I’ve recently begun using index cards to organize my life.
I’ve heard about people using index cards to help keep them organized, with great success, and I’m a bit of a pen and paper person myself, so I thought I would give it a try – at least to start with organizing a few different projects, like the blog.
It’s slowly spread to other areas of my life, and it turns out I really enjoy the process of writing on my cards, browsing through them and adding a detail here and there, weeding out cards that are done, or combining cards that might go together.
I also really enjoying leaving messages on cards, propped up against laptops or inside the fridge, and not just because they’re sometimes messages like “Hi, Jon, found this moldy tupperware can you clean it out? Yuck…”
I’m using the smaller sized ones, as they’re available in both the multi-coloured as well as the white ones (5 x 3). These are more than sufficient for the amount of information I need to hold, although occasionally I’ll need to do a 1/2 + 2/2. There’s also a larger B7 one. You can see all of the index cards we carry in the shop here. They’re made by Life Stationery, so they’re also fountain pen friendly.
The cue cards are a great way to keep on going projects at the front of mind, especially with projects of different timelines and scale going on concurrently. There are often a lot of projects with big wait times between necessary steps, or projects that could happen soon or not so soon, depending on a lot of factors.
It also helps to put future projects on cue cards, and when I have a moment or there’s an extra pair of hands, to see if there are any steps we can take to prepare or get started on something. These tend to sit on the back burner for a while, but who knows when one of them may catch some attention.
I don’t organize them with colours too specifically, because I guess so much of my work and life meld together. If I have a large scale project (for example, like preparing for Scriptus, with lots of moving pieces), I might assign one colour to it, but I very loosely hold to the following:
White is for blog ideas and social media projects. Along with more time sensitive blog posts, or ones that come up all of a sudden because a shipment has come in (although I will admit that these days I tend to run a bit behind and sometimes these shipments sell out before I can do a blog post on them…) I have a lot of very, very vague ideas floating around, and if I’m lacking inspiration, I might flip through them and write down a point or two or see if anything jumps out at me.
I used to keep blog post ideas on a list in my notebook, but the advantage of having them on cue cards is that I can expand or add to an idea whenever I’d like. It also helps if I have something I’d like to mention on the blog, but it’s not worth an entire post on its own – I can combine two cards together as I need to.
Yellow is for books I’m reading, books I’d like to read, quotations that I like or might integrate into something else, thoughts on writing or journaling. Every once in a while I run a journaling workshop, and if I have some ideas for a topic, I put them here, which is nice because when I go to sit down to plan out my workshop, I have a few things to draw from.
Green is for on-going projects at the shop that I’m involved in. It could be anything from research about bringing in a new category of supplies for the shop, preparations for our new introduction to fountain pens workshop, upcoming events, or behind the scenes stuff, like dimensions for new furniture.
I also really like using them for recipes – anything longer than can fit on a cue card is most likely beyond my culinary capabilities, so usually I’m summing up something I’ve seen while subtracting any ingredients I’m sure I don’t have, but am hoping will survive without. I tape them up inside my cupboards, and strangely enough they’re organized accordingly: baking recipes next to the baking supplies, dinner ones next to the dinner plates, etc. I think I’m someone who really benefits from organizing things physically, like on the back of cupboard doors.
I keep my cue cards tied up with an elastic band, except for one that I keep in the book I’m reading as a bookmark for any interesting things to make note to search up later or quotes I’d like to remember, and the top one is usually a to-do list. To-do list is a bit vague, it’s most just things I need to be thinking about immediately, or at the very least, should not be forgetting. It’s nice to start a fresh one every once in a while, too.
On this random to-do list, I wrote:
- coconut chicken curry (plans for dinner)
- post office (need to pick up package)
- Pelikan M200 Cap (trying to see if I can order a replacement)
When I have a free moment, I like to flip through them and see what should be a priority in the next afternoon or week or month. I often rely on my memory for these type of things, but my memory admittedly has huge gaps, and it’s nice to put something on its own card and know it’s in my pile.
Unlike a notebook, where I typically write into it page by page, with some projects or ideas falling behind and eventually being forgotten, or I have many irrelevant notes and phone messages scattered throughout, I can weed out finished tasks or irrelevant cards and just keep what I think I need in my pile of cards.
One of the biggest advantages about using a cue card is the possibility of re-writing it when it gets full, and at the same time taking out no longer necessary information or re-organizing it in a way that makes more sense. It’s constantly evaluating and weeding out information that’s outdated, used or changed.
The process of this sort of refreshing of all the points of an idea or project also helps me reorganize things in my head. I can toss away the old card, and just have a clean idea of all the parts of a ongoing project, and the task of rewriting the card alone can be what I need to make the trajectory of my next steps clear, especially for projects that I’m dragging my feet on a bit.
Other uses for index cards include:
- taking or leaving information like a phone number or email address
- leaving notes for people
- currently inked pens – I cross off pens when they’ve run dry, and add new ones, and then when the card gets a bit scraggly, I start a fresh one
- flash cards for studying
- using washi tape to put them up on a wall to organize timelines or projects
- lists (books to read, restaurants to try, things you’re going to stop saying in front of your kids)
- tracking things, like daily expenses or gym visits (HAHAHA)
- making to-do lists for other people (my favourite)
I’ve heard of more complicated, clean systems of organization for students, or researchers, or people writing books. My system is much more loose and just sort of getting things down to sort out physically when I can – which is the main advantage of using cue cards, that I can shuffle them around and lay them all out on a table in front of me. I can seamlessly add more tasks or notes in between other steps, and take things out cleanly without cluttering up a page of notes.
I find it extremely satisfying to flip through it and take action on a number of tasks in one afternoon, reducing my pile by any noticeable amount. Often these are relatively tiny tasks that I thought of while in bed or out, like adjusting inventory for a certain item, or renewing my library books online, but I’ll take what I can get to feel more productive.
I haven’t made my way through enough index cards yet that I feel I’d like to keep – most often I’m recycling them after I’m done with them, as they’re shopping lists or tasks that need to be done just the one time. Alas, my good ideas are few and far between.
In any case, I haven’t come up with a good storage system for them yet. I may just keep them in another elastic in my desk, as my index cards to keep are taking a long time to accumulate.