To-Do Lists: Use Index Cards

To-do lists can work for you or make you crazy. There are many ways to create them, and the only one that works is the one that works for you. I love index cards. I always have. So yes, this is another post about index cards. I can’t help it. If I had to belong to a 12-step program to break the habit, I’d write the steps on index cards.

I use a paper to-do list. Even with all the electronics, the fastest, most efficient list-making for me is done with a pencil and index. card.  I don’t have to boot it up, recharge it, or open it. It’s available to me at all times, and a pencil doesn’t need to be connected, opened, or tested. It’s always ready to go. I’ll admit I have a pencil thing.

Here are two ways to use a to-do list. Both involve 3 x 5 index cards, or 4 x 6 cards if you write big.  (I turn the cards and work on them portrait-orientation.) I work on several projects at a time, so I use one card per project. Each project’s name is written on the top of the card, and the to-do list underneath. That way, I can put all the project to-do lists next to each other and see how much work I have and which project needs to take priority. When I have a lot of projects going at the same time, it’s wonderful.

Bright colored index cards available from or other locations.

When I get really into projects, I assign one color to each project, and color code the cards to match the project. (You can also use different color cards.) Color coding gives me overviews and helps me draw conclusions faster. (“A lot of blue cards, do I need to farm some of this out?” “The yellow project is due in a week. Why so few yellow cards? Am I done early, or is there something missing?”)

Then there is the worry list to-do list. When I wake up at night, unable to sleep and busy worrying, I make a list of things I’m worrying about. Having written down the worries, I go back to sleep. The next morning, I tackle the things that need to be done.

The last to-do list is called the tag-cloud to-do list. Because I use the same method as tag clouds–the more important a task, the bigger I write it. Because I have small handwriting, I draw a box around each item on the list. The bigger the box, the more important (or worrisome, or pressing) the item. That gives me two facts at once: the item and the importance, all in one glance.

You can use a mix of these methods. Color-coding works with tag-clouding very well.  Tag-clouding works with worry-list well, too. And no matter what method I choose, writing down all the things that need to get done helps me free up more memory cells.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a trainer  who found out long ago that the shortest pencil beats the longest memory. And she is unabashedly in love with index cards.

11 thoughts on “To-Do Lists: Use Index Cards

  1. I make lists on the computer in table format so i can alphabetize them or have by date or task. I am not an organized person and at the opposite end of a perfectionist rating. Lists are essential when coupled with a serious memory deficit.

  2. I’ve never found to-do lists helpful, but I do like “do not do” lists. They’re lists of things I want to stop doing, or not to start (for example on a new project, “remember not to ask Bob his opinions about icon design”). I got the idea from this LifeHacker article.

  3. I have found the use of the larger lined post-it notes work just as well as index cards – they have different colors – because they stick together a group doesn’t get lost from each other –

    don’t know what i did before these 4×6 colored, lined post it notes came along.

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