The Simple Brilliance of Using an Index Card for Daily Goals

Blank Index Card

In 2007 I wrote about how I started outlining my daily goals on an index card after reflecting upon the following passage from The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss:

Don’t ever arrive at the office or in front of your computer without a clear list of priorities. You’ll just read unassociated email and scramble your brain for the day. Compile your to-do list for tomorrow no later than this evening. I don’t recommend using Outlook or computerized to-do lists because it is possible to add an infinite number of items. I use a standard piece of paper folded three times to about 2″ x 3.5″, which fits perfectly in the pocket and limits you to noting only a few items.

For a few years I got away from using the index card, but came back to it for good (hopefully) a little over a year ago. This doesn’t replace a calendar, an electronic to-do list for recurring tasks, or a project plan: it’s simply a short list of what I need to get done for the day.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • On Sunday I pull out an index card for the week and divide it in to four sections, two on each side. Each section is for a day Monday – Thursday.* The small amount of space for each day is intentionally limited.
  • For each day I outline 2-4 things I’d like to accomplish for both work and personally. Examples for work might be programming a feature or analyzing some data. Personally it might be exercising, running to the store, or fixing something in the house.
  • Each night during the week I tweak the list for the remainder of the week. The original list obviously has more details for Monday than for Thursday.
  • I leave the index card on my desk all day long. When I complete something, I cross it off!
  • On Thursday evening when I’m done for the week, I throw the card in the trash, signaling it’s completion

The clarity that this brings to my day is priceless. Unless something urgent unexpectedly pops up, I always know what I should be doing. Throughout the day, every day, I get that wonderful feeling of scratching stuff off of a list. And most days everything gets crossed off, which yields another level of satisfaction.

So simple, yet so beneficial.

*Friday’s I go in to the warehouse. I save up a lot of small tasks and collaborative tasks for that day. I use my Remember the Milk heavily for Friday’s since many of the tasks repeat automatically and thus fit the format of an electronic to-do list better.