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The tools and knowledge for productivity. Les outils et connaissances pour la productivité.

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Manage a super busy day with a Post-It® notes game plan

Marc

You have some time and energy to get things done today. However, you feel stressed when you think about all the things you need to do or you consult your mile-long to-do list or your to-do app. What you need to do on a day like this is manage your stress and get organized. You need a short, simple game plan that you can look at throughout the day to stay on top of things without getting distracted or discouraged by your to-do list or your time management app.

I would like to share a useful tool for such situations: the sticky note game plan.

Items needed:  
- A writing instrument (a pen, pencil or marker)
- One highlighter
- Post-It ® notes (sticky notes)

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Though not necessary, you can make your system more precise by using different pen or highlighter colors or sticky notes of different sizes and colors. You could, for example, use differently colored markers or sticky notes to assign tasks or steps to individual family members.

You’ll want to select a wall or large flat surface somewhere that is visible in your house. This is where you will place all of your sticky notes and create your game plan for the day.

Why use sticky notes?

  • They allow you to freely organize and re-organize your list.

  • You can transfer uncompleted tasks or steps to another day or another list.

  • You can temporarily stick them up on the wall or a flat surface in your house so that they’re extremely visible while you’re going through your tasks.

  • Alternatively, you can be more discreet and place them on a paper or plastic sheet.

  • You can re-use sticky notes as portable reminders or lists (for example, you can write a small grocery list and simply grab the note and bring it with you to the store).

So how does this tool work? There are essentially 5 phases. I will explain each phase and use an example to demonstrate how it all works.

Phase 1. Write the 3-5 most important tasks you need to accomplish today
Think about tasks that have upcoming deadlines or which you have decided are important to you. Write each of them on a separate sticky note.

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Let’s list the important tasks in a fictional weekend day in my life as an example:
- Pay bills
- Clean the house
- Prepare dinner (my brother and his spouse are coming over for supper tonight)
- Exercise

Use your highlighter to make these tasks stand out; it will be important to differentiate them from their sub-tasks, which I call steps.

Phase 2. Write out the steps for each task
Sub-divide each task into its component steps. Ideally, you want to aim for 3-5 steps for each task, though there is room for a lot of flexibility here. Write each step on its own sticky note.  

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Pay bills
- electricity bill
- condo fees
- credit card payment

Clean house
- clean dishes and kitchen counter
- clean floors
- clean washroom
- dust entire 1st and 2nd floors
- clean windows

Prepare dinner (Caesar salad with chicken strips and strawberry rhubarb pie)
- go to grocery store to buy missing items (croutons, chicken)
- cut chicken into strips
- bake chicken strips
- wash and cut vegetables for salad
- mix ingredients for salad dressing
- assemble ingredients into salad
- make pie crust
- cut strawberries and rhubarb
- bake pie

Exercise
- prepare for run (clothes, shoes, sunglasses, phone, headphone, sunscreen, etc.)
- go for 10k run
- take a shower and get dressed

Phase 3. Add/remove
The purpose of this stage is to evaluate the feasibility of your plan for the day. You may realize that it is not realistic to complete all of the tasks and steps you wanted to today, or (this is rare) that you can fit in more tasks or steps for today.

In my example, I have realized that I likely won’t have the time to complete all of the steps I’ve outlined for the day so I think about what is really important for me to accomplish today. I realize that I can’t skip or delay any bill payments and that I won’t cut back on my run because I’ve made an important commitment to myself to get into better shape. However, I see some flexibility in some of the steps for cooking and cleaning I want to accomplish before the visit we’re receiving tonight arrive at our home. I realize that the windows are relatively clean so I decide to remove it from today’s list.  I also realize that it isn’t imperative that I make the salad dressing myself or that I cook a dessert from scratch, so I decide to buy both of those instead, which will save me a considerable amount of time.

Pay bills
- electricity bill
- condo fees
- credit card payment

Clean house
- clean dishes and kitchen counter
- clean floor
- clean washroom
- dust entire 1st and 2nd floors
- clean windows

Prepare dinner
- go to grocery store (croutons, chicken, + salad dressing, + strawberry rhubarb pie)
- cut chicken into strips
- bake chicken strips
- wash and cut vegetables for salad
- mix ingredients for salad dressing
- assemble ingredients into salad
- make pie crust
- cut strawberries and rhubarb
- bake pie

Exercise
- prepare for run
- go for 10k run
- take a shower and get dressed

Phase 4. Organize sequentially
At this phase, we want to re-organize each task and step in a logical, sequential order for the day. Consider important deadlines and when things should logically be completed for maximum efficiency.

In my example, I have realized that, as some of my bills are due soon and I don’t want to pay any penalties or pay interest, I should keep paying my bills as the first task of my day. I also reorganized the bills in order of their deadlines. I will then go for my run, as I could stop by the nearby grocery store on my way back and walk the rest of the way home with the required items I need to get for supper (bonus: I can bring the sticky note for that task with me as my shopping list). I also realize that I should prepare for supper before I take care of cleaning the house, that way I won’t have to clean the kitchen twice and I can also get some cleaning done while the chicken is in the oven. Finally, I also re-organized the steps for my cleaning task so that they’re done from “top to bottom”: it makes sense to follow gravity and go from ceiling to floor while cleaning, in order not to have to repeat any steps and maximize how clean everything will look when you’re done.

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Pay bills
- credit card payment
- electricity bill
- condo fees

Exercise
- prepare for run
- go for 10k run
- take a shower and get dressed

Prepare dinner
- go to grocery store (croutons, chicken, salad dressing, strawberry rhubarb pie)
- cut chicken into strips
- wash and cut vegetables for salad
- bake chicken strips
- bake pie
- assemble ingredients into salad

Clean house
- dust entire 1st and 2nd floors
- clean dishes and kitchen counter
- clean washroom
- clean floor

 

Phase 5. Final lineup and go
Now is the time to execute each step. Line up your steps from left to right and top to bottom, as though you were reading text; this is the sequential order in which you will complete each step today. Any steps that can be done at the same time or during the same trip can be placed on top of the other.  The task sticky notes are moved out of the way and kept on top as reminders of the overall objectives for the day. As you’re working your way through the list of steps, either cross out or peel off the sticky notes. Both options will leave you feeling satisfied.

Don’t be afraid to make some adjustments out of sequence. In my example, once I started putting together the final lineup, I realized that it made more sense to bake the pie before the chicken because the I could start both at the same time but only introduce the chicken at a later moment in the oven.

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Once all your steps have been completed, update your to-do list or your time management app.