Like many other professionals, you probably spend several hours each week sending to-do items to people—hoping that a quick message will inspire them to complete the task. But are all of those emails really making people more productive? As you’ve probably learned from sending follow-up emails (to follow-up emails), the answer is more often than not, no.

It might be time to go a little old-fashioned.

Randy Gardner, a scholar at Sam Houston State University, conducted a study where he found that sending a personalized sticky note with a request is actually the most surefire way to get someone to finish a task quicker.

Why is this? Author Kevin Hogan of Harvard Business Review has a couple of ideas. First and foremost, a sticky note feels intrusive and messy—so people want to remove it as quickly as possible. And sticky note etiquette says that you can’t remove it until you complete the task. Second, the personalized touch of receiving a “special request” may push someone to complete a task in a way he or she wouldn’t if it was only sent in email form.

After reading all of this science, I decided to try this out for myself on my (unsuspecting) intern. While I wasn’t as scientific as Gardner with my little experiment, I definitely noticed a difference in my intern’s work during the trial week—not only did she complete tasks faster, but she also asked more questions when she didn’t understand something.

Furthermore, I noticed that many of her inquires started with, “You wrote on the sticky note that…” meaning that she was reading every word I’d written and trying to decipher it, which isn’t always the case when someone receives an email request. If I had to guess, I’d say all of this was because of how personal handwriting feels in 2015. You know, since we receive 99% of our information via a flashing screen these days.

So, next time you find yourself frustrated that a colleague isn’t completing something, leave a sticky note on his or her desk. Your message is more likely to be seen (since it won’t be swimming around in a sea of emails) and checked off the list. Just make sure to add in a “thank you” or a smiley face so that it comes across as a request, and not as a passive-aggressive “will ya do this already?” note.

Another plus of taking the sticky note route? There are so many fun colors and designs to choose from. Who doesn’t like picking out pretty office supplies?


Photo of sticky notes courtesy of Shutterstock.