Do you ever intend to get something done, but instead of actually getting around to doing the thing, you forget about it, push it back to “another time” when you remember it? Are there long-term goals you want to achieve, but can’t seem to get started on? Do you just want to make sure you remember to change the cat litter every day?
It’s time to introduce you to the sticky note system.
“Oh no. A system? This is going to be convoluted, isn’t it?”
Don’t worry, it’s not that complicated. All it involves is making to-do lists on sticky notes. For many people, a small thing like getting to cross an item off of a list when a task is complete is a simple reward system that can give you a hit of dopamine — like getting an achievement in a video game.
If you can train yourself to look forward to these dopamine hits, you can train yourself to be motivated to complete tasks on the list.
So why make lists on sticky notes specifically? Well, you need to tack the sticky notes in a prominent place, somewhere that you look at multiple times a day. For me, that’s the back of my laptop;
Looks messy, doesn’t it? That’s alright. It’s not meant to be pretty, it’s meant to help me organize my thoughts.
Some of these notes (the three on the far left) are just to hold things I need to keep in mind for later, leaving my brain free to focus on what’s actually important in the moment.
Other notes (the two on the far right) are reminders that help me take care of myself and keep up my social media presence. If I’m not feeling good, I check the white sticky note to figure out what I’ve neglected. If I feel like I need to do some social media work, I look to the yellow sticky note and consider which platform needs the most attention.
The really important sticky notes (the middle two) are for tasks. This is where most of my productivity lies.
I have one sticky note for the tasks I want to get done today, and another for the tasks I want to get done during the week. When I complete a task for the day, I cross it off of the daily sticky note. Oftentimes, I slot a weekly task into the daily sticky note, and I can feel good about crossing it off of both at once when I get it done.
Your sticky note system doesn’t have to look like mine. You could use an app instead of physical sticky notes, keep used sticky notes for future reference instead of throwing them away, or have sticky notes specifically for jotting down story ideas; whatever helps you keep track of your brain. The key thing is get yourself in the habit of checking the notes, and keeping track of what you’ve accomplished… and more importantly to not berate yourself if you’re not being as productive as you want to be yet.
Because you won’t want to check your sticky notes if you feel shameful about what you still have left to do.
So be gentle with yourself. If you notice that you’ve been neglecting a particular task, ask yourself; why? Is there something demotivating you from doing the task? Are you overburdened, and not able to get around to it? Is it especially exhausting or anxiety-inducing? Is it too big to do in one day? Is this task necessary in the first place — should you stop trying to do this task, and make room for other things that are more important instead?
The primary thing I have learned from my system is that self-empathy is the best technique to get myself to do things.
You are not lazy.
You are a human being, with human wants and needs, and human levels of motivation.
So, aside from the dopamine hit we went over earlier, what motivates you? What tasks are you doing consistently? Did you fall into a comfortable habit of doing them? Or is the task inherently pleasing in some other way? Do you feel proud when you do something scary, or difficult? Are you more motivated by consequences, or rewards?
It’s also important to make sure your tasks are bite-sized and readily accomplished. Break daunting tasks down into smaller chunks! Instead of “write two chapters”, you can “write chapter fifteen” and “write chapter sixteen”. That way, you can still feel accomplished about writing chapter fifteen even if you can’t get around to sixteen.
Finally, it can be good to write down fun and relaxing tasks to do. If you hit a rut, what you need might be to take a break and cross “brush the cat” off your list.
Even if the sticky note system doesn’t work for you, I hope that this gets you thinking about what you want to accomplish, and how you might accomplish it. Remember that this is only one potential way to increase your productivity. Experiment! Try other methods of organization! Slow progress is still progress, so celebrate every accomplishment you earn. The effort will add up over time.
And that’s it for productivity. If you find my advice helpful, then you can support my journey as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day!