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Increasing Personal Effectiveness with Index Cards

If your to-do lists are out of control, it’s time that you tried an inexpensive tool for keeping track of your action items: blank index cards. Much like Post-Its, index cards cost only a few dollars per pack of several hundred, and they can do wonders for increasing personal effectiveness. With practice, they can sharpen your focus, improve your organization, and increase your productivity.

To get started, all you need are two things:

1. One package of 3×5 index cards (color or white)

2. A pen

Now, transfer your mental to-do list onto the cards. In the book “Getting Things Done,” productivity guru David Allen says that the key to personal effectiveness is to declutter the mind. Transform your mess of nebulous thoughts into concrete action items, separated into three categories: Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It. Anything that doesn’t fit into these categories probably isn’t important enough for your time.

Here are two techniques for using the index cards to create action items:

1. Consultant and blogger Chris Brogan recommends this method on

List what’s on your mind.

ALL of it.

When there’s an action required, put an !

Add context to it: @email @call @bankCheck once more.

Put the cards down.

Then, Brogan says to silence all distractions: close any Internet browser tabs and open applications, and silence your phone. Set a timer that will help keep you on task. Then start tackling the cards with exclamation points, action by action.

2. On, productivity blogger Merlin Mann introduces what he calls “The Hipster PDA.” He suggests clipping a stack of index cards together and carrying them around in your pocket. Every time you think of a task or a project, write it on a separate card and move it to the bottom of the stack.

When you get home, sort your stack of cards into three piles: Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It. Within those piles, you can sort by project, priority, or location where you will accomplish each task (on the computer, at the office, etc.). Then, as you accomplish each task written on an index card, throw the card away – or even better, recycle it.

Using index cards to organize your task list will contribute to higher productivity and lower stress, and all for the cost of a latte.

Have you used index cards, Post-Its, or other inexpensive tools for increasing personal effectiveness? Leave a comment!

Check out EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness course.

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