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The Post-it Method Step-by-Step

Materials:

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. (But 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.

One-thing-per-post-itImportant! 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 goal 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.

Next:

Find a space that is wide open and smooth (so the Post-its will stick and stay). A clean white board, conference or other large table, window or door often work well.

You can 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 the Post-its out and group them:

Do this standing up. This is important so I’ll be blunt: do this standing up unless you are physically unable to do so. 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. Shove the chairs into the hall for a while if you have to.

Place the Post-its up or on 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 – don’t try to make them consistent.

The semi-exception to the above are any Post-its covering your objectives or goals. Place and group those above the rest, or somewhere that is in view but still separate from the rest.

Throughout – physically step back so you can see the whole. Move stuff around as needed.

You may find there were no topic, category or heading Post-its that popped out during the brainstorm but it’s now clear what those are. Add them.

Move Post-its around as needed. Put any that don’t seem to 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 they don’t fit the objectives and goals:

No matter how well thought-out the objectives and goals were, you may find the brainstormed Post-its don’t quite fit. This usually means the objectives or goals weren’t quite right, not the other way around.

You may just need to re-word and clarify the goals or objectives, but don’t do that now. If the misfit objectives/goals are posted, pull them down so they don’t distract you.

On the other hand, if the objectives are set and clear but the bulk of the Post-its aren’t right: take a break and then brainstorm again. (Take the first set of Post-its down but keep them for use as applicable.)

Step 3 – Organize, including flow:

Once you have them all laid out in rough groups, clean up the groupings and make them consistent. Then organize the groups into a flow. Most people find one of two organization lay-outs work best:

  • Main topic at the top, related Post-its below in a column. (Some related Post-its may also branch out.)
  • Main topic at the left, related Post-its to the right in a row. (Some related Post-its may also branch down.)

Throughout – 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. You may find you want to drop some because they’re not priorities. Put all of these to one side.

You may also find new thoughts come to mind. Add Post-its, or notes to existing ones.

Step 4 – Prioritize if needed:

This is not necessarily the best time to identify priorities. Priorities often become clear later, after the Post-it method is complete and as you follow through. However, here are the top two methods for prioritizing at this point:

  • Add a “P” to priority topics and individual Post-its. (Or use “P?”)
  • Bravely remove anything that is not a priority. Keep these in case you want to add the content or use it separately.

Step 5 – Create hold-spots for introduction and close:

When Step 3 is complete you have most of an outline. Add a spot for introduction and a spot for close using Post-its without details. (Tackle introduction and close in development after everything else is complete.)

Step 6 – Transfer if needed:

If you completed the Post-it method away from your work space you’ll need to transfer the laid-out Post-its or their information onto something. Common options:

  • Type 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 flow.

Ta Da

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.

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