Sunday, July 09, 2006

The all-mighty, universal index card

I'm sitting at the breakfast table sipping my filtered coffee and eating my toast when I think of something I need to do. I pick up my pen and an index card, write @HOME (the context for doing the task) in the top right corner, then write the action on the card. What has just happened? I have captured a thought, in this case, the need to call some friends to arrange a dinner party.

The index card, measuring 3 x 5 inches and made from thin card or cut from waste paper, is my all-purpose capturing tool, memory aid, and reminder of getting things done. Much has been written about index cards, especially the Hipster PDA tool which I have written about previously.

I have three main uses for index cards:
Idea Capture, Next Action reminders and memory training.

I always carry a few index cards and a pen with me wherever I go. The best ideas often appear at the most bizarre times, and it is essential I have a means to record the details. I record one idea per card, and when I get home, I put the cards into my filing tray for processing. I think it is a bit impractical trying to keep all these cards, and prefer to enter the details into my trusted system - the home computer. I have bundles of blank cards at home, at work, in my backpack and in my ring binder.

The second use for index cards is to record Next Actions. In the case of the example I gave above, I usually take action on that card, making the required phone call and getting the job done. Next Actions that don't get done immediately are placed in the filing tray for processing, so they don't get lost. My GTD System is a collection of lists stored on the computer and printed weekly for the ring binder planner. In the case of index cards for my "Someday" ideas I put them in a storage box because I enjoy browsing through these cards each week for ideas.

The beauty of writing one idea or action per card brings
focus. Notes can be added or further action cards generated. Prioritising actions is just a matter or sorting the cards. Once the task is completed, the card can be scrunched up and ceremoniously thrown out.

The third use of index cards is for material I want to remember. I am teaching myself conversational Japanese, and I write Japanese sentences on the cards and carry them with me during the day and on my weekend walks so I can practice reading out loud. Once I have memorised the sentence I can put the card into another bundle for later review.

The index card may not be high technology, but it can be used anywhere, is cheap, portable and quick to use. Packets of blank cards of various cards can be purchased at stationery supply shops, but I recycle my printer/photocopier paper by cutting the sheets into 3 x 5 size using a paper guillotine. The only novel that featured index cards was Robert Pirsig's Lila. You can read an excerpt from this book at my Creativity Web site.