The transformative power of whiteboards

the power of whiteboards

I have whiteboards located all over my house.

Take a tour of my home and you’ll see whiteboards in my office, dining room, bedroom and kitchen.

These whiteboards, covered in scribbled text and bad drawings, make my house look a little quirky. But upon closer inspection, you’ll see that these whiteboards help me to work my way through the chaos and confusion of life.

8 ways whiteboards can help streamline your life

Here are a few ideas on how you can use a whiteboard to make life a little easier for yourself:

1. Combat perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist like myself, a large whiteboard is a great tool to decrease anxiety and overwhelm surrounding big projects.

Afraid of making a mistake? Stress less!

With one swipe of a cloth, you can wipe away any ideas you don’t like. So don’t hold back. Make a mess. Make a start.

2. Do a brain dump

brain dump

Have a lot going on in your life? I know this feeling all too well.

Most of us go through the day with lots of random thoughts swirling inside our heads. Unless we capture these thoughts, they can take up precious mental space and deplete our brainpower.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, in order to reset and feel more in control, I stand up, head over to the closest whiteboard and I spend a few minutes scribbling out all the things that are on my mind. These things usually include:

• People to call and/or email
• Deadlines for projects
• Conversations to have with people
• Ideas for future projects
• Little irritants (things that are bugging me)
• Things I need to buy (usually food)

There’s something really powerful about getting your thoughts out of your head and onto a whiteboard. Try it and see how you feel after a brain dump session.

3. Conquer exams

How can a whiteboard help you ace your exams?

Two words: active recall.

According to cognitive psychology, active recall (also known as retrieval practice) is the number one way to retain information. Research shows it’s a much more effective way to study than rereading your books or highlighting your notes.

Here’s how you can do a quick active recall session with a whiteboard:

1. Grab your whiteboard markers and a copy of your syllabus.
2. Flip straight to the unit content section.
3. Now choose a syllabus point.
4. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
5. Without looking at your notes or books, write and/or draw as much as you can remember on that syllabus point.
6. When the timer goes off, check to see how much you recalled correctly and where the gaps in your knowledge are.
7. Got something wrong or missed an important bit of information? Grab a different coloured pen and write that stuff down.

4. Learn presentations rapidly

active recall presentations

If you need to learn a presentation in a short period of time, I highly recommend doing active recall on a whiteboard.

This is how I learn all my presentations in a short period of time. I set a timer for 25 minutes and do an active recall session (I can’t stop until the timer goes off).

These sessions don’t look pretty (see example above) but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of seeing how the content flows, bringing the information to mind and identifying the gaps in my knowledge.

5. Break down big scary projects

Need to start working on a big project? Find yourself procrastinating? Use a whiteboard to break down that big scary projects into bite size chunks. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and map out all the tasks that you need to do.

When the timer goes off, pick a different coloured pen and write down the first small action you can take to make a start.

If this task is still too scary for your brain, break it down again (write down an even smaller starter step). Continue breaking the task down until the task is so small that it’s not scary or overwhelming for your brain.

6. Give yourself reminders

Create a simple to-do list on your whiteboard. After you complete each task, look at your whiteboard and strike a line through it, give it a tick or wipe it out (sometimes for a bit of fun I do all three). Then pick another item and get to work.

The aim is to get through as many items on your list as possible.

7. Get unstuck

get unstuck

If you’re feeling stuck, you can use a whiteboard to work through the problem by deploying a simple strategy. Here’s what you do:

1. Grab two different coloured whiteboard markers.
2. Grab one marker and put yourself in the shoes of a kind friend. Imagining that you are this kind friend, write down a question to yourself. It could be something along the lines of, “What’s going on?” or “Why are you feeling stuck?”
3. With the other coloured pen, write your answer (this time as you, not as your kind friend).
4. Continue asking yourself questions and answering them (alternating between your different coloured pens). Keep doing this until you get some insights and clarity about what’s going on.

8. Track your habits

If you’re trying to establish a new habit, write the behaviour down on the whiteboard (e.g. “Do two push ups after I finish each study session”). Every time you do the behaviour give yourself a tick on the whiteboard. It’s motivating for your brain to see the ticks add up. This in turn makes you want to engage in the behaviour even more. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the behaviour without even thinking.

Now you might be wondering . . .

“Do I really need a whiteboard? Won’t a piece of paper do the job?”

Of course you can use a big sheet of butcher’s paper to help you learn, plan and brainstorm.

But for me, big sheets of paper can be intimidating. Like a brand new notebook, who wants to mess it up? Not me!

But with whiteboards, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Because it really doesn’t matter if you make a mess. At the end of the day, you can take a photo of the whiteboard and wipe that mess away.

Whiteboards also allow for more movement in your day. Since you need to stand up and move around to use a whiteboard, you’re spending less time in a chair.

Research shows sitting for long periods of time is bad for your health. So the more time you can spend working on your feet, the better!

Choosing your whiteboard

When it comes to whiteboards, bigger is generally better (up to a point). You need room to move and make a mess. You don’t want to cramp your style.

But if the whiteboard is too big, it’s going to be kind of clunky. It will take up a lot of space.

I recently purchased a large whiteboard that can attach to my wall. This is my favourite whiteboard as it’s the biggest and it doesn’t get in the way.

“But whiteboards are so expensive!”

There’s no need to rush out and buy a stack of whiteboards.

I acquired most of my whiteboards slowly over time for free. Some were collected from university dumpsters, roadside verges, Gumtree and friends who relocated overseas.

dumpster diving for whiteboards

But here’s a tip . . .

Borrow a whiteboard

When I need a change of scenery, I head to my local library and use the whiteboard that’s located in the private study room.

Keep a look out for whiteboards in your school, university or local library. I guarantee, you’ll start to see them everywhere. Don’t be afraid to use them (whiteboards are there to be used).

If you come prepared with your own set of whiteboard markers and a cloth eraser, you can get a quick whiteboard session in. At the end of the session, take a step back and look at what you’ve managed to accomplish. Notice if your whiteboard sessions leaves you feeling slightly better than before (I usually feel calmer and more in control).

Then take a quick snap with your phone so you can capture your ideas . . . before wiping all that mess away.