View Full Version : How to use an office whiteboard?
02-06-2007, 05:04 AM
This may be a bit off-topic for the GTD board (sorry), but it is productivity-related and I haven't been able to find an answer on the greater internet and I am pretty sure the knowledge is in this forum.
I have noticed that a lot of people keep a large white board on the wall of their office with what seems to be their personal project list on it. What is that all about and is it helpful? It seems strange to me to use a white board for personal use (as opposed to during a presentation, meeting or collaborative effort). What is the purpose of this, what gets recorded on it and why wouldn't a piece of paper be as effective and far more easily updated and transported? I feel like I am missing something here. Maybe it has something to do with "advertising" what you are working on so that the boss and/or co-workers will know (and be impressed?) What is the full story on this and should I be doing it, too?
Thanks for any insight you may share.
02-06-2007, 09:18 AM
I love dry erase pens... I actually stole the idea from Jason Womack, but I have kept a dry erase pen (with magnetic tip to stick to the framing) in my bathroom. [dont worry- this relates! :)] the mirror in the bathroom has become a great place for capture and placeholding for me... I tend to have lots of ideas but are fast to disappear.... so even while shaving i can scribble some notes to myself... in the mornings I often get a waterfall of things that bubble to the surface...the mirror has also become a makeshift @spouse list as well to communicate if I get in late and she is already in bed...
so, IMHO, mirrors, or whiteboards (among a MILLION other uses) for me have become a quick place to get things out of my head... the standard rules apply with processing and organizing, but the speed and minimal investment makes it worthwhile for me.... especially for all the things I HAVE TO DO THE NEXT MORNING OR I'M FIRED... etc...
in an office setting, i suppose it could take the same collection role, but with the large surface area it makes an ideal place to mindmap the natural planning model: purpose, principles, outcome, brainstorming, organzing, and identifying next actions... the large space makes the process REALLY fun... until you have done the natural planning model all the way through on a white board you havent realized how much fun GTD can be... it really opens things up for you....
you could also just keep action lists on there as well... adding and erasing as need be....
02-06-2007, 09:24 AM
I forgot to address the paper comment... whiteboards arent the only tool, but one of many... I think that its important to use the correct tool in the right place.... notebook vs. notecard vs. voice recorder vs. giant piece of paper vs. whiteboard, etc. so that part about comparing the tools is very subjective depending on what your end goal is... I capture in my moleskine a lot, but when i need to file a mind map I will photocopy it and put it in the project file. This seems horribly redundant, but the portability of the moleskine allowed me to (or inspired me to?) mindmap while taking my lunch... that tool at that time helped progress the project.
02-06-2007, 10:03 AM
Well, GTD has the concept of a Projects list. What's so strange about keeping your Projects list on a whiteboard?
It doesn't use up paper, you can add and remove things easily, and it's a highly visible reminder. Makes sense to me.
02-06-2007, 10:45 AM
It doesn't use up paper, you can add and remove things easily, and it's a highly visible reminder. Makes sense to me. Good points. I see there are some advantages. I guess I was wondering if there were some advantage or reason to have it on public display. That's the part that seems most unusual to me. But maybe having it on public display is just a side-effect and not the main purpose of using the whiteboard.
02-06-2007, 11:30 AM
you will probably not misplace it
if you come up with something really brilliant, you can take a photograph
very good for capturing group input
if delegating to team members they can all see they each is getting a piece and their is some "public" tracking
some people, esp. programmers and engineers seem to think well with a vertical surface at hand and the right markers
you can capture and communicate at same time, an absent member can readily pop in at a future time and check the board
some people find writing on a vertical surface very anxiety reducing
it will improve you handwriting
many surfaces can be utilized, including, I am told, melamine sheet 4'x8' for about $30.00
if someone leans against it, you will lose some or all of the information
cost: of the board and the markers (esp if they grow legs and run around) and what about breathing their fumes, chalk (tends not to elope) and blackboard might be more eco-friendly and cheaper, can be "painted" on cheaply-1/2 gallon Benj Moore paint is about $20.00(?) but a balckboard will always be dark and absorb light in the room
some people don't like to write or draw on vertical surface; it gives them aches and pains and makes them nervous
02-06-2007, 05:34 PM
For what it is worth, all physics professors that I know of prefer blackboards to whiteboards as a more reliable technology, both for classroom and office use.
02-07-2007, 07:13 AM
steve pavlina uses a whiteboard to keep track of goals: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/02/your-goal-scoreboard/
edward tufte is cool about whiteboards too:
02-07-2007, 09:21 AM
Good points. I see there are some advantages. I guess I was wondering if there were some advantage or reason to have it on public display. That's the part that seems most unusual to me. But maybe having it on public display is just a side-effect and not the main purpose of using the whiteboard.
I don't use a whiteboard. But I do remember a coworker once who used it to great effect.
I would like to address the publicity factor that you raise. I believe that it is a well-established feature of human behavior that making public demonstrations of our commitments often increases the likelihood that we will fulfill those commitments. If I vow to myself that I will help my son set up his computer, I am less likely to do it than if I vow to myself and then vow to my son.
If I tell myself I am going to lose 10 pounds in the next 30 days, I am less likely to do it than if I tell myself and then tell everyone I work with.
I imagine that if I put up a big sign in my office listing my goals, I might be more apt to try a little harder to achieve those goals, than if I listed those goals on a sheet of paper that I keep in my top drawer.
Publicity is not a be-all end-all. But it is another tool that we can deploy from our toolbox. Often, on this board, there are requests from people who want to break old habits or develop new ones. Publicly displaying my progress can often be a powerful motivator.
I tried Toastmasters for a few months once. When sufficient people attended a meeting, one person would count the speaker's ums and ahs. You can tell yourself you won't say um all you want but you'll probably do it. Having someone publicly announce how many ums you made often seemed to have a powerful effect.
02-08-2007, 03:38 AM
A whiteboard is also an easy way to see everything all together at a glance.
02-08-2007, 06:59 AM
I see a couple of issues here.
1) Keeping your projects list and goals on the whiteboard
2) Using the whiteboard for note-taking
For 1), why not? If it works for you, great. As long as it's active, i.e. you keep it up-to-date, and look at it as often as you need.
For 2), it's a great collaborative tool, so go for it.
The real risk is what to do with the writing when you're done. When I work with people in their offices, in almost all cases the whiteboard is completely covered. The contents is often a combination of out-of-date material mixed with "don't erase me!" critical stuff. I think this happens because people don't have good systems for getting the results of the brainstorming/meeting/problem-solving into their lives, so it stays there.
What I recommend is allocating time right after the meeting to take paper notes based on the whiteboard, then put them into the flow like any other stuff, i.e., into your inbox. Then "reset" the board by erasing it, making it ready to do its job next time. Clean!
If you don't like note-taking right after, make an action called "copy notes from board," and try to get to it soon. Also, there are other tools for capturing the contents, including digital cameras and specialized digitizers that attach to the board (eBeam and Mimio come to mind).
02-09-2007, 11:15 AM
I've recently started making use of the whiteboard I've had in my office for ages. It's not a publicity thing as you can't see it unless you come right up to the corner where I'm sitting.
My whiteboard holds the must-do NAs for this week. I probably spend about 40% of my work day in my office, and when I'm out of the office it's usually because of a "hard landscape" item - an appointment, a meeting or a clinic (I'm a doctor).
It's great to be able to walk into my office when I at last get some unprogrammed time, glance at the whiteboard and think "ah, those are my very next actions". I know that until the whiteboard is clear, those are my priorities. Yes, they are also in Outlook/on my PDA, but having them strikingly visible is a great psychological prompt.
What also helps is the satisfaction of crossing them off as I do them, and then the ritual of cleaning the board when they are all done!
I also use the board as an in-box if an interruption creates a next action e.g. someone phoning me with a problem that is going to need sorting out later
And at the top of the board are a couple of internal phone numbers I can never remember, and a reminder (first letter only) of which password I'm using for the network this week - the system is set so we have to change our passwords every couple of weeks.
03-09-2007, 01:39 PM
I have noticed that a lot of people keep a large white board on the wall of their office with what seems to be their personal project list on it. What is that all about and is it helpful? It seems strange to me to use a white board for personal use (as opposed to during a presentation, meeting or collaborative effort). What is the purpose of this, what gets recorded on it and why wouldn't a piece of paper be as effective and far more easily updated and transported?
I've found the whiteboard has a very physical yet temporary aspect to it that inspires creativity and impromptu thinking. For it to become useful, it has to be erased again. Writing and erasing on paper isn't as conducive to that, especially as scratch-outs accumulate. It's definitely interactive with a group, it's also interactive with the 3-is-1 "Me, Myself and I."
I don't know about public display, especially because many things that have gone on my whiteboard I'd be embarassed to vainly call a work of art. That said, I got the idea to use my whiteboard more after reading the book The Artist's Way. There, author Julia Cameron speaks of morning pages, a form of daily journaling deliberately done in longhand. As great as PC keyboards are, there's just something about actually using your full arm and hand to get things out of your system.
I find it a good tool with something that I want to play around with. (If I do have a strong inclination it'll become a project, I do start with paper.) Many times once I'm happy with what's on the whiteboard, I'll transfer what's really useful to paper, and be sure to erase the whiteboard for the next adventure. It may seem like 2 steps to first use whiteboard, then paper; what's happened for me is that by playing on the whiteboard, I find out many things don't really require doing. That's a productivity gain!
Whiteboards are great for emptying psychic RAM.
The one thing I do advise is low odor ink. Some of those markers can get you high.