Lessons from a whiteboard

July 2, 2010

I have a whiteboard at work.

I inherited it from the break room area in the old building when we moved off-campus.

Interns used to doodle on it; the office manager wouldperson whiteboard1 Lessons from a whiteboard sometimes write important dates; and the staff used it as a backrest when conversing over a cup of coffee.

It was a big, blank white board. No grids. No columns. No definition of any sort.

Do what you will with it.

Most engineers I know use their white boards to think things through — make diagrams and complex flow charts; write out bits and bytes of information; create mock motherboards; and leave each other nerdy messages.

Well, I’m no left-brain type, so no inspiration there for me.

It sat in my office for two weeks before the facilities guys came and mounted it.

There it was — a blank slate, staring at me.

I stared back equally blank.

I had never had a white board before, so I was really at a loss on how to make the best use of it.

I walked around the office — other people had different versions: one had neat little squares where you could put dates and about two lines worth of data; another had graph-like grids; and yet another had columns.

Mine was just white.

I could do anything with it. I just didn’t know what.

Then, two days after the board had been installed, I went into a meeting. Came out with some front burner assignments that I immediately started transferring on to post-its, stuck strategically around my monitor.

Halfway through this task, the bulb went on.

I had four markers — blue, red, green and black…why not use them to transfer this information on to the whiteboard?

I wrote “On the burners for October” as my headline. And proceeded to write out the tasks tagged by deadlines.

The project name was in black; the task details in blue; the due date in red; and the completed date in green.

I had a system.

On the last day of the month, I took photos of the board, cleaned it until it squeaked and my office reeked of ethanol, and then filled it again with those three primary colors and black.

Colleagues and visitors were floored by my simple system. My manager thought it was ingenious. My office-mate tried to replicate it.

For all the gadgets I own, this wire-less piece of  melamine was what I had begun to rely on to keep me organized and on track.

I’ve used this whiteboard for almost 10 months now and as I was wiping it clean this morning to begin another month of activities, I realized that this board is so effective because it allows me to live my professional life in manageable chunks.

There is no big picture stuff on there.

Just the one month.

Four weeks. 20 days. 160 hours.

That’s all it encapsulates.

It dawned on me that this whiteboard is teaching me a valuable lesson: focus on bite-sized chunks of your life. Live it every day.

Yes, all those big life plans are great to have, but who knows what’s in store for you tomorrow, let alone 10 years from now?

It’s overwhelming to plan out an entire lifetime given the number of variables and unknowns in one’s path. Not to say that some planning isn’t good, but you will be able to inch your way to the long-term plans, only when you live your life fully today.

My big takeaway?

Make a wishlist, create some milestones, do what you can, and enjoy your present — for there is no time like right now.

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12 Responses to Lessons from a whiteboard

  1. Susan DeborahNo Gravatar on July 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Ingenious indeed! Loved the way you transformed a plain Jane into a super effective planner!

    Have a lovely Sunday and an insightful week ahead dear Mansi,

    • MansiNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 9:47 am

      Thanks, Susan. I did have a rather insightful weekend. Hope yours was relaxing, too. :-)

  2. VyankateshNo Gravatar on July 2, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Good Post Mansi.

    Loved the line about the bite-size chunks. After all, we should bite what we can chew.

    The idea of the maintaining a white board for monthly tasks is good.

    While we ensure that the long term target remains within your sight, we also need to ensure that the daily tasks which take us towards it remain on track :-)

    • MansiNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      That’s right, Vyankatesh. Thanks for your comment.

  3. HayaahNo Gravatar on July 3, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Ooh, I like.

    I began liking the white board and coloured markers relationship, once I learnt how to use them while doing my CELTA which is a certification for English Language teachers of 2nd language speakers. It taught us the benefits of colour scheming coding things. U can also use colour magnet buttons to attach paper/photos depending on kind of work. Another useful knick knack are glue tacks. U get uhu or other brand glue tacks that u can break out to ur need basis and use and reuse to place *temporarily stick*

    All of the above works for me as a teacher. Goodluck with incorporating more ideas into what works for u at ur place! :D

    • MansiNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

      Thanks, Hayaah. Unfortunately my board isn’t magnetic, but if it were, I’m sure I’d clutter it up. Simple is good :-)

  4. Rishi BNo Gravatar on July 4, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    usually the basic of all the gadgets give the best of the results….

    • MansiNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

      Absolutely, Rishi.

  5. Katie GatesNo Gravatar on July 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Once again, I get that “like minds” feeling, Mansi! The break-it-down-into-workable pieces is the only way to go, and color-coding has infinite uses. Regarding when gadgets are not the best option: I do development consulting with nonprofit clients, and that work is all about deadlines — due dates for proposals and reports. My system? 12 manilla folders marked January, February, March, and you can figure out the rest. When I get a deadline, I jot it down on a scrap of paper and stick it in the appropriate folder. On the first day of the month, I open the folder and, voila: my to-do list! No need for computerized bells and whistles. Deadlines just aren’t that fancy!

    • MansiNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

      Thanks, Katie. I have been neck-deep in work and also had some personal commitments to take care of the past couple of days. Will certainly read the posts you so generously shared in another comment and get back to you. Thanks for your wonderful insights about simple organization. Less is more :-)

  6. BillNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Morning, a beautiful simple blog. I love it!! I have always tried to look at simple tasks that lead me to where I want to go. Too many of us get caught up in the big picture & then don’t know what to do. You’re system helps to keep you in the present moment & that’s a wonderful place to be.

    Thanks as always for sharing.



    • MansiNo Gravatar on July 6, 2010 at 9:43 am

      Thanks, Bill. I am learning this lesson a little late. But hey, it’s never too late to learn something valuable, right? :-)


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