Organizing with Story Boards

by Gary Forster

Walt Disney used a technique called story boarding to make cartoons. Each of Goofy’s and Mickey’s crazy pranks was sketched on a card. For example, Mickey drops a piano on his foot; the piano rolls down a stairwell; and Goofy is flattened by the piano. Fifty or more main thoughts for a simple cartoon were pinned to a wall and then moved, arranged, and rearranged until the story was in the proper order. Some ideas were pulled and used on other projects. Obvious holes in the story were filled by other ideas. Then the work was delegated.

Sixty years later, this technique remains the key tool for animators, cinematographers, and ad agency artists. Creative types aren’t the only ones who can benefit from story boarding, though. This organization tool also has a place at your camp.

Getting Started

Too often, people keep ideas in their heads or on lists. Both places are prone to loss. Story boarding will help you have the right idea in the right place at the right time. A story board doesn’t have to be an elaborate system. A bulletin board for your office wall and some index cards and push pins will do the job. The bigger the board, the better. Four-by-eight-feet sheets of Home-a-sote covered with fabric work well.

Make three title cards, one labeled "To Do," another labeled "Doing," and the third "Done." Attach the first card, "To Do," to the first column of the board. This should be the largest section. Here, you will display all your tasks. Attach the "Doing" card to the top of the second column. This section replaces your daily to-do list. The "Done" category, my favorite, is the last column on the board. The done zone is an automatic pat on the back, and a much longer-lasting pleasure than crossing out a job on your old to-do list.

Throw away your to-do list
Begin adding cards to your story board by listing each task you must complete on a separate three-by-five-inch index card. You may want to copy these from your to-do list. Then pin the cards under the "To Do" heading on the board. As you begin working on a task, move it to the "Doing" section. Here, you can add phone numbers or notes to the index cards or tape magazine articles on them. When people come into your office, they should be able to see what your priorities are for the day.

No putting off until tomorrow
At the end of the day, you don’t transfer jobs to tomorrow’s list (or forget to transfer them); they stay on the board staring at you until they are completed. When you finish a job, move the card to the "Done" category. Leave the completed task cards on the board for a few weeks. Then everyone else in your office can see how much work you’re accomplishing.

Setting Priorities

You earn your salary by doing the jobs that have the greatest impact on the organization first. The story board helps you set your priorities. Move around the to-do cards in each category until the most important jobs are at the top and the least important are at the bottom. Be sure those important jobs are starred or circled and kept on the top of each column of cards. Season the difficult jobs in your "Doing" category with ones that are fun and easy to do. But don’t let these jobs fill your day; use them as rewards for getting the big jobs completed.

Since the jobs in the "To Do" and "Doing" categories can be surveyed by everyone who enters your office, you will receive lots of ideas, information, and resources from your supervisor and co-workers. Other staff members will write ideas and resources on notes and add them to your task cards. Likewise, if they all have their own "do-doing-done" boards, you can see what they’re up to and pass fresh ideas on to them, too. In this way, story boarding actually grows information.

Extra Brain Space

To make sure you don’t forget important jobs, date the top card as to when it should go into "Doing." Then have your secretary file it in a tickler file that gets reviewed monthly. Also file the cards of finished projects that are completed annually. These cards will be loaded with notes and phone numbers by the time the task is finally completed. When those cards appear in your mailbox at the proper time next year, you won’t have to write things over and over again. Think of all the extra brain space you’ll have left over because you won’t have to worry about remembering all that information.

Wherever you go, carry three-by-five-inch cards with you. When you’re sitting in traffic and have an idea, put it on a card. Whether you’re in a staff meeting or at a conference, write the ideas directly onto cards and post the cards on your board. Or better yet, post the cards on the boards of the people you delegate the jobs to. You don’t need to remember or write memos; the jobs and ideas are already on the cards.

Organize Your Programs, Too

Put a story board in every room of your office. Make one with the twelve months listed across the top for your annual promotion schedule. List newsletters, camp shows, brochures, and other deadlines on index cards and place them under the appropriate month for completion. Leave space for an "Ideas" column so these thoughts aren’t forgotten or lost. Make another board where staff can place new ideas on providing "wow" experiences for guests. Ideas on the board move higher or lower, are adopted or scrapped, and grow and improve until finally the jobs are completed.

The maintenance department could have two boards: a daily to-do list and a long-term planning board. The daily to-do list lets people see where their projects are in the priority ranking, and the "Done" cards eventually go into a tickler file.

The other board, a long-term planning tool, should be portable so you can take it to board meetings and property committee meetings. On this board, directors and staff list those projects they want to complete this year, those that will have to wait for next year, and so on. Jobs can be prioritized by when they should be finished and by how they are going to be paid for. Departments will know where their job is on the list, how it compares to other jobs, and why.

A story board can also be useful at board and committee meetings to generate and prioritize ideas. Have the group list ideas or topics on cards and post them on the board under broad categories. Then give each group member ten red sticky dots. They spend their dots by sticking them to the ideas they think are most important. If one idea is really important, a group member may put two or even three dots on a card, but each member has only ten dots to spend. The resulting cards with dots can become the agenda, pre-prioritized, for the year ahead.

A lot of synergy develops from having everyone in your office on the same program. But don’t let that keep you from getting started. Even if you’re the only one who uses story boards, the improved quality of your decisions and the efficient use of your time on the most important projects might just make you the most valuable employee.

Gary Forster is vice president, camping, of the Greater Hartford YMCA and executive director of YMCA Camp Jewell. He does "research" with his family once a year at Disneyworld.


Originally published in the 1998 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.