Tutorial: Index Cards Do it All

Index cards are inexpensive and come in several sizes. I’ve written about using index card as a to-do list before. Now I’ve found an organizational system that combines index cards and rollabind disks and makes sense for organizational problems.

I carry a paper calendar because I need to know what isn’t happening as well as what is, and only paper calendars do that. In other words, If I’m meeting with a difficult client, I’m not booking another stressful event right next to it. My desktop calendar doesn’t show things that way, it simply shows dots, and sure, I could polka-dot up a few days, but without context I could run into trouble. Someone will certainly invent calendar software that shows holidays and works easily with my existing computer calendar, because I haven’t seen one yet.

My calendar goes with me, and so does a thin notebook and here is where the index cards come in. The thin notebook covers meeting notes, phone numbers, to-do lists and deadlines. Because I have a visual memory, I’ll know what side of the page that name and phone number was on, so using index cards wasn’t helping me. I couldn’t find my non-project notes fast enough.

Here’s the solution: I used some of the divider index cards and created a cover and separator pages, creating a book of its own. The book works on rollabind rings, giving it a spatial relationship. I can shift project cards and to do lists, but the notecards from phone calls and information (urls, ideas, people’s names) stay in the same order. When I get too many, I transfer them, in the same order, onto a storage “book.” Because I date each card, I keep them in date order and can find that great dim-sum restaurant in Chandler again, because I know it was on the left side of the page, right after the directions to the paper store in Tempe, which I looked for in March. My memory works that way.

The great thing about this system is that you can also file in alpha order, project order, geographical order–whatever makes sense to you. It’s not limited. Rollabind rings let you take out pages and reposition them without damage, and with complete ease, so the system becomes versatile. Remember the calendar? It’s also on rollabind disks, so I can pull out to-do lists and put them in the calendar as a reminder until the job is done. Or put notes about a client in the appointment day, so I’ll remember the personal and business details that work for a good relationship.

The combination of index cards, rollabind disks, calendars and imagination are limitless. You don’t have to purchase a lot of equipment to personalize your organizational system, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. I like 4 x 6 cards for project notes, but nothing beats a 3 x 5 card for idea generation. And in this system, you can use both.

It’s a system that works and is ideal is you travel or have limited space to keep your work.

–Quinn McDonald is a trainer in business communications. She runs workshops in writing, speaking and giving presentations. She uses index cards to organize ideas for presentations and articles. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.