Megan Stemm-Wade

Keeping It Visible: The Joys of Offline Organization

Keeping on top of the daily multitude of tasks we all have in our work is like having another full-time job. There are a number of tools available to the most casual computer users, from the tasks and to-do lists in Microsoft Outlook, to Apple’s Project X, to a variety of Web programs like blist.com and Zoho. In IDD, keeping up with the dynamic nature of the academic environment is especially challenging. Anyone stepping into my shared workspace in the IDD offices at the DePaul Center will quickly notice my own low-tech yet cutting-edge (I think) solution to task management: sticky notes and a wall.

It looks something like this: there are three columns of stickies, each headed by a large note which categorizes that column. “Upcoming Tasks” in the left-most column, followed by “Current Tasks” in the middle, and “Items for Inspection” on the right. Projects or tasks that I need to complete, but which are not a priority today go in the “Upcoming” column. Those things I am working on today belong in the middle. If a project is large, I break it up in to smaller pieces that can be completed more quickly. Those finished projects, or tasks that require the review or “inspection” of others to be considered complete, go under that last large sticky.

Though I’d like to, I can’t take credit for this system. I first learned of the sticky-note revolution from my husband, an agile process-management consultant who teaches the sticky-note idea to teams in a variety of fields, from software to education. What the sticky notes do for me is help keep my workload visible to me and to anyone who needs to know what I’m working on and the status of those projects. At a glance, my colleagues can see where my efforts will be focused on a given day, and this knowledge facilitates ready discussion. The portable nature of the stickies also allows me to reprioritize my work each day. I can reach up and peel off a project under the “Current” heading—perhaps a course that has been shifted to future quarter—and replace it with a new, more immediate task. Should I run into a problem with a task, or need more information in order to complete it, I add a “flag” sticky to that task. Flags are a bright color and list the issue to be resolved. They are removed when the impediment is. Of course, the act of moving a completed task to that finished column gives me a boost in a very real, tactile sense which helps keep my motivation to continue on to the next task.

Adapting the sticky note system to my work in IDD keeps me organized, but also flexible, adaptive and motivated to move that next sticky into the “done” column. I love a good Web app as much as the next person, but I also appreciate simplicity and ease with which I can keep myself organized with just a few adhesive note and a good black pen.

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