How a Sticky Note Can Change Your Life

In this era of always-on, constantly connected mobile and computing devices, it’s comforting to know it’s still possible to be incredibly efficient and effective using the humble sticky note. In this article I’ll show you how to use a system called “The Critical Six” to manage your most important life goals using simple square sticky notes. You’ll be amazed at how focused and productive you can become and how much more you’ll get done.100 Years Of Productivity

The idea originally appeared about a 100 years ago as the brainchild of Ivy Lee, an efficiency expert hired by Charles Schwab, chairman of Bethlehem Steel. The story goes that Lee told Mr. Schwab he could have the idea for free, but would appreciate some form of compensation if it proved beneficial to Schwab within three months. Apparently it worked, since Schwab later sent Lee a check for $25,000 and claimed it was the greatest productivity tool he’d ever seen.

Your Six Most Important Things

The Critical Six list is very different from tracking daily to-dos like catching up on email, follow-up calls, paying your bills, and other busy work. The Critical Six is only for those activities that will clearly move you in the direction of your dreams and goals. To get started, take out a single square Post-it note and think about what is most important to you. What is the one thing you could do today, that if you completed it, would move you in the direction of your dreams and goals? Write it down on the sticky note. What else is important for you to accomplish? Write that down.Keep adding to your list until you have a total of six items.

It’s vital to list no more than six things, since more than that will make your list hard to manage. Next, prioritize them in order of importance from one to six. Your Critical Six list is now ready to rock. Next you need to put it where you can see it as often as possible.

Using a small Post-it note makes it easy to place your list in a convenient location like your computer monitor or desk. You want something you can easily refer to throughout the day that will constantly remind you of your goals despite daily distractions and interruptions.

Why, When and How it Works

Make your list at the end of the day or right before you go to bed. This way you avoid spending time planning your day the next morning. The time it takes “planning to plan” really adds up over the course of a year, so don’t waste your precious early morning hours planning when you could be taking action. Instead, wake up, check your list and get going.

Start working on item number one until it gets done. Don’t do anything else on your list until that one thing is completed. Of course you’ll have interruptions throughout the day, so keep coming back to number one until you can check it off your list. And, because life often gets in the way when we’re making other plans, you may need more time to complete a given item than you have available in a single day. Don’t worry. Just keep coming back to that one thing until it’s done, as long as it is the top priority.

Don’t change your priorities unless doing so really will move you forward faster. It’s all about setting your general trajectory by staying on course and making little adjustments along the way.As each item is completed, move the others up in priority and add new ones to the bottom so you still have a total of six. At the end of each day update your list on a fresh sticky note for use the following day.

What’s On Your List?

To summarize, here’s how to execute your Critical Six list:

  • At the end of the day or before you go to bed, take out your pad of sticky notes and write down the six things that will move you toward your goals and dreams. Only include six items per day – no more, no less.
  • Prioritize each in order of importance: number one is the most important, followed by number two, etc. Start working on number one the first thing the following morning. Do not move on to item number two or any others until the first one is completed, even if you get distracted by other activities. The only time you would change the order is if you decide your priorities need to be adjusted. After all, it’s your life, your goals and your dreams.
  • At the end of the day tally up all the items you’ve accomplished. If you have not yet completed number one your list will not change. If you have completed it and any others, move the remaining items up in priority to the top of the list and add new items until you have your next day’s Critical Six list.

This simple strategy could make a tremendous difference in your life. By staying focused and committed to your priorities, you will see tremendous changes over time that will help you move forward in the direction of your dreams and goals, all thanks to a humble little sticky note.

Popular search terms for this article:

Importance of sticky notes

Mary Shaw is a freelance web writer, UX designer and project manager with 13 years experience in corporate web design.


  1. Hi,

    Great tips. It’s amazing how sometimes these small details and things can make all the difference.

    “The time it takes “planning to plan” really adds up over the course of a year, so don’t waste your precious early morning hours planning when you could be taking action. Instead, wake up, check your list and get going.”

    Spot on. This is very true, and I have experienced it myself.


  2. Jonas Brauer on the 2nd August

    Really good way of getting things done! It helps to get into that “flow” of just doing tasks.

  3. Bret Juliano on the 2nd August

    Great article and I like the fact that you included the original source for the article. It greatly adds to the credibility of the article to know where the original idea was taken from. Thanks for sharing, I just wrote my list for the day and plan on implementing this strategy daily now.

  4. Yvon on the 2nd August

    Cool tips,

    It sounds a bit familiar when you rely on the Most Important Task technique… but it looks good anyway!

  5. Melanie Brooks on the 2nd August

    My computer screen at work is covered with sticky notes. They remind me of phone numbers, addresses, and dates. When I’ve finished a task and don’t need them anymore…into the trash they go!

  6. Michele Chisholm on the 2nd August

    Great article, Mary! A concise strategy of keeping it simple to move me along. Just what I need, as I am often so distracted by all the possibilities and responsibilities that come along with running one’s own business.

  7. Doru Catana on the 2nd August

    I’ve been doing this for several months now and I can guarantee it gives AWESOME results.

    thanks for the article.

  8. Lisa Rogers on the 3rd August

    Wow, this is a great article and I’m going to try the idea! My sticky notes are always the to-dos I need to complete to make other people happy. What a novel idea to create some for ME.

    I love that a simple sticky note can do it, but I may need technology to remind me from glazing over it like wallpaper during my busy day. I think I’ll try setting up an Outlook reminder that pops up periodically: “Stay Critical!”

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Mary Shaw on the 4th August

    Thanks for the great comments, guys! Glad it’s helpful. I still struggle sometimes with keeping the critical stuff separate from my daily to-dos, but when I’m consistent it’s amazing how well things move forward.

  10. Ofis Yasami on the 5th August

    Nice reading ! Thank you.

  11. Hunter on the 4th November

    Really helpful. But I need this method more for my house and home than for my work. I’ve owed a lot of work for my house, like taking care bills and upgrading my floor.

Add a Comment