Index Cards for To-Do Lists

I’ve always loved making lists. It helps with everything from personal productivity to professional goals. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different ways to keep track of these lists. One year I jotted my to-dos on sticky notes, another year I used my calendar, and other times I tried to keep all my tasks together in a notebook. Having all my to-dos in one place was convenient and I wrote them down regularly, but I wasn’t great at executing all of the things on my mega-list. I knew I needed a new method. 

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The change happened unexpectedly. A few years ago, I took my daughter back-to-school shopping and she dumped the typical items in the cart: paper, pens, pencils, and index cards. The 3-by-5 cards caught my attention — they didn’t have too many lines, but just enough to make a detailed and focused list. I knew I had to see if they could help me follow through on actually executing my to-dos. 

To my surprise, these tiny school supplies have become my favorite list-making surface. Here are four ways the note card method has helped me stay on top of my to-do lists: 

In the past, especially with a notebook, my inclination was to list every single thing I had to complete for the week — which would sabotage me even before I began. Looking at the number of things I needed to do instantly sent my mind into overwhelm. Instead of tackling the tasks, I ended up feeling guilty that I didn’t even complete one. However, the space on an index card is small; with limited space, I don’t feel pressure to write several things and can focus on the space available.

Having only a few lines made my to-do list focused.

Because there is only room for a few to-dos on an index card, it forces me to condense my list to three to five tasks. Previously, when I wrote every possible to-do, I’d end up completing some soft tasks that mainly served as a distraction and a way to procrastinate on my most important goals. When I switched to note cards, I started to write down only the most important tasks, and found myself slowly working my way through completing those. The index card helped me switch my mindset and tackle the timeliest tasks first. 

Each day is a fresh start. 

I love the fact that my to-do list starts with a blank index card every day. I am not faced with what I didn’t complete yesterday or the day before, and can focus my attention on what needs to be done that day. It helps to give space to the priorities and goals of today instead of perseverating on what hasn’t been done.

I can dedicate cards to separate parts of my life. 

Keeping a few cards dedicated to my self-care, professional, and personal goals helps keep those spheres separate. By creating different lists, I’m able to focus my energy on the realm I’m in, instead of vacillating between a personal goal and a professional goal. It allows me to stay zoned in on one area of life, instead of feeling scattered trying to do everything at once.

If you’re struggling with completing your to-dos, try the index card method. You may surprise yourself at what you can accomplish.