Picture” at the top left corner.  At the bottom right corner, we put the “Take and ‘After’ Picture” and “Celebrate Your Clean Room!”

Then we picked a handful of easy tasks that would make a big difference right away so she could feel inspired.  In her case this was “Fold Towels” and “Gather Trash”.  We chose “Dust” and “Vacuum” next to the end, since you couldn’t see the floor or other surfaces for the mess.  “Collect Dirty Laundry” came early, and “Organize books” came late.  You get the picture.  And my little piglet moved every Post It Note with her grubby little hands.  Her project.  She was in control.  She scheduled her own breaks.

And when she finished each task, she triumphantly drew a red slash across the Post It.  Very satisfying.

And what a gorgeous result.  And it lasted a few weeks that way.  A new record.

My friends from work and I put on a leadership camp for high school students, to teach them about planning and leading projects.  It’s a leadership camp that focuses on getting stuff done with teams of people.  Each student comes to camp with an idea for a community service project.  With the help of a mentor and all of the other student/mentor pairs at the camp, a student turns her idea into a complete project plan.  It’s a thrill to watch their furrowed brows turn into wide smiles by the end of the weekend.

“I can actually do this thing…” they can be heard to say as they board the bus, flip chart paper littered with Post-It Notes rolled up under their arms.

Imagine that: A 15-year-old with a clear, step-by-step plan.  Fire in the belly.  And all because of Post-It Notes.  Sorting out what she knows, adding advice from others, getting excited about it then getting practical about it….then sorting it all out on the wall.

Post-it Notes will set you free.

My daughter sent me a photo of herself from college with a group of students working on a project together.  She was beaming before a wall covered with Post-It Notes.  Neatly sorted.  Her whole group became Post-It Note addicts as a result.

On my kitchen windows at this very moment is a collection from another daughter who has used them to plan a website for a club at her high school.

And the professional applications are endless.  Post-It Notes can turn chaotic discussion into a non-verbal download of diverse points of view and opinion. (A brainstorm.)  Then a silent group-sort pulls  related ideas into groups.  (The fancy term for this is and “affinity diagram”. Look it up.)   And it keeps people from over-talking.  I’m the worst about that, being a huge talked myself.  Being totally silent is much easier for me than exercising discretion or moderation.  No kidding.

When a group in the Big Leagues is applying this approach to tough issues, they can analyze the cause and effect relationships between the groups of ideas and focus the discussion on the root cause discovered. It’s called an “interrelationship digraph”.  Look it up.  It’s efficient, meaningful, and sets a powerful, detailed foundation for ongoing work that captures all points of view. It’s a little time consuming, but it is the surest way to get to the real base of the fire instead of batting at flames.

Cool stuff.  I’m telling you: Post-It Notes will set you free.

No, I don’t work for 3M.  Nor do I own stock. (Although I really should.)  I’m just a person who needs help untangling her thoughts.  And I’m a mom who wants to give her kids life skills.  I’m also a mentor who wants to help a teenager turn her cool idea into a reality.  And I’m a leader who wants to help groups of bright people achieve their objectives and overcome their obstacles.

I am the Mayor of Post It Town. The Princess of Stickies.  The Queen of Post It Notes.

And I’m happy to share my throne with the rest of the world.


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