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Author Topic: My System - Index Card Centric  (Read 15294 times)
mouser
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« on: November 04, 2007, 07:16:43 AM »

The major insight for me in developing a system for improving my productivity was inspired by David Allen's Getting Things Done, which we talked about in GOE 2006.

The insight was simply that trying to keep things in my head was wasting a huge amount of my mental energies.  Of course this is something I already knew but i didn't realize how much of a benefit it would be to have a strict system of offloading all ideas and tasks to paper immediately.

I think this approach may be especially useful for people who feel like they are constantly getting ideas for new projects, and need to find a way to satisfy these urges while not getting distracted.

So my system is very simple:
  • Every time I have an idea for a new project or a feature to implement, I write it down on a 3x5 index card and file it in one of several card boxes i have on my desk.  The cards are within arms reach at all times so I'm constantly reaching over and jotting down an idea.
  • Once an idea is written down, I can "let go of it" from my mind -- this is absolutely key -- it means i don't waste time and brain cycles trying to remember all the ideas i had, etc.
  • All todo tasks are also written one on each card and filed away into the card box in sections designated for each ongoing process.  Having previously used todo lists written on 8.5x11" notebook paper i can say that moving to a system of writing each item on a card is *vastly* superior.  It's much easier to lay out tasks and look at them, much cleaner to maintain, just a win-win on all levels.
  • Periodically i go through all the cards and throw out the ones i don't care about, and remind myself of outstanding issues.



Links to where i bought my material in case you are in the USA and want to try it:

« Last Edit: November 04, 2007, 07:36:33 AM by mouser » Logged
nudone
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« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2007, 07:28:07 AM »

excellent. anyone else going to give this a try?
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Darwin
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« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2007, 07:34:52 AM »

There is an appeal to this way of thinking (or not thinking, depending on how you look at it!). I do frequent, written brain dumps as well. The key difference is that I dump my ideas and thoughts into A4 (bought them in the UK) sized, lined, hardcover notebooks. Once they're in there, they're gone. For good. The card system is attractive because you can move the cards around and keep them organized - you don't have to flip through pages of illegible scribbling and doodling to get to the idea that you had in March of 2003 for microwave clothing.

There's an Office Depot about 3 klicks from my front door. I think I'll try this out. I know you've posted this "brain hack" in the past but I didn't pay as much attention then (I'm that much more in need of hacking today!).

 Thmbsup
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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2007, 11:15:16 AM »

I just find it fascinating that such a computer-oriented person opts for a paper-based system, though I can understand why one would want a medium different from his work. The main reason I got my first computer in 1983 was to organize my thoughts (it didn't work), and I remain dependent on my notebook for this. One key thing for me since I'm congenitally disorganized is that if I allow the system to become cluttered it doesn't take up any more physical space, unlike a paper system. The bottom line is that any system that works is great, and mouser is clearly much more productive than I am.
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mouser
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« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2007, 11:56:23 AM »

Well I keep thinking about a possible computer version of the card system.
Certainly it would be nice to be able to search and print.

However, having a tactile physical card to hold and organize has a more tangible impact.
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app103
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« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2007, 04:26:28 PM »

As part of last year's GOE, I removed the dust from an application I used to love very much but forgot I had because I couldn't run it on my other PC (not enough RAM).

Everything I don't want to forget goes in my Post-it notes software, sorted in tabbed boards, with alarms. (The alarm center is one of the best features.) I have a monthly board, with 12 tabs, one for each month...a weekly board with 7 tabs, one for each day...a project board with a tab for each project, etc.

I can easily move notes between boards, add new ones, edit, etc. (repeating alarm on a note with a clickable link is how I never miss a GAOTD).

It's kind of a software version of mouser's index cards....except they make noise to remind you to read them.

Before going back to this method, I used to use envelopes instead of index cards, writing everything down on the envelopes, and including things related inside the envelopes. I still do that, but not as much now. (the software is cheaper and a lot less trash)
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tomos
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2007, 04:39:55 PM »

Glad you posted about that Jesse

I'm working, well sort of coping, with A4 sheets of paper.
I bought index cards last year but my system didnt work - or maybe I didnt really get one going that suited me would be a better way of putting it.

I liked tiny index cards & considered setting up a row of them in front of my desk.
Say, one box for Job_X, one for Job_Y, Computer related, Ideas_X, Ideas_Y Etc, Etc

When you say..
I write it down on a 3x5 index card and file it in one of several card boxes i have on my desk

could you give us an idea of how you organise/group the cards.

Is it per GTD ideas according to action needed or have you your own slant on it or something completely different?
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mouser
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2007, 10:20:35 AM »

My current system is that i have 5 of these black boxes that hold the cards (shown and linked to above).  The boxes are perfect because when they open they have a front area and back area which is really a nice way to have 2 sections in each box.

I use the front section to hold the newest cards or the ones im working on at the moment.

One box is just for new blank cards, so i know right where to go when i need a blank card for a new task.  I love these color coded cards but i haven't really developed a system where the colors mean something, though i am trying to shift to that.

I use paper clips to group cards together that are similar.

I originally had sections in one box for tasks for Today/Tomorrow/This Week/This Month/Long Term.  I think this is a nice idea but in practice i don't use it that much.

Instead i seem to mostly just organize things by project.  So i have a section for each of my computer programs, a section for ideas, a box for DC ideas/tasks, and a box for the new job i am working on, etc.
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tomos
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« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2007, 02:12:09 PM »

Instead i seem to mostly just organize things by project.

that's the way I've been generally thinking too
might give that a go myself - I did do project grouping before but didnt have proper homes for them...

When I did use cards by project, & then planning - say,
today & the next couple of days,
I enjoyed being able to lay all the "active" cards out on the rug & move them around a bit to help get an overview

Dont know whether that's a throwback to childhood or just my "visual" preferrences  smiley
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mouser
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« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2009, 06:16:19 AM »

Minor update:
I now use a Dymo Label Writer to print big headings for different projects, and put these on a plain white card which is paperclipped along with 1-15 or so (todo) index cards in that group.  For certain projects i have multiple groups like "FARR 1" through "FARR 10".

The nice heading labels and small groups make things feel a lot more manageable and less chaotic:
« Last Edit: March 18, 2009, 06:18:48 AM by mouser » Logged
nudone
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« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2009, 12:01:03 PM »

you forgot to mention the little spiders you've trained to walk across the notes - and then smash them to a pulp by the looks of it.

oh, sorry, it's handwriting isn't it(?)  cheesy

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mouser
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« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2009, 02:08:20 PM »

 Grin Grin Grin
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mouser
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« Reply #12 on: June 25, 2010, 08:22:15 AM »

minor refinement:

i now have a "TO FILE" group.  whenever i write a new card, even if it belongs in one of my existing paperclipped groups, i put it with the "TO FILE" group temporarily.

then periodically i sort the "TO FILE" and place cards in their proper places.

this has a few advantages:
1. Ensures i go through these new cards at least once more before filing-and-forgetting.
2. Makes it faster for me to add new cards without being distracted by having to find the place they should be permanently stored.
3. Makes it easier for me to quickly look at newly added items.
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superboyac
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« Reply #13 on: March 11, 2011, 10:23:56 AM »

this is very cool.  very similar to the way I use todo lists.  I'd be interested in the software version, very much so.  I like mylife organized, which I use now, but I'm pretty sure if you did a software version of this card system, it would be much better.  MLO is good, but most of the features are not going to be used by most users.  It's better to have something that focuses on the simplicity of the method, and builds features that enhance that simplicity.  Not the other way around, which is to just add as many features as possible.
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mouser
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« Reply #14 on: March 11, 2011, 11:52:51 AM »

If i did a software version, here is what i would do is this:

A very opinionated piece of software that tried to present a specific method of operation.

There would basically be two views:
  • Working View
  • Maintenance View

In the "Working View" you would see a very clean desktop which tried to reproduce the visual card metaphor.  This might be so minimialistic as to restrict view to a stack of cards and then 1-5 chosen cards laid out and displayed very large on screen -- like real size 3x5 inches.

In the Maintenance View, you wouldn't see cards at all, it would be more like a hierarchical note tree or grid, optimized for very quick sorting and searching by various fields, show stats, etc.

That is, the Maintenance View would be designed to do what the physical system can't -- let you find anything quickly, let you look at your past completed cards, show you stats, let you add new cards, edit cards, easily, etc.  Not too much worry about visual prettiness here -- in this view its all about power.

And then on the Working View you would want a very minimalistic aesthetically appealing space with very little on it -- just the one or two cards you are currently working on.

And maybe a feature for printing out batches of cards on pre-punched index card stock, and a very quick way to add new cards to be filed later.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 11:54:44 AM by mouser » Logged
superboyac
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« Reply #15 on: March 11, 2011, 12:03:55 PM »

I think it's a beautiful idea, and I would offer my help if I could in any way.  As I've become busier in recent years, I do feel the need to simplify this kind of thing.  I've realized that no matter how busy I get and how many things i need "to do", the management of all these tasks still works best with very very simple methods; like your index cards.  It just doesn't need to be more complicated than that.  Like you said, the MOST valuable thing is being able to store the idea away so you can free your mind.  No need for tagging, and complex calculations of priority.  Your mind will take care of all that once you see the words on the cards and its time to actually act on it.  We just need to be able to put it away for a while, and trust that we're not going to lose the idea.

So I think it would be a very important and interesting project.  Like I said, I'd love to help if you needed it.
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« Reply #16 on: March 11, 2011, 12:10:38 PM »

Additionally:
The flaw I've seen with other software for managing to do lists and tasks and such, is that the developers are influenced by a very small minority of people who demand a lot of very particular features that are not needed by most people who need to organize their lists.  So the developers, in an effort to keep customers happy, keep catering to them.  but the effectiveness of the software is not improved.  This is a case where the developers need to be a little more like Steve Jobs, and NOT put in things that are going to ruin the elegance of the program.  I noticed this very recently when I realize that none of the task list software have even halfway-decent printing capabilities.  And I started wondering, "What kind of people spend so much time keeping a nice to do list, but never ever print it out?" and the kind of people are those who just like to play with software, be super critical, and ask for particular minor features...but in real life, they don't really act on these lists.  It's just like an excercise for them.  They feel good about putting together nice detailed lists, but it's not for much practical use.  I've seen too many programs that have very mature feature sets, and oddly, their printing abilities are almost alpha state.  That means nobody is demanding printing stuff, which means these people are probably not using it in a normal working environment.
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« Reply #17 on: March 11, 2011, 02:59:24 PM »

Maybe ndxCards?
Quote
ndxCards is a powerful electronic note taking software that helps record, retrieve and recap all your knowledge in whichever form you choose. Anything you read, hear, some boiler plate text or a code snippet - enter it as note cards and ndxCards can manage it all.

I thought app103 and others were using Notezilla in this kind of way?

The beauty of mouser's or other paper-based systems is that they don't need batteries and you can take them anywhere.  But, it would be a real problem to move back and forth between a PC and a written system, and that seems insuperable to me.
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superboyac
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« Reply #18 on: March 11, 2011, 03:21:46 PM »

Maybe ndxCards?
Quote
ndxCards is a powerful electronic note taking software that helps record, retrieve and recap all your knowledge in whichever form you choose. Anything you read, hear, some boiler plate text or a code snippet - enter it as note cards and ndxCards can manage it all.

I thought app103 and others were using Notezilla in this kind of way?

The beauty of mouser's or other paper-based systems is that they don't need batteries and you can take them anywhere.  But, it would be a real problem to move back and forth between a PC and a written system, and that seems insuperable to me.
I remember this program from years ago.  But I didn't like the post-it type layout.  However, thinking about it now, it seems like a really cool application with some very unique features.  I like it!  I'll try it again.
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« Reply #19 on: March 11, 2011, 03:44:32 PM »

Something I'd like to suggest is to maybe restrict the total amount of characters a card can hold (to keep it within the 3X5 paradigm) but allow 'links.'

I use index card files, and found the restricted space forces me to focus and summarize more than if I had unlimited space to blather around in. (For that I've got a variety of tree-outliner/notes software choices.)

But on a lot of cards, I also put reference notes (mostly on the back), which point me to resources (e.g. URLs, books in my library, file folders, various paper or electronic data collections, photos and clippings I have on file. etc) that I can pull if I need the whole resource the card's text summarizes. Many cards have little more than a phrase or short sentence (to act as a memory jogger) plus a pointer to some other resource. I do most of my formal tech writing using that method.

So allowing some sort of equivalent linking mechanism to files on the system (or in an extended note space) would be great to have. Maybe if you clicked on a hot corner and the card "flipped over" to display a text editor? Ideally one that supported shortcuts?

That's my 2¢  smiley
« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 03:47:27 PM by 40hz » Logged

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mahesh2k
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« Reply #20 on: March 11, 2011, 05:07:05 PM »

I'm using Xmind(mindmapping software) to make such index cards (or lists), alternatively even scriveners cork board is also effective. Why software ? because it's hard for me to keep track of paper cards and if nephew is around this machine then it's hard to maintain it. But i guess such limitation exists for people like me, so software is better way to manage index card system.
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #21 on: March 11, 2011, 06:59:16 PM »

Links can be done by cutting the cards to look like Ticklers or slicing a hole in the middle in order to group the cards into one group.

Like this but for Index Cards:



Quote
I'm using Xmind(mindmapping software) to make such index cards (or lists), alternatively even scriveners cork board is also effective. Why software ? because it's hard for me to keep track of paper cards and if nephew is around this machine then it's hard to maintain it. But i guess such limitation exists for people like me, so software is better way to manage index card system.

The easiest cut and dry way of combining both worlds is to scan the cards and then let a photo tagger (like Picasa) deal with it.

I don't have an OCR scanner though so I make do with regular reviews of adding my notes into software and then ripping the paper notes apart and throwing them into the trash can - sort of like a reverse in-basket.

Quote
If i did a software version, here is what i would do is this:

A very opinionated piece of software that tried to present a specific method of operation.

There would basically be two views:
Working View
Maintenance View

In the "Working View" you would see a very clean desktop which tried to reproduce the visual card metaphor.  This might be so minimialistic as to restrict view to a stack of cards and then 1-5 chosen cards laid out and displayed very large on screen -- like real size 3x5 inches.

In the Maintenance View, you wouldn't see cards at all, it would be more like a hierarchical note tree or grid, optimized for very quick sorting and searching by various fields, show stats, etc.

That is, the Maintenance View would be designed to do what the physical system can't -- let you find anything quickly, let you look at your past completed cards, show you stats, let you add new cards, edit cards, easily, etc.  Not too much worry about visual prettiness here -- in this view its all about power.

And then on the Working View you would want a very minimalistic aesthetically appealing space with very little on it -- just the one or two cards you are currently working on.

And maybe a feature for printing out batches of cards on pre-punched index card stock, and a very quick way to add new cards to be filed later.

Not to undermine the idea but this is exactly Anuran minus a card interface and a print option. Not saying it's easy to code but the system is already out.

For batch printing - Wunderlist is basically App's TodoList with selection drag and drop categories so if you only want to batch print check lists - that's the application.

Quote
this is very cool.  very similar to the way I use todo lists.  I'd be interested in the software version, very much so.  I like mylife organized, which I use now, but I'm pretty sure if you did a software version of this card system, it would be much better.  MLO is good, but most of the features are not going to be used by most users.  It's better to have something that focuses on the simplicity of the method, and builds features that enhance that simplicity.  Not the other way around, which is to just add as many features as possible.

For the bang for the bill (Gates) - I can't help but think:

Fujitsu ScanSnap + Evernote

or

Instagram + Instaprint

...are what you are looking for although I personally haven't tried both.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 07:02:46 PM by Paul Keith » Logged

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« Reply #22 on: March 12, 2011, 10:34:12 AM »

If i did a software version, here is what i would do is this:

A very opinionated piece of software that tried to present a specific method of operation.

There would basically be two views:
  • Working View
  • Maintenance View

In the "Working View" you would see a very clean desktop which tried to reproduce the visual card metaphor.  This might be so minimialistic as to restrict view to a stack of cards and then 1-5 chosen cards laid out and displayed very large on screen -- like real size 3x5 inches.

Similar to the old Microsoft Cardfile or Azz Cardfile discussed here? http://www.donationcoder....m/index.php?topic=16548.0
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mouser
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« Reply #23 on: March 12, 2011, 10:53:48 AM »

All good.. i would be inclined to make something much more narrowly focused on being a replacement for ToDo lists.
The ramifications of that focus would be:
  • No support for images or richtext formatting -- it's not that this would be hard to add, it's that this tool is NOT meant to be a system for managing elaborate information, it's meant to be a super-charged todo list.  I know people dont *have* to use the formatting abilities of the other tools, but i think the program i have in mind would really try to enforce a minimalism and mode of working.
  • I tend not to think about writing software in that way usually -- my view is usually to add features and let users use it in different ways; but i think this would be an interesting experiment in trying to design the software to have a specific point of view in terms of nudging the user to use it in a specific way.
  • Much more focused on letting you really quick put in a bunch of new short items, each on their own card, and then quickly find and select a couple of cards at a time to be featured on a large "current" workspace.
  • In other words, as close as possible to the physical index card system i currently use.
  • Once we assume all items are todo items we can make other assumptions like that people should review their items every so often, and that it's helpful to see when a card was added, last modified, last viewed, last reviewed, etc.

« Last Edit: March 12, 2011, 10:55:45 AM by mouser » Logged
mahesh2k
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« Reply #24 on: March 12, 2011, 11:36:58 AM »

Quote
The easiest cut and dry way of combining both worlds is to scan the cards and then let a photo tagger (like Picasa) deal with it.I don't have an OCR scanner though so I make do with regular reviews of adding my notes into software and then ripping the paper notes apart and throwing them into the trash can - sort of like a reverse in-basket.
I thought about OCR/Mobile image capture but this is very painful as it's one more task that goes with every to-do list which is very bad for this index card system. Xmind is helping me to some extent with relational tasks and long term goals settings stuff.
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