On a typical day at HMA, you will find the following items on my desk: my laptop, a collection of pens, my notebook, and multiple sticky notes with a few words or numbers written on them. I have what I would consider an efficient method of task management that I optimize through the use of cheap, disposable Post-it notes. If you walk past my desk you are likely to find personal reminders to email certain clients, pay a parking ticket or to simply remember to wash my coffee mug at the end of the day. Much to my surprise, the “sticky note method” is less common in our office than I would have thought. How could this be?

As a marketing professional, I understand the significance of effectively relaying your message to your target audience. Possessing a creative skill set has never been my strong suit, so brief, direct messaging has always been an effective and efficient method for me. The fact that a short phrase could remind me of a much broader topic piqued my interest. I have always enjoyed the simplicity that the sticky note provides. But why? Was it my desire for efficiency? Was it my confidence in my summarization skills and effective note taking? I decided to do some further research on the matter.

Recognition and recall

My research led me to uncover several theories on how the human memory works. An article on The Human Memory explained that there are two basic methods humans use to access memory. The first one, recognition, is a largely subconscious process that the brain uses to compare an event or physical object with a previously experienced encounter with a similar event or object. This process enables us to remember things such as a person’s face when we see them. This seems fairly basic but requires that the stimuli (the person’s face) be present at the initiation of memory access.

Recall, the second method, is a two-step process that involves uncovering information stored in the memory without the presence of the stimuli. Recall involves the retrieval of “candidate items” and the process of a familiarity decision to determine the correct information. Recall is how we remember a person’s name. Basically, when you see someone you’ve met before, you will recognize his or her face subconsciously. Your brain will then begin the process of retrieving candidate items, which will then be “filtered” to determine the correct name out of the possible options through memory recall.

Brand recognition

Recognition is seen as a somewhat superior method of memory access because it involves only a simple familiarity decision. I found this very interesting since I have always been intrigued by the concept of brand recognition. Informed consumers recognize brands and their logos and subconsciously associate them with certain attributes. Two of the more prominent methods of getting a brand to “stick” with consumers are the use of consistent logos and memorable taglines or slogans. Barbara Sullivan, CEO of the brand engagement firm Sullivan, is familiar with this topic. She has been quoted stating, “Good taglines create a lasting impression.” This is a powerful, yet sometimes misunderstood concept.

In a Forbes magazine article, Sharon Michaels said, “the ultimate marketing goal is to have your target market think of you, and your company when they are ready to buy.” Successful companies understand this notion. Every year Interbrand, the world’s largest brand consultancy firm, releases a list of the most recognizable brands. Atop 2013’s list were giants like Apple, Google, Coca-Cola and Nike. These companies have proven success through consistent performance, recognizable logos and memorable slogans. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan has nothing to do with its products or services, and its logo has just as much to do with the products as does the slogan.

Yet, when consumers see that “swoosh,” thoughts of superior athletic wear and fitness gear come to mind. The idea of brand recognition is very complex, and I understand that a short blog post can’t possibly do it justice. However, I do think the general concept is sufficient for my purposes with this post.

Sticky note method of recognition

It appears my sticky note method has some scientific backing to help prove its effectiveness. By utilizing my brain’s recognition process, I have been able to create a method of brief, direct messages to trigger a natural response to access memory. A simple “send email” message lets me not only remember that I have to send an email, but also to whom and for what purpose. This method has supported my need to prioritize my tasks. Leaving myself these reminders allows me to focus on more important tasks while not forgetting the smaller, less important tasks.

From corporate branding to daily reminders, the message is clear: get your point across. Whether my marketing skills make me a better note taker or vice versa, I appreciate the ability to avoid using 100 words where 10 would suffice. I call it efficiency where others might call it laziness. Either way is fine with me. Bill Gates once said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” So next time you see a desk covered in sticky notes, just know that there is a method to the madness.

What method of task management do you use? Do you use sticky notes? Do you have a calendar that you write your “to dos” on? I challenge you to audit your current method to evaluate its effectiveness as well as its efficiency. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll be an advocate for sticky notes as well!