Getting Things Done: How a few index cards and a holder can boost productivity and save you time

Getting Things Done: How a few index cards and a holder can boost productivity and save you time

Back in 2013 I was in need of a sleek and pocketable solution for taking down quick on-the-go notes, design ideas and task lists. The index card presented itself as the perfect medium for this purpose; an inexpensive small sheet of card that could be discarded (and recycled) once a list of tasks was complete but conversely could be retained and filed if an idea needed further work or some action to be taken - exploring this concept introduced me to David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system. I set about designing a durable leather index card holder that would be a handy way to store a bunch of index cards whilst also serving as a jotter notepad for convenient note-taking - it was these requirements that led to my first iteration of a handmade leather 3-by-5 index card holder. Over the subsequent years I refined the design, materials, and my leather crafting techniques arriving at the popular designs that I offer today. The handmade leather compact 3-by-5 and larger format 4-by-6 index card holders are now time-tested, practical and versatile personal and professional productivity accessories that truly help people to manage and organise their work, life or both.

From my own experiences in academic and professional environments I know that it’s all too easy to undertake tasks or projects in an order that is perhaps less than optimal. Sometimes a somewhat tedious task is the one that should be given priority but with a linear ‘to-do’ list I have often undertaken tasks not necessarily in order of greatest priority but rather by how enjoyable they will be and the result is that the more mundane or bothersome items can get left to be endlessly rolled-over to the next day, week, month, etc.

The Getting Things Done framework created by David Allen is a comprehensive method for the organisation and tracking of tasks and projects. At the core of the GTD methodology is an ‘inbox’ system for the recording of ideas, tasks and projects into an ordered workflow that categorises and prioritises actionable tasks; the aim is increased productivity and reduction in stress via a streamlined system of organisation.

Running a small business I have found that the importance of preparation cannot be underestimated or understated. By objectively establishing an order for tasks based on priority and following a system such as the Getting Things Done methodology, or a variation of it, productivity can be markedly increased and time better managed with tasks and projects being consciously ordered alongside the planned actions required to complete them.

An index card based system provides the perfect tool for this and combined with a leather index card holder to store, transport and organise these index cards a powerfully beneficial system can be realised in an ultra compact and stylish format. My own 3-by-5 leather index card holder remains my go-to organiser of prioritised lists, notes and ideas arranged in a system that is based on elements of the GTD framework, simplified and modified for the way I work.

My system consists of index cards organised as follows;

  • TODAY: A summary card of HIGH PRIORITY and ACTIONABLE NOW tasks. This is the card that will usually be on display on the ‘writing surface’ side of my leather index card holder and is the reference card of tasks for the current day.
    • ACTIONABLE NOW (TASKS TAKING LESS THAN 5 MINS): These tasks require minimal time and usually only one action and it is often easier to just complete them immediately (that day) and cross them off therefore I generally record these quick tasks directly on the TODAY card (space permitting), starting this list from the bottom of the card and working upwards to seperate these tasks from the high priority items.

  • HIGH PRIORITY (NEXT ACTIONS LIST): Tasks that MUST be completed (or at least progressed in some way) in the very near future. This list will often include reference to tasks detailed within the PROJECTS cards.

  • MEDIUM PRIORITY: These tasks must be completed soon(ish) but are not of immediate priority. Depending on the task its priority could change at some point to the HIGH PRIORITY list - for example if a deadline approaches. An example of an item on this light might be a business administrative task.

  • LOW PRIORITY: This is a list of ‘pending’ tasks. I include tasks that are actionable now but of minimal importance/urgency along with tasks that are on temporary hold maybe because they are dependent on something being completed first or perhaps just awaiting my availability of time. Tasks can be moved to the medium or even the high priority lists when reviewed.

  • PROJECTS: Projects are more complex and will require significant time and almost always require multiple actions. An example might be designing a new product which would require many tasks to completed such as research, design, ordering materials, prototyping etc. Projects will usually be given their own index card which can then include a list of the actions required to complete that project and these individual actionable tasks will migrate to the priority list cards as and when appropriate.

    Task cards are reviewed at the end of each day and a new ‘today’ card is drafted ready for the following day.

    This system works for me, for now. It is not a rigid system or necessarily a perfect one and I allow it to adapt as my requirements or ways of working change. Importantly, I find that the activity of recording, prioritising and reviewing in this way necessitates a considered and more focused approach to tasks, projects and work in general. My index card holder is one of my most important everyday carry items and is one of the few things that I never misplace!

    I have been told by many of my customers about the numerous uses for my handmade leather index card holders covering a range of professional, academic and personal applications; meeting notes, design sketches, shopping lists, university lecture notes, chefs recipes, survey notes, dance choreography notes, presentation prompt cards, art sketches and more. All of these uses have in common the act of recording, ordering and prioritising - whether it be formally or otherwise.

    Sometimes the simplest of solutions are the most effective and the adaptability and versatility of a collection of unbound small pages appears almost limitless. Whilst a more involved system such as the GTD methodology can take the organisation of tasks and projects to the next level, even in its most basic form a ‘to-do’ list can still be a useful productivity aid. Using any system or method to help improve productivity and organisation is better than using no system at all and having a dependable location to record and organise lists and notes is crucial to the effectiveness of any system.

    In our busy and modern environment where electronic devices are often our primary means of record keeping and communication, making lists on paper with a pen or a pencil is refreshingly analog and mindful.

    Further reading / resources:

    Getting Things Done -

    Featured and recommended products:

    Handmade 3-by-5 (3x5" / 77x127mm) Index Card Holder - Veg-Tan Leather

    Handmade 3-by-5 (3x5" / 77x127mm) Index Card Holder - Sedgwick Bridle Leather

    Handmade 4-by-6 (4x6" / 102x152mm) Index Card Holder - Veg-Tan Leather

    Please do feel free to send me your comments, ideas, feedback and suggestions.

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