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High Performance: The Post-it note organizational system

September 8, 2014 -  By

Harwood-blogAs a junior in college I applied for an internship in IBM’s marketing department. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected for the internship, but I was a finalist and had the opportunity to interview in person with its local marketing manager.

The interview was held in the manager’s office. Walking into his office, the first thing that caught my attention was a large wall filled with Post-it notes. He must have had more 100 Post-it notes of all colors neatly arranged in columns and rows on the dark paneling. I was surprised to see this, especially at IBM, the world’s leading technology company at the time.

When I inquired about the unusual system, he proudly explained to me each Post-it note represented one unique task he needed to accomplish before the end of the year. You see, this interview was held in late November and this manager was focused on wrapping up the year with nothing falling through the cracks. Obviously, he was a visual person and this system allowed him to easily see every task from the comfort of his office chair. It was quite a powerful visual for me as well, as evidenced by the fact that I still clearly recall this interview more than 30 years later.

Whenever I’m asked about time management systems, I can’t help but think of the IBM manager with a wall of Post-it notes. This simple and visual system served him well as he focused on a singular goal. He basically turned his office into a war room. It was a beautiful sight.

What we can learn from this is twofold. First, when we have a multifaceted problem to deal with, it’s helpful to spend some time identifying the action steps and keeping them in front you so you can see progress. This way nothing gets missed. Second, keep it simple. We can overcomplicate our lives, sometimes with technology, to the point where we’re no longer productive. If an IBM manager can make a wall of Post-it notes, so can we.

Now go forth.

Photo: Michael Arrighi/

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Phil Harwood

About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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