You need a bunch of Post-its and something to write with.
It helps to use just one size and one color Post-it. However, that’s not vital — use what you have as long as they are large enough to write on.
However, do not plan to use different colors or sizes to organize, prioritize, and so on because that will be counter-productive.
Step 1 – Brainstorm:
Start thinking and put those thoughts onto Post-its. This should include any thoughts about your objectives or goals even if you think those are already set.
Important! Put just one thing on one Post-it. One idea. One thought. One sub-point. One sub-sub-point. One concern. One way-off-topic. One whatever. I repeat: one thing per Post-it.
As you brainstorm:
Do not analyze. Do not consider. Do not research. Do not check spelling. Do not put Post-its up on a white board as you brainstorm. Do not place each one on a white board and then write on it. Do not organize them. Do not put certain thoughts on one color Post-it and others on a different color. Do not discard thoughts that don’t fit the objective or because they won’t fly.
Just dump all of those thoughts, ideas, concerns, resources, questions, people, etc. onto Post-its.
Keep going until you have a pile of Post-its and come to a lull. Don’t force a continued brainstorm if you feel stuck because the next step will unstick you. Same goes if you don’t feel you have “enough” Post-its.
Find a space that is wide open and smooth (so the Post-its will stick and stay). A clean white board, conference table, window, or door often work well.
You can also create a space by taping flipchart paper on walls, windows or doors, or even white boards. This has the added bonus of being easily transported later.
Step 2 – Lay out the Post-its and group them:
Complete this step standing up, unless you’re physically unable to do so, because physical movement is part of what makes the Post-it method work so well. (Do not forego standing because you’re tired or because there is little room. Park the chairs in the hall if you have to.)
Place the Post-its onto the open space. Start by placing them randomly. As you add more Post-its some form of grouping will become apparent, often by topic.
Move Post-its into those now-apparent groups but keep the grouping fairly loose until you have placed all of the Post-its. Do not try to decide if the grouping is “correct.” Feel free to use different kinds of groups, too, don’t try to make them consistent.
The exception to the above are any Post-its covering your objectives or goals. Group and place those somewhere that is in view but separate from the rest.
Throughout this step: physically step back so you can see the whole. Move stuff around as needed.
You may find some Post-its created during the brainstorm do not have a topic or category to which they belong. Add those topics and categories now.
Move Post-its around as needed. Put any that don’t fit off to one side. Put any Post-its covering an introduction or close off to one side, too.
The one thought per Post-it no longer applies:
As you move the Post-its around, other thoughts, ideas and concerns will come to mind. Sometimes it’s best to add notes to existing Post-its, sometimes adding new Post-its is best because you can move them around. Don’t try to figure this out in advance and don’t worry if your approach here is inconsistent. You will organize in the next step.
When the Post-its do not fit the objectives and goals:
No matter how well considered the objectives and goals were, you may find the brainstormed Post-its don’t quite fit. This occurs in two situations:
(1) The most common situation is the original objectives/goals weren’t quite right.
If the bulk of the content Post-its make sense, pull the misfit objectives down so they don’t distract you. Circle back to these in Step 6 (they often just need edits).
(2) The brainstormed Post-its are not right.
It happens! If you’re absolutely sure the objectives/goals are right, take a break — walk away for a few minutes.
When you come back, take the first set of Post-its down and brainstorm again. (You may want to hold onto the first set because they may apply for other objectives/goals.)
Step 3 – Organize, including flow:
Once you have the Post-its laid out in rough groups, clean up the groupings and make them consistent, adding or removing Post-its as needed.
Now organize the groups into a flow, experimenting with various versions. Don’t let yourself get stuck looking for the perfect flow. Settle on one that seems okay — you will adjust things later as you develop the program, talk, reference, etc.
Throughout this process – physically step back so you can see the whole. As needed: deal with duplicates, move stuff around, remove things…step back again and repeat as needed.
As you organize, you may find some Post-its no longer seem to fit or no longer seem important. Don’t toss these into recycling yet, put them to one side.
You may also find new thoughts come to mind. Add Post-its, or add notes to existing ones.
Step 4 – Add the introduction and close:
You may have put aside Post-its with content for the opening/introduction, and close. Add these in the right places.
It’s also quite common to have an outline that is missing an opening/introduction and close. If these are missing, don’t fill them in at this time. Instead, add one Post-it to hold a spot for the opening. and another to hold a spot for the close. You’ll fill these in after you develop the rest of the content.
Step 5 – Prioritize as needed:
No matter what we’re using the Post-it method for, we almost always have more possible content than we’ll be able to use. It’s time to identify priorities and there are two ways to do this:
- Add a “P” to priority topics and individual Post-its. Focus on these as you develop the content. Add in the rest only as time and space allow.
- Bravely remove anything that is not a priority. (Keep these in case you want to add the content or use it separately.)
Step 6 – Revise objectives/goals, if needed:
As noted, it’s common to find the original objectives or goals don’t completely sync with the brainstormed content. They often just need slight edits, for example:
The original objective was “understand new work flow.” The content focused on using the new work flow, so the objective is now “understand and apply the new work flow.”
The original objective was “increase client retention.” The content focused on setting appropriate expectations and agreements, so the objective is now “setting shared expectations.”
Step 7 – Transfer if needed:
We often need to transfer the laid-out Post-its or their content onto something. Common options:
- Type them up in outline form.
- Stick the Post-its onto paper. Flipchart-size paper is perfect but legal and letter-size work, too. Layer the Post-its like shingles so they take up less room.
- Take snapshots. Make sure you can read what’s on the Post-its. If you have to take several snapshots, number them so you have the correct order.
That covers the Post-it method, except to address what to do with all those nifty used stickies: recycle them, of course.
Not Sponsored by Post-its
Post-it is a registered trademark of the 3M company. Though there are many imitators, I have to say official Post-its work the best.