Going Back to My Index Card Method for Daily Goals

Blank Index Card

About a year ago I ditched my index card method for daily goals in favor of using my task list.   I’ve always had an electronic task list going back to college – first it was in Outlook, then in Thunderbird, then iPrioritize, and now Remember the Milk (only because it integrates with my Pure Adapt Google Start Page).  The problem is, for me, a task list is really something different from daily goals.  Tasks are things like “pay credit card bill” and “check on backups”.  They are things that generally take only a few minutes, but need to be done.  They are things that would probably slip my mind if I didn’t have an organized method of getting them done.

Goals are something different entirely.  They are what I want to accomplish with the day, not simply small tasks that I need to get done.  Today for example, my list goals included “Finish programming My Account section of new cart” and “Prep cart demo for meeting Thursday”, while my tasks involved things like checking my weekly cell phone minutes to make sure I didn’t go over this month.

I realized I really couldn’t successfully mix my tasks and goals, so I finally went back to my index card method this week.  Of course, I’m loving it and wondering why in hell I ever thought it was a good idea to stop in the first place.

Having my goals physically in front of me keeps me focused on what’s important for the day, and only what’s important for the day (I tend to sometimes get overwhelmed when I think about everything I need to get done in the next week/month/year).

There’s also something very theraputic about having your goals on an index card. At night, the very last thing I do is fill out the card for the following day.  Then I forget about those goals until the morning, which helps me separate myself from work and sleep more peacefully…as opposed to thinking “what do I need to do tomorrow?” as I’m falling asleep.

Plus there’s just something fun about physically scratching stuff off of a list.  It makes you feel good about yourself, more-so than checking a box on a website for some reason.  If the entire index card gets completed at a decent hour (as it did today), I can step away from work feeling that I did a good job for the day.  Can’t put a price on that.

6 comments on Going Back to My Index Card Method for Daily Goals

  1. Dave says:

    I’m totally with you on this, I use a plain ole’ piece of paper and LOVE scratching stuff off of it :)

  2. Dale says:

    I’m still struggling with the best way to do stuff like this… trying to meld goals, tasks, 10 minute tasks, and GTD into one cohesive system is proving to be difficult. But it’s a lot better than doing nothing. Interesting take, I might add “index cards” to my attempt at cohesive system.

  3. Adam McFarland says:

    @Dave – nice to hear I’m not the only one. It’s weird how we are pretty tech savvy and do everything else online, but when it comes to lists and goals there’s just something better about paper.

    @Dale – I think it’s something we all struggle with. All you can do is keep trying different techniques until you find what works. It’s definitely a trial and error type thing, with a different solution for everyone.

  4. […] In honor of Jessica’s fine (last but not least) chapter in, “Beautiful Visualization” I offer my own , perhaps feeble attempt, at the fine art of indexing information. Try to imagine it is on an index card. […]

  5. Peter Mead says:

    Hello guys and girls. I found your post after looking for some index card pics for a project I’m working on….It makes me laugh finding these kind of specific remarks and attitudes towards organisation. Only because it took me many years to realise that one COULD organise what they were doing – and another 4 years to really get a system going.

    I now have a great cohesive system for keeping lists, organising thoughts (I keep quite a comprehensive journal) organising creative work like writing, scrapbooking, and obviously keeping track of the different personal and freelance projects I do.

    It took a while, and really involved me figuring out WHAT I wanted from a system, and WHY. For me it took totally understanding my life from the ground up, my wants, loves, needs, all that stuff – infact the process of working it all out made sense of a lot of things.

    ANYYYYYWAY – that’s not the point. To contribute to your list, I switched from a lot of digital stuff, various notebooks that I’d keep for daily stuff, big notebooks for major goals, finally to:

    – Things on my Mac…..here I keep individual steps and to dos for projects, specifics like: Add download link to music page. Contact poetry journals etc.
    – I use Geektool on my mac desktop (allows you to embed txt files for display onto your desktop) for major goals, life direction, and a list of things I need to purchase to facilitate my personal projects (Buy 25 key midi controller to travel with music).
    – And the big one is a simple 1 day a page diary for my individual tasks. At night, or the following day when I’m about to start work, I write a list (in coloured pens) of everything I want to achieve that day, the individual steps under a heading, and then I go at it. At the end of the day I have a page of pretty looking colours, hopefully mostly crossed out. And as the year goes on I have the satisfaction of having a log of everything I’ve done….It’s great! I use a nice moleskin which is a luxury, but it’s weighty enough to feel satisfying in my hand, and I feel a certain reverence when I use it, even though I make a point of making the lists as fluid and messy as I like as I know when I close it, I can leave it all in there and not cluttering up my day.

    I think I’ll blog about the entire system one day – It’s become invisible in my life now which is lovely, as for a while I fought the restrictive feeling of OCDishness, and didn’t want to come to rely on LISTS. Now it feels very natural.

    Thanks for sharing Adam! See you later people x

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks for sharing Peter! It’s always great to see how other people do things. Your list idea is very similar to the index card method…which I’m still using by the way. This post goes back a few years to 2009 but ironically this morning I was just thinking of doing a new post on my system for getting things done.

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