If you’ve followed my notebooks for any length of time on Instagram, my website, or Baum-kuchen’s love letter, you have undoubtedly seen my beloved index cards. In the era of bullet-journaling, which is a highly effective analog planning system (that I don’t use), you’ll see my action cards with my notebook. They are simply, to do lists, on index 3x5 index cards, which makes them easy for me to keep on hand (and recycle).
So many people have asked me about them. To be quite honest, I feel very strange trying to explain them. The way I use them is so simple that it barely seems like a system. I feel like I’m cheating you by not telling you some grand secret or the magic behind my success.
Daily Action Cards
Every day, while I am having my morning coffee, I will begin my action card for that day. I simply write out all of the things I intend to accomplish on that day. I try to avoid adding things I know I am not going to do. I also try to avoid adding too many things because that makes me feel overwhelmed or underproductive. There are only so many hours in the day and life balance is important to my overall well-being. If the task is something that needs to be completed on a future date, then I will make a card for that day and write the task on it.
I have ways of indicating the urgency of tasks and I have notations for indicating the progress of tasks. My symbol key is very simple these days.
"A" is for Scheduled appointment
"*" is for Important, as in it would be a good idea to get this task done today.
"!" is for Critical, as in my life or the life of someone will be made miserable if I don’t get to this task today.
A shaded box tells me I’ve completed this task. Check marks make me crazy because they get sloppy.
A half shaded box tells me that I partially completed a task. about 1/2 way
A dot lets me know I started a task, but just barely
">" lets me know I’ve forwarded a task to the next day.
"X" means I didn’t do it and it’s a task that really can’t be forwarded.
My Materials: Levenger 3x5 Things To Do Cards
Big projects with many tasks involved are still planned out using my grid-ruled index cards. I usually revisit these cards on Sunday and then assign upcoming tasks to the appropriate days.
My Materials: Staples 3x5 grid-ruled index cards
As my life gets more and more complicated and more critical things have to be completed throughout the course of a day, I find myself using digital reminders with alerts. In other words, I schedule specific times to do certain tasks, such as writing an email or making certain calls. If something is marked with an * or an !, meaning it is important or critical, it is usually scheduled a time and an alert will sound, as an additional reminder to me to get it done.
In all that I do, I appreciate simplicity, the barest of what it takes to accomplish something, to get the job done. To me, bells and whistles do not make a thing more useful or more effective, but more cluttered and complication, which causes me undue stress. I look at some planners and wonder, who has the time or energy or mental capacity? I don’t but to each his or her own! I’d rather spend my time and energy living the life I intend to live. I appreciate my analog tools for the life that they help me live and for the productivity, they help me to attain, and believe it or not, not how they “look.”
For several years, I would keep a year’s worth of action cards before I discarded them. But lately, I’ve even simplified that. I’ve become less interested in reviewing what I’ve done and more interested in moving forward and planning what I’m going to do. I think, with a mindset more rooted in the present and the progress I might make, I am getting more done and feel a greater sense of peace and calm these days. The index cards allow me the freedom to let go of yesterday, without the burden of dragging around days gone by on a daily basis.
Motivation and Intentions
I strongly believe that motivation and intentions are the biggest factors in getting things done. Perhaps it is the personal writing that I do, in which I consistently revisit my core values and beliefs, and process the things that are happening to me and that I’m doing in my life, that really dictates whether or not I’m going to actually work on certain goals or complete certain tasks. Writing it down a certain way or in a certain notebook or on a certain card will not make me do those tasks unless I have an intention and the motivation to do them, and that comes from another place.
It is my hope that whatever analog tools anyone chooses, they do that personal and internal work before giving up on a system. If our thinking is in the right place and our hearts are in the right place, the tools are simply just there to support those more complex processes.