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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

All Hail the Post-It Note

Chatting with a friend over lunch about our working practices, I got onto some of the habits I've developed over the year that I find really useful, and it became clear that my entire working life revolves around the humble Post-It Note. Now I'm sure some of you have got to this point and are thinking "I'm interested to see where this post is going, because there is no way he's gonna write a whole blog about Post-It Notes!" But those people would be dead wrong!

The story of the invention of the Post-It note is one of my favourites. You might have heard it, but permit me to share it here again because like Jack White said in his 2001 BANGER, Fell In Love With A Girl, "It bares repeating"

3M, originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company is one of the largest companies in the USA. In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist working at 3M, attempted to develop a very strong adhesive. Instead of this, however, he accidentally created a low-tack, reusable adhesive. Not ideal - and while it was clearly an interesting discovery, they had no obvious use for it. So for the next five years, Dr Silver pimped this invention out around 3M but failed to find any takers. In 1974, a colleague who had attended one of the internal seminars that Dr Silver had spoken at, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to hold his bookmark in his hymn book. This became the first use for the adhesive and it was sent out to market but again, failed to catch on. Then some free samples were sent out to consumers in Boise, Idaho, became a hit and Post-It Notes were rolled out across the US in 1980. The rest, as they say, is history!

On my desk, immediately accessible to my right hand, there are always a minimum of four pads of Post-It notes and in the bookshelves behind me, I'd conservatively estimate that there are a further fifty. That's partly because I have a very odd and irrational fear of running out of things which aren't really that important and can easily and quickly be replaced (I always carry two of the same pen, plus a refill, incase I urgently need to write ten thousand pages of text without warning!), but mostly because they're awesome and I use them so frequently I'd be lost without them!

Post-It Notes are an item that, for me, fall into the same category as baked beans (Heinz), ketchup (Heinz), mayonnaise (Hellmans) and diluting juice (Robinsons), whereby I will only ever buy the known brand. Could I pick them out of a lineup in blind testing? Probably not! Does that stop me paying more for the name brand? Absolutely not! Nowadays they make them in all shapes, colours and sizes, and I've dabbled with them all, but my tried and tested top three are as follows:

76x76mm plain - the OG - If these Post-Its were a person, they'd be Michael Jordan. Lots of others have come along, but when the chips are down and the game is on the line, you're reaching for these bad boys. Mixed colours are a must for keeping things fresh!

101x101mm Super Sticky large notes lined - Sometimes you need to go large and enjoy the structure of a lined pad and when you do, these mighty stallions come to the fore!

47.6x47.6mm mini notes plain - Imagine yourself in world where writing something on a small Post-It Note in an emergency was a thing. It's probably not. But if it was - you'd definitely be advised to lay your hands on these!

Now that we've got the specifics of the hardware agreed upon, it's time to share with you the ways in which I use them. Now I didn't invent any of these, but they're all important parts of my approach to work and I hope there's something in there for everyone!

1. The Immediate Brain Dump - This is a technique that I started as a University student and has been absolutely foundational for me ever since. Back at Uni, just like in the workplace, there were always multiple deliverables running in parallel with one another. A lecturer would tell you about an assignment or project which was due in 8 weeks, and in the meantime, you'd have three deadlines falling due before that date. When that happened, many of my peers would put the new assignment to the back of their minds and come back to it once the other three had been completed - but not your trusty author! What I'd do under those circumstances, was to reach for a 101x101 large, lined Post-It, title it with the name of the assignment and have an immediate brain dump of absolutely everything that came to mind about the topic that the assignment was on. No order or structure to it, just throw it all on the page. Quotes, stats, questions I'd like to answer, potential titles, people I should speak to, books and articles to read - whatever it might be, just bang it down on the page as fast as I possibly could. Then after I'd exhausted my burst of creativity, I'd stop, peel the note from the pad and put it into my notebook, then get back to completing the assignment with the most pressing deadline. Finish each of the looming three tasks in order and then, once the decks have been cleared, get stuck into #4. Now, when I start to work on it, I've got some kindling to get the fires burning. Reach for the brain dump Post It and it gets me started!

I've often said that the most imposing sight in the world is a blank Microsoft Word document. A bright, white rectangle staring back at you. A sea of emptiness. It seems to sap my energy and creativity, but when I've got something to start with, the juices begin to flow. And what I end up creating is often not that similar to what's on the Post It - that's not the point - but the fact I've got some lines of inquiry and bits to get me going makes a massive difference to the way I feel about getting started and to the speed at which I can work. Even this week I was approached about a few speaking engagements, some of which are now set in stone and others which are still a little more nebulous. As soon as I was off the phone or Zoom call, I was throwing ideas down like nobodies business! For the events that are confirmed, they're diarised and an appropriate amount of time to create the content for those speeches is also diarised at a date well in advance of the event. When that time comes, I'll reach for the Note and be rolling. For those which come to nothing, I'll file that Post-It Note away in case I'm asked to speak on a similar topic somewhere down the line.

And of course, as new or supplementary ideas come to you about these assignments, speeches or projects, you've also got somewhere to add them to, to keep them all together. And if that Note is full, stick another right over the top and keep on scribbling!

2. The Wall of Incredibly Interesting Ideas - Further to my right, is a wall on which hang four of my bass guitars. Not that you asked, but I'll tell you anyway - a black 1985 Fender Jazz Special (Beryl), a translucent purple 1999 Musicman Stingray (Estelita), a natural 2001 Musicman Sterling (Unnamed) and a sunset orange transparent 2004 US Fender P-Bass (Fiona)! Surrounding these special ladies, is a sea of Post-It Notes, containing all manner of diagrams, quotes, models, lists and reminders. Whenever I stumble across something interesting or thought provoking, it gets written down and added to the wall. It's also frequent in my coaching for me to use a model or diagram to introduce a concept, which I do by scribbling down on a Post-It Note and waving it at the screen to the sheer delight of the client! When I do that, I add it to the wall for re-use later as appropriate. Having this next to me is a rich source of ideas and is much handier than searching for things in a notepad or on a shelf. You may note some non-regulation Post-It's in there, but I'm also someone who enjoys a freebie, so I do occasionally deviate from my top three!

3. The Disposable Notes - The final common use I have is to use Notes instead of my notepad. As you'll have guessed, I am a big fan of stationery and I write everything in a series of hardback A5 notebooks which have different purposes - Football (for all of my American Football meetings and plans), Business Development (for any meeting which may generate work) and General (for everything else) and as they're filled, they are filed on the shelves behind me (they're even labelled and numbered/dated on the spine with my Dymo for ease of review - that's the kind of obsession we're dealing with!) This means I can access the notes from any conversation I've had since my notebooks began, really quickly. And to facilitate that, I don't like to fill my notebooks with rubbish. Sometimes I'll be taking notes that I know I'll never need again - maybe observational feedback from a role play on a training course, or specific timestamps for parts of a YouTube video I'm referring to in a one-off session I'm delivering. When I know that's happening, I reach for the Post-It's. they're super handy to scribble on and dispose of, keeping my notebooks tidy. And if it turns out as I get going that I do have something worth keeping, I can stick them in the notebook temporarily.

Naturally I use them for all sorts of other things - my core weekly shopping list is on a Post-It, with another next to it for additions that week, any crucial daily reminders for the following morning are written and stuck centrally on my desk ("Do not let Henry the cat outside, he needs to go to the vet and your wife will punch you in the face if she has to chase him around the garden when she gets up"), even the weekly list of potential meals is on a Note on the fridge, so that my wife can tell me they all look shite and we should get a chippy. As a facilitator, naturally I make extensive use of Notes, Sharpies and flip charts. They are great for all sorts!

When I talk about this kind of thing, people often comment on how organised I am - but the important point I stress is that being organised didn't come naturally. Much like colour-coding my diary, scheduling in PDP activities and loads of the other habits I have talked about in past blogs, I have developed these approaches because they make my life easier and they help me to be more effective. Often times they've been an antidote to something I used to do terribly, or which used to cause me bother! Give them a go and see if they can help you!

What other top tips can you share to give me an excuse to buy even more Post-Its? How do you use yours?

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