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Managing NAs with index cards

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  • Managing NAs with index cards

    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

  • #2
    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 "


    • #3
      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.


      • #4
        Index Card NAs

        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!

        Good luck!


        • #5
          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.



          • #6
            Originally posted by Unregistered
            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?


            • #7
              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.


              • #8
                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.


                • #9
                  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.).


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Unregistered
                    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?


                    • #11
                      Brent, feel free to elaborate.


                      • #12
                        No, honestly, I'm asking you the question. What do you think?


                        • #13
                          Index cards

                          Haven't done it, but I'm skeptical that it'll work for me. Sounds very much like others have had great success, though.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Brent
                            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.


                            • #15
                              Cards, Systems and Automation

                              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 ....