A creative Post-It Note approach to managing design projects

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Imagine you just landed a dream project from a dream client (you know, the one that says money is no object, pays all up front, and if you ask for something, well, you won’t need to ask for something, it’ll be there already!), and you’re just about to get going, when, all of a sudden, you realise that you need to make sure you do the work right to keep the dream client coming back. So you spend a bit of time looking for the best way to manage your project successfully.
Common situation? Apart from the dream client, I’m sure many freelancers, especially new ones, have this situation arise. Knowing what stage of the project I am on, and what you have left to do before the deadline is on my mind during most of the day. Before I looked into the use of Project Management Software, my notebook was full of illegible scribbles, post-it’s and referrals to documents on my computer. Not very professional, I know, which is why I looked into some Project Management Software.

This article documents my experience in finding the best way for me to manage my design projects.

What I was looking for

I went with the original notebook plan because it was simple. No point not being able to look at something which ruled my life if I wasn’t able to see what was happening. As such, I had a series of requirements of Project Management Software to fulfil, set by the trustworthy notebook:

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  • Easy to use
  • Able to fit in my pocket (for milestone projects, I tended to create these with the client present, so I had to be able to carry it around with me!)
  • Easy to read at a glance
  • 100% reliability (I didn’t want to finish a task, and have to wait for 20minutes because the software had a bug, the license expired or my internet connection went down)
  • Provide a report to show the client
  • I wasn’t too bothered about the price of the software – if it was perfect for the job, I’d be more than happy to pay that bit extra. As long as it worked well, and was reliable.

The Contenders

I looked on several sites which promoted a wide range of Project Management gear, and each piece of software looked good and was easy to use! This was beginning to look easier than I had expected. But then came the tricky parts – Reliability of web based ones wouldn’t be trustworthy where I am living– quite common for a storm to affect my internet signal. So that ruled out a large amount.

Since I didn’t always take my laptop with me to a meeting, I wanted something that was very simple and straightforward, which I could take notes on and fill in later. But then after testing several of the more popular ones, I found that they all required far too much detail than what I was after – making it harder to read, and not able to fit in my pocket!

Twitter and Post-It Notes to the Rescue!

I’m sure many people here have twitter, and occasionally see some pictures which always look interesting. One day around this time I saw one posted by a member of staff in a studio which I really admire. The photograph pictured a glass partition wall, coated in post-it notes and handwritten notes scribbled in pen. After a few messages back and forth, I set up a wall of my own (which, I’d like to point out in case my landlord is reading this, doesn’t have pen on it!)

Success! It fulfilled each requirement I had set – and even better, the fact that post-it notes come in packs of hundreds/thousands for very cheap was an added bonus!

Pros and Cons of the Post-It Note approach

I found that this worked best for me, as I was able to look quickly, and move things around if they were getting tight. Spending much of my working day behind a computer, I wanted something that wouldn’t be staring me in the face as I was working, and I wanted to dictate to the software if I was running late, early or on schedule, not be told that I am 3 hours late for Milestone X. I also wanted something which was more ‘interactive’ for my clients, so that when I was meeting them to discuss the project, I could get a pen out, the post-its out, my diary (now much emptier) and the contract all on the table with the client, and we could decide what was and what wasn’t required by a certain day.

The main issue I’ve had so far is after re-sticking the notes five or six times, they start to lose their stickiness, and if they do fall, and it isn’t noticed, I think it could potentially ruin a project. Luckily, this hasn’t happened to me, and I hope it doesn’t for some time!

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Over to you…share your thoughts.

What’s your favourite way of managing your design projects? Have you had any horror stories, or simply want to voice your opinion? Share your thoughts on the Post-It note approach to project management.

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About Dan Howard

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  1. While it’s still in the very early stages and many of the potentially awesome apps are still being developed, I plan to use the iPad for exactly this purpose: a Business / Project Management Tool.

    I don’t have one yet and won’t be able to get one for a while (it only launches today in Australia) but from what I’ve heard, and for my business (just starting out) it comes with everything I’d need out of the box: Calendar, Email, Notes.

    In the job I’m in at the moment, I work as the senior office administrator in a small firm that registers companies, trading names, trust funds, etc. Our firm used to use software to manage our projects but found that it took a lot of time in upkeep and we’ve all switched over to the post-it notes system too.

    The only reason I think the iPad will be more efficient than the post-it notes scenario is that all my notes will be in the one place, they’ll be named according to task and my manager can see where I’m up to if need be by just picking up the device – no more sifting through piles of paper on our ‘work to be done’ bench.

    One thing you mentioned though Preston caught my imagination: a glass wall. I would absolutely love a glass wall / panel that I could write on with whiteboard markers / pens or similar – it would be so much more efficient and cheaper than notepads or even post-it notes!

    • @Laneth Sffarlenn, A glass wall would be pretty amazing indeed. Or a giant dry erase board wall like internet marketing guru Frank Kern has. That would be pretty awesome too.

    • @Laneth Sffarlenn,
      I took inspiration from a glass wall/panel image I saw on Flikr. May be more useful for larger studio spaces than a freelancer

  2. Well, I agree with you. its working trick on me. sometimes i use cellphone whenever i dont find my sticky notes. but i have no specialty wall, maybe i should built one.


    • @danangrahadi, I’ve not used a special wall – I just used one that was blank at the time. Beauty of post-its (in comparison to stickers, blu-tak etc.) is that they leave virtually no trace. A very good thing for rented accomodation, and anywhere you don’t want to leave marks

  3. It’s pretty incredible (and funny) how the universe works. Recently I started writing more and more stuff in my sketchbook related to different self-promotion projects, speaking engagements, interviews, etc. etc. as well as my usual doodles of fruits and vegetables (which for some reason I’ve been obsessed with drawing recently), and I thought to myself “man…I really need to find a better way.” Plus I’m running out of pages and flipping back and forth between projects and vegetables, well, just wasn’t really practical anymore.

    So I thought to myself…I should use post-it notes! And just write each individual task on a different note. I even brought them with me to my coffee table just now before I started browsing the web…but anyway, I had another idea – I’m thinking of organizing different projects by different colors of notes, so they’re easier to spot.

    Also instead of a wall (though I kind of want a wall now), I was thinking of sticking them to sheets of printer paper based on category so I can carry them around to the obscure places I work in. Just a thought.

    I agree that it’s better than having a digital software…there’s just something more fun and intimate about post-its and pens.


  4. I used to use a large dry erase board for my project management. It was the quickest way from me to jot down the information, milestones, and due dates for every project I was working on. On the right side it had a 3 month calendar where I would reinforce my due dates for the upcoming months. The problem I had with this was that I didn’t have the information with me at all times. The solution I found was with my phone, I recently purchased a Palm Pre Plus for my business phone. It has two programs, “apps” if you will, that work great for management of projects. 1st it has tasking software where you can create a set of tasks for each project then add your milestones under the project name. It has a simple checkbox design and maintains the date that it was created and completed. Second, the calendar software which syncs with the calendar on my computer, I enter my due dates and meetings this way. This has kept me on track much better than the dry erase board, and is mobile so when a client wants information on their project or to change the time of a meeting it only takes a few seconds to update the information.

  5. Make new Twitter account, protect it, just make it for post it 😀

    • @Nafi Putrawan,
      one thing with this, is showing it to clients. I’d rather not have to log onto Twitter if possible, especailly if I’m using an App for it. Last thing I’d want is to get mixed up between two accounts!

  6. Thanks for all your comments guys!!!

  7. Dan,
    Good article, its nice to see how other designers approach organization.

    I just recently started to use Google for many of my project management needs. I found that Google’s software is easy to use and syncs with both my Mac Pro and Palm Pre, although I am probably making the switch to an Android OS phone if I remain satisfied with Google. I know that you said that you are weary of anything Internet based, but if you use a smart phone Google’s syncing capabilities perform great and could help with your out-of-pocket planning.

  8. If notes run out of glue, just use some post-it glue stick.

    or better yet, you dont need to buy post-it notes, just regular recycled paper (or used), cut it (on guillotine) and add some post-it glue :)!!!

  9. Nice article, Thanks for sharing. I use yahoo widgets (stickies deluxe) really like it.

  10. Cool idea for getting them off my desk, I love post it notes!! They can tend to get a bit messy, so I like the idea of a set place on (a glass wall – would be ideal) – hmmm where oh where can I put mine?:)


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Preston D Lee and Laneth Sffarlenn, Millo blog. Millo blog said: New blog post: A creative Post-It Note approach to managing design projects http://bit.ly/9ODwjm […]


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