Getting Things Done with Index Cards

In 2002, David Allen pushed a book called Getting Things Done. In this book he introduced his action management system, which you can read more about on wikipedia. While his system is useful to some, many found that they were modifying the workflow to fit into their own unique style.

I tried many software approaches to organizing things to do, but none gave me the flexibility and portability of index cards. Probably the most widely used or referenced index card system is the Hipster PDA, from the DIY Planner folks.

Out of all the Hipster PDA templates, I only use the action item list one. There is one major tweak that I made to the card though. Not every item on the list will have a square box next to it. If there is a box next to each item, how do you know which one is of higher priority? Perhaps you put a number or some marking on it. But then what happens if you accomplish that task, and are wondering what is next? To reorganize your priorities will require cross outs or other new markings, and overall make a mess of the card. You would have to rewrite the whole card over if you want to quickly and easily identify what is next.

So how do I know what is a priority? I draw a box for the highest priority of that day. And once that is accomplished, put an X mark inside it. For things of lower priority that don’t get boxes, if they get done simply put an X mark beside it. With this workflow, you can easily see what is the high priority that isn’t done yet (box without an X), tasks that are complete (anything with an X), and lower priority items (empty space next to the item).

One implementation trick I have with the actionable index card system is to create a new card each Monday and Friday. The Monday card will be from Monday through Thursday, and Friday’s card will be through Sunday. I found that creating a new card each day just wastes time. I do keep records on when I accomplish major tasks, but I have no need to record the exact date of when it was done. But more on that system later.

Hopefully this gave you some insight into how I manage my work. Are you already a student of getting things done? What are some of your techniques on the system you use?

1 Comment

  1. Jerry Samour   •  

    I became a GTD fan about a year ago. I think it’s a great methodology, but some things in it can be really hard to adapt to. For example, it can be really hard to constantly go back and review what you need to get done. It also can be hard to plan for a year ahaed using just paper and pencil. The thing that I use now for my GTD made the whole process evolve. Check it out.

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