How to Get Way More Done Using the Sticky Note Technique

sticky note techniqueAwesome freeze frame, right? Gotta get better at that.

Anyway – The Sticky Note Technique is a very simple, yet extremely powerful technique to improve your day to day productivity.

This solves many common problems with to-do lists such as feeling overwhelmed, listing unimportant tasks, not getting everything done, and more.

With this one simple technique, you’ll not only increase what you get done, but you’ll also increase the effectiveness of the things you get done on your overall goals.

Sounds awesome right?

So before I tell you all about it, I want to cover one of the basics of to-do lists.

Tasks, not Projects

A lot of people have problems with listing high level project related items on their to-do lists. This is a productivity sin.


Because a to-do list is meant to be very specific and action-oriented. It’s meant to get down to the exact thing you need to do to make progress on your goal.

For example:

“Work on web traffic report” vs. “Add traffic data, and create charts for web traffic report”

Do you see the difference? The first is general, unfocused, and high level. It doesn’t get down to what you actually need to get done. This introduces uncertainty into the equation and does not allow you to easily focus on a specific end result.

This means you’re much more likely not to get that task finished. Often times, this is what causes an item on your list to carry over from day to day, or not get done at all. It’s not that it isn’t important to you. You just haven’t worded that item well enough to equip yourself to easily get it done.

A simple semantic change by outlining the specific task(s) you need to accomplish makes all the difference in the world.

Make sure you are breaking your tasks down enough as well. Tasks on your to do list shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours each. If they do, you haven’t broken things down enough.

This is how I want you to focus on creating the items on your to-do list. Implement this into your list creation routine from now on.

The Sticky Note Technique – Explained

Ok – Now that you know a couple of the basics of daily to-do lists, let me introduce you to what I call, “The Sticky Note Technique.”

Obviously, to use this technique, you’ll need a regular sized sticky note – the kind that is about the size of the palm of your hand.

Before you call me a nut for recommending against technology for your output, just hear me out. There are a lot of pitfalls to using technology for to-do lists. In fact, you’ll probably discover many of them within this article.

So, that being said, how do you get started with The Sticky Note Technique?

You guessed it.

Create your daily to-do list on this sticky note!

I could end this article right there and you’d still be more productive, but I’m not going to just tell you something without explaining why it works.

So why does this work so well?

Well that’s where the psychology of this technique comes in.

The Psychological Power of “The Sticky Note Technique”

It’s been proven time and time again that writing things down helps things to stick in our minds.

This is the same with your daily to-do lists, but I’ll do you one better. Much better.

In his timeless classic, Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini introduced his discovery of the psychological principle of Commitment.

He basically discovered that when humans say they are going to do something before the opportunity exists to actually do it, they are FAR more likely to do it.

  • Politicians use this on the voting population to get votes (can we count on your vote?)
  • Salesmen use this to set up house visits (can we chat in person next Monday?)
  • Non-profits use this to collect funding (if you could donate a $1 to save a life, would you?)

This is where the physical writing of your to-do list comes in. When you write things down, you’re helping your to-do list stick in your mind, and you’re psychologically committing yourself to getting those things done.

How the Sticky Note Technique Affects Your Feelings

When you do get those things done, you get to reward your emotions. The physical nature of your list allows you to actually cross things off your list physically.

Go ahead. Draw a line through those completed tasks. It feels good doesn’t it?

This act actually produces dopamine in your brain, causing you to experience pleasure. This means this is something you’ll want to do again and again. You can actually become somewhat addicted to productivity. Awesome, right!?

But here’s the kicker.

Contrary to the positive feelings you get with crossing things from your list, you can actually experience similar negative feelings. In fact, if you don’t get the items on your physical list done, you’ll often have feelings of regret and remorse, which means you’ll want to minimize those feelings by getting everything done.

True Productivity Enhanced, Overwhelm Destroyed

You’ve probably heard me talk about “true productivity” before on Academy Success. If you haven’t, you can read more about that here.

This is basically the idea that you want to focus only on tasks that are going to get you closer to your goal. No busy work. If something doesn’t accomplish a significant result, or it’s just busy work, take it off your list and come up with something better.

The Sticky Note Technique helps you do this because there is only a small amount of space on a sticky note. You’re not going to have the urge to fill your list with stuff that you don’t need to do because you only have so much room to write.

This also helps you to eliminate feelings of overwhelm.

Often times we don’t get things done because we feel like we have WAY too much to do.

With only a few things on your list, you don’t have that problem.

This helps you get more done because it allows you to focus only on the truly productive items for your day, and ensures you’re not distracted by a gigantic list that is way too large to handle.

It’s Always There

Lastly, your sticky note is always right there in front of you.

  • It’s not lost in a sea of documents on your computer.
  • You’re not going to be distracted by your email when you go to see what’s next
  • There’s no chance of losing it if your data isn’t backed up
  • All you have to do is look down, and you’re right into your next task

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a tech dude through and through. In fact, tech is responsible for the way I make my living, but for daily to-do lists, the tech world doesn’t stand a chance at helping you increase your productivity.

What Next?

I’m all about taking action and getting quick results, so that’s exactly what I want you to do.

Start using the sticky note technique tomorrow and tell me how it affects your productivity.

Here’s a quick summary of how to implement it into your life.

  • Use a standard sticky note to write your daily to-do list
  • Focus on short tasks, not high level projects
  • Make your tasks specific and achievable
  • Ensure you’re only listing items that matter to your end goals (true productivity)
  • Cross off items you get done, bask in your productivity glory, and then and move to the next
  • Everything that is left over, write on a new sticky note for the next day

After you’ve done that for a couple of days, report back here and let me know how it went for you. I want to hear your questions, comments, and criticisms. Let’s make this work as well for you as it has for me!

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  1. says

    This was a very informative read. I’ve been doing something similar by separating my daily to-do list into 2 categories, a “must do” and a “would like to do”. This helps me get the important things done, but also allows me to focus on what to do next if I finish it all.

    I’ve never actually thought about using a sticky note for this and I think it’s brilliant! I have been making the mistake of keeping my list saved into a note on my phone and completely neglected the psychological aspect of having it on a physical sheet of paper that stares at me throughout the day. Thank you for this article. I’ll be sure to share it with others!

    • Cody Wheeler says

      Thanks Will. I use a similar technique with my weekly lists, “musts” and “nice to haves.” It works out well.

      Let me know how the sticky note technique works out for you. I’d love to do a case study for those that make the change and experience success.

      • says

        A case study would definitely be interesting to see if you decide to do it.

        I used the sticky note technique yesterday and I noticed that I had a strange tendency to want to check items off.

        I normally feel an urge to take breaks at certain times throughout the day, but with the sticky note, I actually skipped a lot of breaks because I felt a strong urge to “finish just 1 more item” just so I could take a pen and cross it out and watch the list shrink. It kind of felt like a mini victory each time I finished a task. This is something I never felt when I did it digitally.

        • says

          Yep that’s the inherent psychology behind writing things and the accomplishment you get with physically crossing them off. It’s cool how such a simple thing can be so motivating.

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