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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Organizing With Post-it® Notes: Revenge of the Floozies

Longtime readers of Paper Doll know that I have a love-hate relationship with small pieces of paper. Too often, people scribble notes on the corners of napkins, on the backs of envelopes and on sticky notes, without any workable system for displaying, preserving or accessing the information they've compiled. In a very early Paper Doll post, Stay Far From Floozies: Avoiding the Loose Paper Trap, I coined the notion that random pieces of loose paper, like persons of loose morals, were floozies, and I've railed against them ever since.

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the genius of the Post-it®. I think the little multi-color sticky notes have tremendous and ingenious uses in the organizing process...just not as a substitute for creating a central hub of information-gathering and time management, whether that's your legal pad, Evernote account, tickler file or smart phone.

In honor of this year being the thirtieth anniversary of the Post-it® Note, I'd like to share my favorite uses for the classic three-inch squares, and I hope you'll share yours in the comments section.


Safeguard Your Credit Cards--Part 1

A few days ago, a friend regaled me with a story about how she's recently had to replace quite a few credit cards. She confided that it's not uncommon for her to get distracted, and either forget to retrieve her credit card from a cashier or fail to put her card back into her wallet after making a purchase. She said it as if it were a fait accompli--she's busy, always in a hurry, and just tosses it back in her wallet. Of course, this makes it all the more likely that her card could be lost or stolen without her awareness.

Because I know what's going on in my friend's life, I emailed back:

You're overwrought. Misplacing stuff and memory lapses are common during times of high stress. Slow down. Wrap a sticky note around each credit card you use. On it, write "Get me back!" with a thick Sharpie! When you pay with a credit card, un-stick the sticky, and hold it in your hand until you get the card back; then stick it back on, and return the card to your wallet. It'll slow you down.

Modern life moves quickly. Sometimes the only way to ensure that you'll slow down to the speed of life is to put a speed bump in your path. By wrapping a sticky note around your card, especially with a reminder message, and holding it in your hand, you're ensuring you will realize if you've missed a step.

Safeguard Your Credit Cards--Part 2

The same trick works wonders as a speed bump against hot-rodding your spending. It can be hard to keep track of your financial goals, like reducing credit card purchases or even just reducing purchases overall. Affix a sticky-note to your primary credit card and write yourself a message that will give you pause before spending.

If you're paying down debt on that card, write your current balance on the note. After you pay the next bill, cross out the prior number and write the new (hopefully lower) balance. Seeing the numbers get smaller should motivate you to stick with your shopping diet:

If you're saving for a big-ticket item, use the Post-it® to remind you of your goal, like a family vacation, new car or class tuition.

Make Your Library Card a Smart Card

If you're a bibliophile, your house may be overrun with books. We've previously covered getting your books organized, but one of the best precautions is to borrow books from the library. This allows you to read what you want without adding titles to your permanent book clutter collection.

However, if you tend to forget which books you want to read by the time you get to your branch, keep a Post-it® affixed to your library card. When friends give you recommendations or you read a book review that captures your interest, jot down the title and author on the note and wrap it around your library card. This works two ways:

1) At the library -- Use the list to find the books you want, and then discard the sticky note during checkout. If a title on your list isn't available yet, put it on reserve.

2) At home -- Most public library web sites will let you reserve books online, but you need to use your library card number to place the hold. When you grab your card, you'll already have your reading list close at hand. If a book isn't in your library's collections, put it on your Amazon or other bookstore wish list.


Project management may not be the first thing you think of when faced with a stack of sticky notes, but professional financial organizer Nanette Duffey of Organized Instincts has helped Paper Doll see the awesome possibilities of Post-it® Notes as project planners.

Weddings -- Nanette explained that when planning her wedding, she used her hallway as a massive whiteboard, and sticky notes for creating a down-to-the-minute timeline of events, not only for the months leading up to the wedding, but for the key activities of the big day. From the early morning to the ceremony, and up through the reception and leaving for the honeymoon, the timeline captured it all.

The concept is fabulously simple. She and her beloved wrote each task and activity on a sticky note, complete with dates, times and details, and affixed each note to the wall. As new activities came into focus, notes were added; as they were completed, the stickies were removed. Sequences of events could be modified in a jiffy.

I asked Nanette if she colored-coded activities, but her wedding was long enough ago that the rainbow of possibilities skewed pale fluorescent yellow. Nowadays, however, it's easy to envision color-coded task notes, with the bride's dress fittings on pink notes and tuxedo fittings on blue; other colors could be matched to significant players in the planning process.

Pre-College Summers -- College-bound students and their parents don't get a free pass once the application and acceptance process is over. Students need to outfit and organize their dorm décor, clothing (especially if they're moving to a different climate) and school supplies. Some schools assign reading to pre-freshman, and most require transfers of medical and other records. A sticky-note weekly timeline on the college-bound kid's bedroom door could be just the ticket to planning the projects and divvying up tasks.

Entertaining -- Nanette also shared Post-it® project planning tips from when she was new to entertaining and hosting big dinners. For party meals she prepares herself, she creates sticky notes for each menu item, and then identifies and matches up the right serving piece(s) for each, ensuring that nothing gets forgotten.

For potluck dinners, she suggests that if you know what each person is bringing in advance, you can create a sticky note for each. Clear your buffet, serving table or kitchen counter and affix the sticky notes for each menu item. Then, when guests arrive, they'll know where to place their platters, and you, as host or hostess, can attend to other tasks without worrying about set-up.

One can imagine that visual sticky-note timelines, color-coded or not, would work for project planning in small offices, classrooms and families, and for planning anything from events to vacations to training for marathons.


Temporary File Folder Labels -- To begin the paper organizing process, I always advise clients that If You're Drowning in Paper, Build a RAFT where RAFT is the acronym for the basic steps: Refer, Act, File and Toss. If you've got a backlog of papers and no (working) file system, however, you may lack the pre-labeled files with the categories to get you started. I've seen lots of people procrastinate on setting up a filing system for fear of labeling the folders "wrong" by selecting a category title that is too broad, too narrow, or just plain doesn't work. If your paper sorting suffers from perfectionist procrastination, sticky notes let you take an ice cream sample "taste test".

Take a sticky note and write your category title at the top. Then affix the sticky part of the note to the file tab of your manila folder (with the rest of the note continuing downward, into the folder). This way, if you want to work with your system for a few days (or weeks) before making a final decision on labels, you'll still have a working system with labels that are easy to read.

How great is this idea? So great (and obviously, so not unique to Paper Doll) that 3M has come up with Post-it Durable Tabs for file folders.

Intense Focus To-Do List -- Post-it® Notes yield the ultimate in simplified productivity. Each day, go through your tickler file and your towering To-Do list to find the three most essential tasks. They may be whatever will yield the most revenue, or save you from having to pay a fee or fine, or fulfill an important obligation or deadline. You decide.

Ask yourself "If I could only get one thing done today, what would it be?" Put it on the list. Lather, rinse, repeat...until you have all three spaces filled. Then hunker down, focus, and complete those items.

We all fight the To-Do List battle on a daily basis, but interruptions and difficulty putting aside distractions keep us from focusing on priorities. Picking just three things and putting that Post-it® on the corner of your desk or in your eye-line on the wall helps remind you that if it's not related to items 1, 2 or 3, then it's not to be done!

Obviously, once you've completed the three tasks, whether it's ten minutes or ten hours later, you can move on to other projects (or create another 3-item sticky note).

Keep Your Workspace Clean -- Post-it® Notes can clean between the keys of your computer keyboard. The spaces between keys seem to fill up with bits of fuzz, crumbs, and the dusty detritus left behind after slicing open an envelope. A carefully wielded sticky note, adhesive-edge pointed downward, inserted vertically between rows of the keyboard can pick up some of the ickiest offenders. A keyboard free of goop means your keys will be less likely to stick, and you can be more productive.


Bookmarks -- Use a sticky note as a bookmark, positioned at the end of a homework or reading assignment. Students, whether kids or adults, tend to get overwhelmed by the big picture, but a visual representation marking a stopping point gives reluctant readers a goal towards which to aim.

Learning Tools -- Stick a Post-it® inside the front cover of a book to write down unfamiliar words or concepts for later research. Dictionaries, teachers, and even the internet may not be immediately accessible, and students may not always read with a notebook at hand, but a tiny running list at the front of the book offers a fighting chance to revisit the issue later.

Footnotes -- Sticky notes are also great for marking key points in borrowed or library books. Optimally, students should get in the habit of researching with a notebook handy, scribbling down citations and reference information in line with notes. When this isn't possible or practical, a Post-it® lets the student mark the starting line of reference text, provides a square of space for noting a fleeting but brilliant idea, and allows a small flag-like marker for the page.

(Note: There is some disagreement regarding whether the acids in note adhesives will damage books in the short term. Paper Doll has comfortably used 3M's Post-it® Notes since their creation without detriment, but while I'm loathe to be a brand snob, some generic sticky notes do seem to leave behind a residue after a few days. In the interest of caution, please avoid using sticky notes on primary research documents, first editions and antique books.)

In 2008, 3M ran a contest to see how many alternate uses people could invent for Post-it® Notes. Their goal: one million uses! Though the winners have long since been selected, people are still submitting intriguing alternatives to the Post-it® YouTube channel, from halting auto-flush public toilets to creating stop-motion art movies.

What are some of your favorite ways to organize your life with the help of Post-it® Notes?

posted on: 7/13/2010 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Jonda Beattie on 7/14/2010 5:19:49 PM:

In my book I suggest using post it notes for organizing tasks when completing a project. Write down on each note one task. Then arrange the tasks in a logical order. Note how long each task will take. Then put the notes on a large calendar- miss a deadline? No problem, just move the note!

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 7/14/2010 7:12:46 PM:

Love it, Jonda! It's a big picture approach to tasks that conquers one of the main problems with to-do lists...you can't easily rearrange priorities w/out rewriting your list. Great tip. Keep 'em coming, folks!

by physical therapist on 9/24/2010 12:01:46 PM:

This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

by Janet Barclay on 10/3/2011 7:13:24 AM:

In her book "Time Management for Unmanageable People" Ann McGee-Cooper suggests writing individual tasks on Post-It Notes and arranging them on a whiteboard by priority, instead of using a traditional to do list. I think that's a pretty cool idea! It's a great book by the way - I recommend it!

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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