Project Management with Sticky Notes - Verbal to Visual - Doug Neill - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, graphic recording, graphic facilitation

Project Management with Sticky Notes

Once you start a project, how do you stay on track throughout it? What’s the process that will get you from start to finish? In any given moment, how will you know what you should be working on?

Those are the types of questions that I think about regularly, with both the work I do here teaching sketchnoting skills and the work that I do with my podcast about building a sustainable creative career.

I would like to share with you a visual tool that has become a permanent fixture on my office wall, a tool that helps me to address those questions and complete the work that’s important to me each day and week.

Recurring Weekly Workflows

Both of my ongoing projects have weekly output connected to them (videos about sketchnoting and podcast episodes about building a creative career).

At times it has been a challenge to keep up with that weekly pace, to develop and produce a new video and a new podcast episode every single week.

But the project management tool that I’m going to describe has been a real help in both wrapping my head around what the weekly workflow looks like and then actually carrying out that work.

So my hope is that this setup might help you with the work that you’re involved in, especially in those cases where there’s a certain thing that you make every single week or every single month.

Identify the Manageable Steps

The first thing to do is identify the steps required for your project. With my weekly videos, I break the process into these eight steps:

Start by identifying the manageable steps of your project, and give each its own space.

I explain each of these steps in a video called Whiteboard Animation Workflow, so if you’d like to dig deeper into those details then go check out that video.

I’ve found it helpful to identify each of those individual steps because it makes the overall process of creating a video like the one above feel less daunting. Rather than thinking of that entire project as a whole, I can focus on just the step that’s in front of me right now.

Map Each Task to a Day

Since it’s my goal to make and share a video every single week, I decided to map each task to a specific day.

Stay on track by mapping each task to a day.

In this case I like to front-load the work by doing the most intensive steps on Monday. I make it my goal to get all the way through the recording of the sketchnote, and then I taper down from there so that I’ve got a bit less work on Tuesday, a little bit less than that on Wednesday, and then Thursday is when I finish it and send it out.

I find that type of front-loading to be helpful for two reasons: 1) I get the hardest work done first; and 2) it creates a buffer so that even if I don’t get through all four of those tasks on Monday (maybe just the first two or three), I still have some time on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to pick up the slack and get it done on time.

The Second Weekly Deliverable

The creation of videos about visual thinking isn’t the only thing I work on each week.

I’ve also got a weekly podcast called The Doug Neill Show.

I also create weekly podcast episodes for The Doug Neill Show.

The tagline of that show is “Weekly reflections on the building of a sustainable creative career,” and I treat it as a behind-the-scenes podcast where I describe how I’m going about building Verbal to Visual and sharing ideas that I hope are helpful for other folks who are building their own creative careers.

Each week I look back at what I’ve been working on and pick one story to tell.

I start by making a quick outline in Evernote, and then record the audio by improvising off of that outline. Then I edit it and create some bullet-point show notes. To finish it off I create a sketchnote summary and visual template to help listeners remember and take action on the ideas that I share each week.

That’s a nice way to use the skills that I teach here. If you want to see what those sketchnote summaries and visual templates look like, come join the Patreon connected to that podcast.

The podcast itself is free and comes out every Friday (assuming all goes well with my plan – sometimes I get backed up and it doesn’t make it out until Saturday or Sunday, but I’m getting more consistent thanks to this workflow tool!).

This Method in Practice

After identifying each of the steps in my weekly work and assigning those steps to specific days, I then taped up that chart to my office wall, and I’ve been using it to track the development of each video and podcast episode that I make.

This is where sticky notes come in handy.

Use sticky notes to track the progress of a given piece of work through your workflow.

Once I’ve decided on the title for the video or podcast episode that I’m making that week, I jot it down on a sticky note and put it within the box of that first step.

With that as a reference, at any given time throughout each day I know what step I need to be working on and I can focus just on that step as I do the work necessary to move that sticky note from one square to the next.

Since I’ve got those steps connected to specific days, I always have a general sense for how the week is going and if I’m on track to publish the thing on the day that I hope to publish it.

Week-to-Week Momentum

I’ve found that it’s often when I’m in the middle of working on one video or podcast episode that an idea for the next one comes to mind. What I like about this visual tool that I’ve been describing is that I’ve got space to jot that idea down on another sticky note and post it next to my chart (not yet within the step one box because I’m not actively working on it, but just off to the side).

Capture ideas for future work to the left of your chart (not even within the first step yet to avoid actively working on it).

That helps me to capture ideas for future weeks without worrying about getting started on them yet. It’s a place to put video ideas and potential podcast episodes that are in the queue, and that helps to keep the momentum going from week to week.

Similarly, once I finish every step and I publish the thing that I’ve been working on, I move it off of the chart but keep it up on the wall.

Celebrate the completion of the work by keeping the sticky note up on the wall as a reminder that you can indeed finish what you start.

To me that represents a little bit of a celebration: here’s a thing that I made from start to finish and put out into the world.

It’s also a reminder when I start the next one that I’ve done this before, and that even if I come upon roadblocks, I’ve proven to myself in the past that I can overcome them and finish the thing.

As an added benefit, it helps me to see in a very visual way the growing body of work that I create and share over time.

Your Turn

If these ideas and this process has got you excited about your own projects, then you might consider creating something like it for yourself.

Here’s a recap of why I consider this to be helpful tool for your own project management:

  • It encourages you to explicitly write down your process, and when you actually take the time to look at the individual steps involved you’re more likely to see places where improvements can be made.
  • It helps you to focus on one project at a time and even one step at a time within that project. You can see the big picture of how far along you are in the process, but you also know what you need to be working on right now.
  • You have a place where you can capture potential next projects and archive completed ones, to remind yourself that you’ve done it before so you can do it again.
  • The simple but rewarding act of moving a sticky note from left to right adds a bit of motivation as you carry out your work each day.

So if you would like to more clearly see the steps in your ongoing work and have a tool to track that work, then give this method a try.

If you would like to develop a broader set of visual skills to help you with your learning, problem-solving, and storytelling work, then check out our sketchnoting courses, starting with An Introduction to Visual Note-Taking:

Reconnect to making marks by hand as you learn to use text, layout, imagery, and color to engage your visual brain.

That course will walk you step-by-step through the process of developing all of the individual skills that make up sketchnoting and then combining those skills as you create a note-taking system that works well for you.

You can also explore our full course library here.

Good luck with whatever work you’re tackling this week!