Two Whiteboards, 24 Post-It Notes: My Physical Task Management System

Over the past few months, I’ve slowly shifted a lot of my content planning and task management onto real, physical whiteboards.

This is a pretty marked change, as I’ve traditionally used computer-based systems to manage almost everything. I still use these for certain things, but I no longer keep my task management exclusively electronic.

In this post, I’ll show you my new system based on whiteboards (and Post-It notes), and explain why I’m liking the change.

Who knows – maybe you’ll find it useful as well!

The Setup

My current system is based on two main whiteboards:

  • The weekly planning board
  • The daily “doing” board

Here, you can see a shot of my daily board. I use the concept of night-before planning (covered in my 4-step productive process video) here, writing down the most important things I want to get done the next day before I go to bed.

My daily task whiteboard.

This list for last Sunday is abnormally big, to be honest. On most days, I’ll only have two or three big tasks written down; sometimes, I’ll write down “stretch tasks” underneath – these are tasks that would be nice to get to, but I’m not expecting them to get done.

The daily board is mounted on my bedroom wall at standing level, which I like a lot. This configuration requires me to actually stand up from my desk to plan my next day, and to check things off, which helps me to mentally separate task management from real, actual work time.

In the living room, I’ve got my weekly planning board. On Sundays – which are my content planning days – I stand in front of this board and plan out what I’ll publish that week, including:

  • A podcast episode
  • A blog post
  • A video
  • The newsletter
  • 1-2 Facebook posts per day

As you can see, the top row of the board functions as a sort of calendar for all that content.

I’ve got a separate document written out that serves as my “weekly archetype” with general rules (podcasts come out Monday, Facebook book recommendations are Wednesday morning, etc), which I try to follow consistently, placing specific titles for things on each day of the week.

Weekly planning board.

Below that, I’ve got weekly goals set out for writing, podcast recording, video shooting, and other tasks.

Planning everything out this way has been incredibly helpful for remaining consistent with publishing new things. Before I started doing this, I’d often get an idea for an article or podcast and then try to finish it on the same day – only to end up putting things off (because things take time to create!)

Now, with everything planned out on Sunday, I can actually delegate work on specific projects to specific days. My archetype document actually has another column that specifies the type of work I should be doing on each day as well, which allows me to get ahead.

For example, almost all podcast recording is now done on Tuesdays. By doing this (and finally getting some help on booking guests), I’m now several weeks ahead on podcasts – which means I can now consistently publish an episode every week!

Planning my work in efficient batches is even more important for videos – which I’m doing weekly now – because they require a lot more work. Here’s an example workflow, which I went through for my last video on using Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater to figure out of college is a good investment:

  • Do research
  • Write out notes and a pseudo-script
  • Set up my studio
  • Film the main segment
  • Film b-roll (anything that isn’t me talking)
  • Edit the audio feed
  • Edit the video – several hours of chopping up footage, making graphics in Photoshop, animating things, etc
  • Exporting and uploading to YouTube
  • Writing the companion blog post with video notes

If I’m going to make a new blog post, podcast, and video every single week, I have to be insanely organized and efficient about it.

However, my planning process goes even further than that. Next to my planning board, I’ve set up an editorial calendar with Post-It notes. This calendar helps me plan out what I want to publish for the entire month.

Month-at-a-glance writing calendar.

I love using Post-It notes for this process, as I can move things around or change specific posts if I get an idea for something that should go out sooner rather than later.

Planning out the whole month is also useful because I can develop ideas for series and follow-up posts. For example, in the near future I’d like to do a few videos on winning scholarships. I think it’d be a good idea to publish these all in a row, so planning all their publishing dates in advance is essential.

One last thing I’ll note about the planning board and Post-It notes: I deliberately put them in a different room.

Yes, I wouldn’t have had enough wall space in my bedroom for them anyway, but the decision to place them on the living room walls was done for a purpose.

I wanted to cleanly separate my “CEO mode” – the planning part of my brain – from “Worker Bee mode” – the doing part of my brain. I wanted my room and desk to be primarily for the here and now – the task at hand. Planning goes on in a separate room.

This idea is based off of the Method of loci, or “mind palace” – a Roman memorization technique based on grouping things into sets and associating them with a physical room in a house. I figured the method would also work for training my brain to get into specific modes of thinking when I physically stand in different rooms as well.

Oh, and I suppose there is a third whiteboard; however, it’s not exactly part of my task management system. Rather, I use this one to plan out the meals I’m going to eat during the week:

Meal planning fridge whiteboard

Planning out meals is actually a fantastic way to save money in college. Here’s why.

Cooking is work. You probably wish you did it more, but there are two factors working against you:

  1. You’re busy, have a billion other things to do, and feel too stressed to cook
  2. It’s so easy to order delivery food (even my smaller town has at least five delivery options)

In order to increase the probability that you’ll actually cook dinner instead of just letting your ingredients rot in the fridge, you need to do all that you can to reduce the friction involved in starting to cook.

I reduce cooking friction in three ways:

  1. I get really good at making a meal before trying to learn new ones. That way, making it becomes an automatic process that doesn’t require much thought. At this point, I have around six meals that are automatic processes. They take almost no mental power to make.
  2. I use the Clear to Neutral technique (which I elaborate on in my video on productive processes) to further reduce starting friction. For cooking, this means I always wash and put away my dishes the moment I finish using them – that way, I shouldn’t have to clean anything before I start cooking the next time. Now, if only my roommates could do the same…
  3. I plan my meals on Sunday. That’s what the whiteboard above is for. As you can see, I eat a pretty small assortment of meals, but I’m perfectly happy with that. Knowing what I’m eating for all three meals each day helps me mentally insert cooking time into my day’s plan.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what “b1” and “b2” are, they’re my shorthand for the two breakfasts I make – b1 being eggs, spinach, and toast, and b2 being a breakfast burrito.

What’s Your Take?

So, what are your thoughts on the switch to a physical task management system? Have you tried using a similar system?

I’ll note that I’m still using Trello for managing the details of large projects, and I still use HabitRPG daily in order to keep all my habits in check. However, I’m really enjoying the switch to whiteboards for both time-based content planning, as well as daily to-do management.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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9 Comments:
  1. Literally all your videos benefit me and now..these posts! 😀 keep making more! I’d love to improve my life ^_^

  2. Totally agree with Benjamin – I too have tried Trello out of curiosity, but having the tasks right in front of my eyes (in front of my bed, to be more precise) is better for staying on track. I too use the daily whiteboard, but never thought of adopting a weekly one as well, so I’ll steal that idea;) (like an artist, of course). And the post-it editorial calendar is pure geniusXD Thanks for sharing your system with us!

  3. I think I prefer the physical approach for to-do lists. I’ve tried Trello several times, but I can’t seem to keep it updated. Having sticky notes, a whiteboard, and my two closet mirrors are better for me. I can’t escape from the tasks I have to do by simply closing out the browser window, and they’re constantly in front of me so I never forget. Plus, there’s something about writing on a whiteboard (or mirror), whether for to-do lists or brainstorming, that I just love.

    Great article, as always!

    • I call it “entropy” when a task management system becomes messy and unorganized – and I’d say not keeping it updated counts, as it’s just as bad. For me, entropy is lower with the whiteboards, so at least right now I’m with you!

  4. Really interesting method, Tom. I’m currently reevaluating my own task management system after listening to your latest podcast, so this post came at just the right time. I’m currently going with Wunderlist for task management and a piece of paper for my daily to-do, but I’m considering the whiteboard method. My girlfriend uses one to keep track of her class assignments, and it works great for her. I like using post it notes to model a calendar–reminds me of Austin Kleon’s illustrations of a month and a year using dots in Steal Like An Artist (have you read this book? It’s one of my favorites.) There is something satisfying about physically erasing or crossing off a task that is lacking in digital task management systems.

    Thanks for the excellent post, as always.

    P.S. I’m so jealous you’re going to Camp Nerd Fitness! If I didn’t have class I would so be there. I hope you do some sort of post update or talk about it on the podcast.

    • I actually haven’t read the entire Steal Like an Artist book, but I have looked at a few pages of it and absolutely loved what I saw. I supposed I should go through and finish reading it soon.

      That last part is huge for me; there’s a tangible satisfaction with taking the marker and crossing things off my list, then eventually erasing the board. HabitRPG is nice because it gives me an extra reward for doing things, but other systems where you just click on tasks are less fun.

      I’ll be sure to recap Camp NF on a podcast; who knows, maybe Steve will be up to do another interview sometime soon 🙂

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