View Full Version : Managing NAs with index cards
05-17-2005, 09:43 AM
I am new to GTD and have been monitoring this forum for sometime. While I am in the technology industry and behind a computer all day long at work, at this point, I find myself more comfortable with index cards while I organize and tweak my system. If I ever get it under control and designed the way I want it, I'll look back to developing it in some electronic format.
I previously managed my NA list in excel and was able to quickly filter my NA list by context, and or associated project. Initially, the list had become exceptionally long and I became overwhelmed by it and lost control over it.
I've seen the articles on cascading next actions and pigpog, or single items per index card, but have any of you found a good way to manage a voluminous list of next actions with index cards? TIA
05-17-2005, 09:54 AM
Look at the 43 folders web site for a description of the " hipster" pda .
fastest way to get info might be to google search " hipster pda "
05-17-2005, 10:10 AM
Paul, thanks for the reply. Actually it is the Hipster that I've tried to emulate. I have project / sub-project cards that I write down all associated NAs on and on the front of the card I write down the context for the next NA for that item queued up. When I've completed that NA, I then queue up the next NA and if the context changes, I write down the new context on the front of the card. It's all working "okay" but not "great". I seem to be lacking the "flow" that I'm looking for in working through the system. I've contemplated going back and reviewing all my cards daily and compiling a Tasks card every morning, but that's not too far removed from the simple todo lists I've always managed.
05-17-2005, 10:20 AM
My experience with index cards was not initially positive ... when I was done with my brain dump, etc. I had a STACK that required a large binder clip, took a year to sort through and was decidedly un-pocket-friendly.
My hipster PDA 2.0 experience has been much better - I keep my lists on the cards themselves, fitting anywhere from 10-30 items per side. I use a simple set of icons (a right arrow and a down arrow) to let me know if there are other sides to consider (right=turn over, down=look for another card). This has allowed me to be extremely flexible with my contexts and I can even slip non-GTD-sanctioned NA lists in there. (I currently have 2 project cards with NAs listed in my pile of context cards. They are high priority projects full of 5-10 minute chunks ... so instead of being in desk "mode", I get in "Project A" mode. Not exactly a context, but the tasks are often dependent on the previous, so it is pretty easy just to march through them.)
Be warned, it is possible to spend a LOT of time hacking a system, even one as simple as Notecards! My advice: pick a method and go with it for one week. Tweak on the weekend. Otherwise, you will spend your time making custom tabs, copying lists from one color card to another to a different orientation to an iconic system to ....
In all seriousness, the key for me has been the ability to adapt my contexts appropriately. I also have some other checklists in 3x5 format, "Agenda" cards for tracking communication stuff and I keep it all in a Levenger Pocket Briefcase. (I'd love an international model, but alas ... I have not the funds to spend on something marginally better than what I have) My active cards are in the outside pocket, a blank card is ready to go on the other and the inside pocket is my inbox. As the network/web/graphic design guy/geek where I work, I am pretty regularly mocked for using such a low tech solution ... but I also meet all my deadlines!
05-17-2005, 01:08 PM
There is a simple system called "Scan Cards" - pretty old, but still in use, that might give you some ideas about ways to use index cards. It is a surprisingly GTD-compatible system.
I used them long ago, and actually liked them. Unfortunately, as my projects became more complicated, it took more and more cards, and I got nervous about the consequences of losing one or more as I travelled.
They come with colored borders for sorting - you could try contexts or projects - and they have all kinds of nifty organizers for them - wallets, deskpads, big binders. There are double-sized that fold, special ones for fields like real estate, and you can even have custom ones printed up.
Check it out - even if you don't buy the system, there's good information on the site.
05-17-2005, 01:25 PM
I've contemplated going back and reviewing all my cards daily and compiling a Tasks card every morning, but that's not too far removed from the simple todo lists I've always managed.
How would that be a bad thing?
05-18-2005, 08:35 AM
I remember this topic having come up before. Here is what I posted then, that I hope will be helpful:
I will take a stab at this one. Here is one way you could structure a system with nothing but 3X5 cards:
1. Have an index card for each project (instead of each task). Write the name of the project at the bottom of the card phrased in such a way that you will know when you have completed the project.
2. On the top line of the card, write the next action.
3. If you know what the NEXT next actions will be, continue listing them on the card one underneath the other.
4. As you complete a next action, highlight it with a highlighter and make sure you have at least one next action listed below it.
5. Use the back of the card to make notes regarding details of phone calls, confirmation numbers, and other info related to the project.
6. Organize your cards by context. All cards where a phone call is the next action will be sorted together, all cards where an errand is the next action will be sorted together, etc. You could put a rubber band or paper clip around each context.
You will be "done" with a card when the project has been completed. In other words, you have accomplished the last line on the card. The card will contain all of the next actions that led up to the completion of the project (you could even date the next actions as you complete them). All of your miscellaneous info will be on the back. You may want to keep a 3X5 file box of your completed projects.
This is just a thought of the top of my head. Hope it helps.
05-18-2005, 09:21 AM
Krackeman - thanks for the info. Flipping between context and project mode is something I find myself doing constantly. I also agree with the danger of constantly "hacking the system".
Emkay - that's one of the first things I thought of when I debated on switching over to index cards. I couldn't remember the name of the system, but I recalled it from years back when it was advertised in many of the in-flight magazines provided by the various airlines. I'll have to give the site a read and see if I can come up with some additional tweaks to my system.
Brent - it would require writing down NAs a second time after I've already written them down once on my project card. I really don't want to have to re-write the next NA for a project on yet another card. I want a system where the next NA for each project automatically surfaces to the top to be worked on.
Frank - that is eerily similar to what I am presently doing. I do like however the phrasing of the project so you know when it is completed. I think what I may be doing is creating project cards for "huge" projects that have many, many NAs associated with them instead of breaking these up into smaller sub-projects and then adding each sub-projects with it's associated NA to the card.
05-18-2005, 02:43 PM
oh my goodness! the link posted above by emkay to the ScanCard system ... well, it just made my day. i could use exclamation points with abandon here, but i'll spare y'all the giddiness.
the ScanCard systems seem perfect for those, like me, who like the simplicity of the "hipster pda" but want something a little more "pulled together," without the bulk of the binder clip or the typical "planner."
check it out.
(i lurk here often, but have yet to officially register - that's me, getting things done! heh.).
05-18-2005, 06:43 PM
I really don't want to have to re-write the next NA for a project on yet another card. I want a system where the next NA for each project automatically surfaces to the top to be worked on.
What if this lack of automation is an advantage?
05-19-2005, 07:56 AM
Brent, feel free to elaborate.
05-19-2005, 03:30 PM
No, honestly, I'm asking you the question. What do you think?
Haven't done it, but I'm skeptical that it'll work for me. Sounds very much like others have had great success, though.
05-20-2005, 08:27 AM
No, honestly, I'm asking you the question. What do you think?
Brent - lack of automation can be very advantageous. Too many people rely on automation for the sake of automation. I always define my processes as non-systems based initially and automate where I see the opportunity of optimization without losing accountability with the stakeholders of the process. Hence, the reason I am opting for the "Hipster" methodology at this time until I refine my GTD system to where it flows well for me. Once I get to this point, I will be looking to develop my own application that supports the entire system or portions of it. Once again, having to write NAs down multiple times is not necessarily a bad thing, it's just inefficient and is not a necessary component to the success of the system.
05-20-2005, 09:47 AM
To tag onto what ... um ... Unreg has said:
Automation (efficiency) is an independent concern from effectiveness. (Buzzwords all around!) I agree fully that a lack of automation can be an advatage.
Often when I have lurked on some discussions about GTD systems, it feels like people are trying to develop a system that only requires input. Cram all your data in and then watch amazed as your next Next Action pops out. Do appropriate work on the front end and you never have to think of the project again!
I have been re-listening to my GTD Fast tapes and what has really stuck out to me is that the system does not exist to make decisions for you. To quote DA "Use your brain to think about things, not of them". I have recently readdressed my GTD system, looking at it through this lens: Will this help me free up my mind to make the decisions I need to make instead of trying to remember what the questions are?
So it is not a multi-input, one output system. Rather it is a chatic multi input organized multi output system. Before the system, all my inputs are aimless, not thought out, out of context, etc. After the system, all the relevant actionable stuff is STILL THERE, but now it is grouped and organized in a way that lets me deal with it effectively.
How does this relate to automation, etc? Simple, by re-writing, by losing some efficiency on the data entry/data processing end, I am gaining opportunities to think about the project again, the next actions again, etc.
Perhaps an example would help. We've all heard of "scope creep", I hope. The tendency for some projects to grow even after defined. In my life, one such project is "Repair Drum Shield". I lead a band and the acoustic shielding around the drum kit was falling over. Initially, I had 2 action steps. 1. Get the manfucaturer's contact info from Andrew 2. Order new hinges.
Since the project began, Andrew went on vacation, delaying the it somewhat. While he was gone a whole slew of "While we're fixing stuff" ideas came up. Fix Drum Shield turned into Repair All Band Equipment. Except that it didn't. My "do all the work on the front end and forget it" system had lost track of the project. It was stuck in "Waiting For" and couldn't get out because I would look at "Fix Drum Shield- Waiting for Andrew" and think "Alas, nothing more can be done!" When I simplified and dumbed down my system a bit, the clarity of what needed to be done came as I shuffled cards and realized that The Drums were only part of the project now. This week I banged off 5-6 NAs that would have been stuck otherwise. It was the process of recopying an NA or project that gave me room to think "Wait a second ....."
So, inefficient in some ways ....
More effective in most ....
05-20-2005, 10:30 AM
I believe efficiency and effectiveness go hand in hand. If writing down NAs multiple times allows me to get more done in the long run than not writing down multiple NAs, then I would claim that overall I was more effective AND more efficient by writing down my NAs multiple times.
However, if writing down NAs once caused me to lose track of my projects (creating a system with significant gaps), how could I claim to be either effective or efficient overall?
Certainly being inefficient in certain process steps can help yield a more effective and efficient overall process. However, does writing multiple NAs down necessarily imply that you will be more effective? I'm not ready to buy into that just yet.
05-20-2005, 11:51 AM
Thank you, Krackeman; that's what I'm trying to get at.
To the Unregistered poster: How will you become convinced of our point of view without trying it? Efficiency and effectiveness of process are often counter-intuitive and can only be proved by example.
05-20-2005, 12:27 PM
Brent - I believe my previous post explains it well enough.
05-20-2005, 12:40 PM
Let me see if I've got your requirements straight:
1. Index-card based system.
2. Many projects and many actions for each project.
3. Ability to sort by project.
4. Ability to sort by context.
5. Without rewriting NAs.
Am I missing anything?
If not, then based on those requirements I think you need a card indexing system. The simplest might be to use colored cards (or a colored stripe on each card) to indicate context, and an alphanumeric code to indicate project. Sort out all the blue cards when you want to make a bunch of phone calls, sort out all the MP cards when you want to work on MegaProject. Some implementations of the Hipster PDA use card-sized coin envelopes for each project, but that seems to hide the context information more than I would prefer.
If this were my system, I'd also want to have a summary card for each project with key information like the project reference code, the desired outcome, any pertinent deadlines, and perhaps FAQ-like reference information (things like the client's phone number, the address of the project's internal web page, the billing code, whatever).
You might keep in mind, though, that the key advantage of the Hipster PDA is simplicity. Balancing your checkbook by hand is pretty easy, but it really helps to use a spreadsheet if you're doing the budget for even a relatively small company. Similarly, at some level of complexity -- only you can say when -- index cards are no longer the right tool.
Hope this helps,
05-20-2005, 01:03 PM
Katherine's color-coding and sorting was what I was getting at by recommending the scan card products. I used colors for contexts, and by using the nifty little organizer pockets, I could keep track of projects by filing in columns. Even a rough timeline could be arranged by the order in which they were placed.
On Weekly Review days you can pile up, sort out, resort out all those cards however you want. Or even grab a few while out and about - in a little wallet thing, or just binder-clipped together.
With the idea of simplicity should go the idea of security - or having a trusted system. With cards, it really worked great as long as you didn't lose a card. If you did, look out!
For really crucial data, keep your cards in one place, and maybe make backups (photocopies if you want -put a bunch on the copier at a time). Or consider a master project list that is kept either on a computer or somewhere else - just in case!
By the way, I have to admit that, with all my computerized stuff, my handheld and outliner and what-not, that I still have some of my cards left, and will sometimes put projects onto them so that I can get my hands - literally - around a big project!
05-22-2005, 10:14 AM
ScanCards have been mentioned several times in this thread, so let me just throw out a suggestion based on my experience using ScanCards for a couple of years back in the mid 80s.
Rather than use them as instructed (which is to put the name of the project on the top line of the card), if I were to go back to that system, I would put the name of the project on the right half of the top line of the card. (OK, so I would have to write small. On the left half of the top line, I would write the next action *in pencil*. All of the other actions and information about the project would go on the body of the card (both front and back). Throughout the life of the project, as an action is completed, I would erase the action and replace it with the new next action (that I would find listed in on the body of the card). I would physically organize the cards so that all cards where the next action was a phone call would be together, errands together, etc.
For those unfamiliar with the system, the significance of the top line of the card is that the cards overlap in such a way that you see the top line of all cards at one glance. What I had when I used the system looked just like a legal pad folio. When you opened it, you had 4 columns. Each column had 12 little overlapping pockets, giving you 48 cards you culd see simply by opening the portfolio.
The problem with using it the way it was designed is that when you opened the portfolio, all you saw were the names of the projects. Basically, you were looking at your projects list. The actions were all hidden from view.
I would say if you like an index card system, it's worth giving ScanCards a look (just Google the term "ScanCard" and the link will be at the top of the list). They used to also sell individual panels that would fit into a 3 ring binder, so if your calendar and notes are in a binder, you could buy a panel and add it into what you already have.
05-24-2005, 08:15 AM
I use 3x5 cards printed off from a letter template. I can then able to have 4 cards which I can cut them off from one sheet of paper. Pretty good solution. You can download my template for free through here: 3×5 GTD Card Template (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/3x5-gtd-template-on-letter-and-a4-is-available-now.html)