Reader Question 8: How do I handle a plethora of post-it notes?
15 April 2024 | 11:46 am

“Hello! I don’t remember how I found Analog Office but I love it. It’s so comforting to read about processes and techniques that speak so loudly to me.  My question is this:

“I take a lot of notes - to dos, things I’d like to remember or reference for later, etc. Some are in a small pocket sized notebook as they come to me (easy to carry, easy to write in, hard to organize, hard to review). Sometimes I put a post it note on the outside of the notebook for daily tasks but really it’s just an even quicker place to write notes down. I have more post it notes all over my desk. So many that I’m running out of room. The post it notes contain all kinds of things like a quote I’m trying to internalize in my work (drawing and art), questions for people, process notes regarding my art that I want to be reminded of daily as I work, goals for my art, things to try in my art, even a random financial note, and more. I love the quick access to them just being out but this is untenable. How do I organize this cacophony while still having constant visual reminders for the things that I’m practicing daily?”


What a great question! Post-it notes are so useful, and WOW can they multiply!

I love post-it notes! Here are some for special occasions: paper with novelty sticky notes

I even noodled around with keeping a post-it note Kanban board for myself*, but it just didn’t stick.

You mentioned that you were recording the following kinds of information on post-it notes:

  • quotes for inspiration
  • goals
  • questions for people
  • things to try out
  • miscellaneous

You also said that at this point you have so many of them out that they are no longer easy to manage. What started out as a strategy to have quick, visual access turned into overwhelm.

This is not uncommon for those of us who make sense of our inner life through visual means, me very much included.

Keep Only the Fresh, the Live, the Relevant

So before you do anything else, really LOOK at those notes, every single one. Which ones have you become so habituated to, you no longer see them any more? Which ones have you already internalized and no longer need an external artifact for? Which ones are no longer relevant, or past the deadline, or no longer inspire you and feed your artwork?

Which still have a living spark for you, and which are just …old notes?

Your mind is a living system that needs to be fed. We might think of your notes like produce in the refrigerator, there to feed your imagination and help you with various workflows. But information, like produce, expires and gets stale. Information at some point is ready for the compost bin, er, I mean, the recycle bin. Last year’s reminders, right?

So your first step: Pick out the sticky notes that speak to you *today,* that are still fresh and relevant, that are still nourishing your mind, your imagination, and your spirit. Set those aside where you can easily find them again, because next you can organize them (see below for some suggestions).

The rest? The ones that no longer resonate for you? Stale. Faded. No spark in ‘em. Get rid of those.

If you can’t quite bear to get rid of all of them, put the ones that feel past their prime into a big envelope or a box, some kind of container, close it, put it somewhere out of your work space, and see what the space looks and feels like after you pull out the ones that are no longer fresh and relevant for you.

You only want fresh, relevant, currently inspiring notes in your work space.

Your work space is precious! It is where you spin things out of your mind in real things that can be shared with others!

Don’t dilute its power with stale notes.

And don’t organize before you declutter. Decluttering first, pruning down your stash before organizing, will save you a lot of time that you can then use for making art.

Next step: see how you feel with the ones that are left.

Is it too much, or just right?

Do you like having a mix of notes that kind of collide and bump off each other, or does it still feel like “too much”?

If it still feels like too much, then you might want to try organizing the notes that are left into categories.

Keep Like With Like

Why organize these notes? Because there is a balance between an inspiring mix of things that help you create, and an overwhelming mix that stalls your creative process. The balance is different for everyone, but if – after getting rid of the stale notes – your space still seems visually intrusive rather than visually inspiring, it’s time to play with some ways to bring in order.

Because organizing is so highly personal – we are, after all, considering how to arrange an extension of your own mind – I’ve got several suggestions below for keeping your post-it notes accessible and your workspace as clear as you want it to be.

Sort the notes into categories that make sense for you; the ones you will reach for when you want inspiration, or need to check reminders, or however you divide these various notes in your mind.

I’ve kept it simple in the illustrations below, with “goals,” “reminders,” and “quotes,” but use the words that come to mind for your context. Maybe you prefer categorizing words like “inspiration,” “deadlines,” “questions.” Or something else entirely.

In any case, you might try the following.

You could put notes into folders dedicated to a single category:

post-it notes in a folder labeled 'quotes'

You could put notes into a folder with a couple of categories, marked by dividing lines:

sticky notes in a folder with various sections blocked off for quotes, reminders, goals

If you have a lot of notes, or don’t want to mess with multiple folders, you could put notes on paper in a three ring binder, and use binder dividers or tabs for various categories:

sticky notes in a three-ring binder

And – if you really want to keep some visual and visible in your workspace, you could put notes in picture frames to contain them:

sticky notes on paper, in a frame

I hope this helps your creativity to flourish! Thank you for writing in.


References

Kanban Method (no date). Available at: https://www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/ideas/articles/kanban-method/ (Accessed: 11 April 2024).

Paul, A.M. (2021) The extended mind: the power of thinking outside the brain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Notes

* So, about that 3M corporation link about doing a kanban board for teams with a post-it note? It’s a great visual example of what a post-it note kanban board can look like, but then they propose that you add an app, and – look, somebody is going to LOSE one of those important work project post-it notes. They just will! It’s that kind of world, that we live in! Any work-related collaborative projects I needed to do had so many files and attachments and meta-info, they were beyond the capacity of post-it notes. I happily used Trello for many years to manage those. But for personal tasks, I think a little kanban post-it board is do-able.


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Handwriting Equals Thinking: Or, Why I Use a Paper Planner
10 January 2024 | 1:05 pm

The virtual world is a disembodied one, and promotes the lie that we do not need our bodies to think. I believe it is no coincidence that researchers keep discovering that use of the body preserves the mind; your risk of developing dementia is lowered with exercise, lowered with keeping and caring for a pet if you live alone, lowered with the richness of in-person social connection which relies on all kinds of bodily cues.

The virtual world can also promote mindlessness in dealing with information. To a large degree, we can collect and move digital information without having to think. I reflexively click a button and the “read-it-later” app that collects digital articles for me instantly copies and saves it. (I go on to read perhaps 10% of the articles I click, generously estimating.) Moving information around digitally can even be automated, making it literally a mindless task.

But analog forces you to THINK, because it forces you to use your body* and use physical materials.

The analog world pulls in the cooperation of the body, and thus, the mind. We think with our whole bodies. Walking is a time-honored aid to thinking; and so is handwriting.

The digital world offers such overwhelming amounts of information that handwriting acts as a curator. Handwriting is slower. Handwriting takes more effort than hitting the hot keys for copy-paste commands. The effort of handwriting creates an automatic editing function.

Is something important enough for you to handwrite it down? Then it is probably important enough to act on.

At the end of each week, I create a handwritten plan for the week – calendar appointments and tasks. (I’ve changed how I do this a little bit, but that link shows the basic practice.)

At the end of each day, I look at my digital work calendar and my digital personal calendar with all their Zoom and Teams invites, and handwrite my appointments for the next day. I also look at my handwritten task list for the weeks, and handwrite the ones I hope to finish the next day.

My task and project lists are handwritten, because it is just too easy for me to get lost in a to-do app which automatically – mindlessly! – populates and replicates and sorts and copies.

No.

I need to do that sorting and copying and revising by hand.

I need to activate my brain to make my real world, real life plans. And this means I need to activate my body, by handwriting my plans down, in physical paper books.


Notes

* I do think the virtual world has a lot to offer people whose bodies don’t allow them to move with ease. For example, being able to write with a dictation app if you cannot use your hands to write, or being able to communicate by using a mouth stick and a tablet.


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Wondering how to manage your paper-based or hybrid paper-digital systems? Ask me a question.


1 January 2024 | 1:36 pm

Nice article for all who love planners, A Short History of the Daily Planner, by Jillian Hess. Hess is an academic who researches notebooks and note-taking. If you love analog notes and notebooks, and reading notes by notable people, resolve to subscribe to her newsletter this year.



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