Simplified Organization Video Tutorial: Mystie’s Daily Index Card To-Do List

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I'm all about digital and paperless planning - but sometimes the internet has distractions. Learn why an index card is your best bet for daily to-dos.

In this hangout, Mystie and Pam talk about Mystie’s latest favorite organization tool: an index card. Mystie has been using an index card to-do list every morning for a few months and she has learned a few principles to make it work really well. Although most of her system is digital, the physical index card gives the benefits of writing something out, which helps you remember and internalize ideas, and it also prevents the distraction of the internet when checking what’s next.

I'm all about digital and paperless planning - but sometimes the internet has distractions. Learn why an index card to-do list is so effective and useful.

In this video, Pam and Mystie mentioned

An index card is a simple, straight-forward, low-tech tool that gets the job done: helping you stay focused on what’s important in your day.

Video Transcript

Welcome to our first Google Hangout on Air. Today we’re going to be talking about our daily planning and organization to take care of all the daily details. I hope what we talk about today will inspire you to figure out what works for you, not necessarily to do the exact same thing but just to get some ideas that you might work in your own situation.

(Mystie) As outlined in Paperless Home Organization, most of my organizing and planning process is digital; it’s on the computer. Mostly on Evernote. I found that when I was trying to work the plan during the day that I’d get on the computer to load up the list and look at it, but first I’d check my email or I’d see some little notification and go check that, and forget that I was actually on there to look at what I was supposed to be doing, which was not checking my email. In trying to find a solution to that problem I came upon the index card. I had a big stack of index cards in my desk drawer already.

I take a normal index card and write what I’m going to do. A couple of things that I like about using these is that they are small, so I can’t make a mega list on it. It’s handwriting, which I’ve found that writing out my list every morning instead of just looking at it typed or typing it really made a big difference to implement it and get it done in a day.

(Pam) There’s something to writing something by hand that helps. First, putting it in your memory.

(Mystie) There’s been articles on research that there’s some brain connection through your hand, and writing it out does help it get into your memory.

How I format my index card: at the top I write the date, the week, the month and the day, and in orange I write the school events that we have to do for school that day. That’ll have things like math, circle time, but not things like workbook pages, or what we read, or very specific, it’s more of the categories. The times that have to be set aside, there has to be a math time, a circle time, a phonics time, and that’s what I put- not what we’re going to do, just these are the times we have for our day. Then on the other side, the other column, in green, I put the housework or routine that I need to do that day, and I try not to fill that entire column. I’ll put something that really has to be done that day around the house that day, something that needs to be addressed and not something that I hope happens that day.

So often my (Pam) to do list goes up with all of these things that I hope to do and not all of the things that I physically can do in a day, and I think that’s something great that you said that really stuck with me from your Paperless Home Organization Book was “don’t put those things on your to do list if you don’t think you’re going to get to them because you don’t need that guilt.” I thought that was one of the most genius things you said in the entire book.

(Mystie) It’s so easy to do, and it’s so tempting. You start out the day with a lot of hopes and expectations that often don’t materialize.

(Pam) Keep that side real [referring to the index card].

(Mystie) If we are going anywhere or leaving the house that day then I put that in the blue in a box. In that box are either the places we’re going to go or also things that I need to take; if we’re going to stop at the library (to remember the library book bag) because it’s easy to run out the door without the things I need.

Then in the bottom at that long row, I put 1-3 other project tasks that I’m hoping, or that I should do that day. That’s usually where my project things go, writing a blog post would go, or blog maintenance, or I’m also teaching a writing class so then if I have writing to grade it goes there. And again, try to keep it reasonable. I have a friend that every morning we chat in the morning and just say one thing that we need to get done that day, that we need to focus on, other than the daily stuff that has to happen all the time, which is pretty much the two columns in the middle, but other than those is there one thing that we should focus on? So I try to keep it at one thing but that’s really hard, so three. There’s really not space there for three, so that’s good. That’s the physical limitations of an index card that makes it handy.

(Pam) I think that’s a great idea. I made my first index card the other day and when I did I did my three things and then I had one thing that I couldn’t remember so I put it on later, so you can squeeze four in there! I love that it does limit you to only the few things you can get done for the day.

(Mystie) I like to color code my list. It’s totally optional and not necessary, but the colors mean something to me because they match my google calendar. So on my google calendar school things are orange, any house routines- the space in my day that I’m going to address the house are in green, so a half hour blocked out in green on my calendar, And then purple is my personal color so that means these are my things to do.

(Pam) Anytime you’re looking at your google calendar you can see what the colors are and that they match on the card, because you’re geared toward that. My personal google calendar or color is blue so whenever something blue pops up I know that it’s something just for me.

(Mystie) Part of the reason I started color coding it is because just this year I got myself new Sharpie pens, so these are Sharpie Stylists, and they’re ultra-fine Sharpies that don’t bleed through the paper. Brandy at Afterthoughts told me I would love them, and I do!

At the top of [this particular] Index Card I have the date, this was February 11, 2014’s card. Then the categories of the school things that we’re doing that day. So we had math, circle time, phonics with my six year old, the boys’ independent stuff, but I have to make sure they actually do it. They have their own checklist but these are things that I need to make sure they really do. So piano practice, writing, and Latin. Elementary lessons, we have that in the afternoon, so that’s the content stuff. The green side there: where you see morning/afternoon/evening, those are my routines. So it doesn’t have exactly what needs to be done I know the couple of chores I need to do before or during breakfast like start a load of laundry, open the blinds, put away the clean dishes on the counter, that’s morning stuff, then afternoon I fold laundry and put it away and start dinner.

(Pam) These are routines a lot that you have really internalized within your mind and now that they’re a reminder. They’re a reminder that is kind of a kick in the pants to actually do the routine.

(Mystie) Those routines are my focus area to really be consistent in doing all three. Sweeping and mopping, really are part of the evening routine, but really, they needed to happen that day so it’s on there kind of twice.

Then just a couple more things: on the bottom in purple, I have a thank you page on my blog to fix and I have to grade the writing because writing class is the next day. So these things had to happen that day too. Or else it happens Wednesday morning and that’s not good.

Then I have another card. This week we were on break week at school so we don’t have any school; the boys have piano practice and we still have writing class, but all of our math, circle time, it’s a break week. We school year round, we school for 6 weeks then take a week off. So during that week off it’s my project time. So I have different projects that I hope to get to. Monday is the most hopeful day, so this card is much more filled out than it really should be. Red is the color for projects.

I wrote down what I was going to try and do that week. I rearranged some book shelves and I cleaned out my desk area. I reorganized yarn, straightened up the book shelf. Those were some things I wanted to do that day, instead of school, seeing as I wasn’t doing circle time, math, or teaching phonics. Then in green there, I have a laundry back log. Then I have a blog post that I was going to write that day down at the bottom.

(Pam) I love how you put Staples with coupons, because I’m the person that gets to Staples and gets in the checkout line and I think “Where’s my coupon?” so I’m going to steal that idea.

(Mystie) The things you need for the errands that you’re going to run!

(Pam) I noticed for the one from last Tuesday and the card from this Monday are not marked off.

(Mystie) I think it must be that I don’t like it looking messy. I don’t often have a pen with me, and they don’t have boxes for checks, so it would be crossing off.

(Pam) So, what happens if something doesn’t get done on the card? Then the next day you get up and …

(Mystie) It probably goes on that day’s card, unless it turns out something that I didn’t have to do. Sometimes things change. I actually just throw my cards away at the end of the day or I use them as bookmarks in the book I’m reading in the evening. It would be fun to keep them but I am much more of a tosser than a keeper. I like getting things out of the house. So I throw them away when I’m done.

(Pam) Tell me a little bit about the back of the card.

(Mystie) The back of the card (I use blank index cards, so it’s blank on both sides) is for any notes you want to make for yourself. I’ve jotted down grocery lists on the back before. Sometimes, and what I really like to do, is copy a Bible verse down when I’m trying to memorize or just one that helps keeps me aligned during the day. So this was a verse that I wanted to come to mind during the day with a day that’s full of interruptions.

(Pam) Usually I find the interruptions are my job.

(Mystie) So this verse reminds me of that fact, of that truth. This is how Mary responds to the angel when He tells her that she’s going to be Jesus’ mother: Let it be to me according to Your Word. Whatever you send let me just do what I’m supposed to do.

(Pam) That’s a great reminder! Back of the card for grocery lists, back of the card for reminders, Bible verses. Anything else?

(Mystie) Also it can be a common place book or notes. So when I’m reading and I want to remember a quote or a page, that can go on the back too. I have a separate commonplace notebook that I usually keep my book notes and copy work in, but sometimes it’s all the way in another room and I don’t want to get up. And this card is usually hand, so that can go on there too. I know you had an idea for using it as a common place.

(Pam) I love the idea of writing ideas on the back of the card because you’re right, whenever I try to have a commonplace journal of some kind it’s never where I need it to be when I need it. This would be really helpful using it as a bookmark. I love the idea of writing things on the back of the card and to later transfer to the commonplace book. I know you talked about having a decommissioning time at the end of the day where you moved things that you had written down, whether it be a grocery list or a commonplace item, into where they needed to be. I also love the idea of using these as almost like a journal. Either a nature journal where you jot down one line of something that you saw outside your window or something that happened for the day, or even a memory journal where you just keep one or two lines of something that’s happening. I know on my blog I do my project snapshots every Monday and one of the reasons I did that was to keep myself mindful of the things my kids are doing and while it’s going on around me, but even having that every Monday sometimes I forget to stop and take note of the little things they say or do so the back of the card would be a great place to write those kinds of things as well.

(Mystie) I think that’s a great idea.

(Pam) And then you’d have a little stash of memories and then you could either put it into another book or put it into some digital location like Evernote, or you could even hole punch your card and stick them on a ring and then flip through them, and then you’d have a record of the practical and sentimental moments of your entire year.

(Mystie) That would be neat, a fun keepsake. And then it doesn’t take up that much space too.

(Pam) And if you used one of the larger rings, you could get two or three years on there.

(Mystie) Or even little index card boxes. So, my routine that I want to work on for this next term we’re about to start is an evening review that you just mentioned. I make the card during my morning review. 15 minutes or so in the morning and I look at the calendar and my list on Evernote and then I make up this card. I’ve never consistently done an evening review, but I can really see where that would be helpful. To go to bed knowing what’s going to happen the next day and not being surprised in the morning. So, to look at the calendar for the next day or the next week and see what preparations need to be made to either take a note on my freezer inventory when I pull something out so I know what is or isn’t in my freezer. And then also jot down whatever notes I wrote down to myself during the day. That’s something I’m going to work on this next term.

How do you keep track of your daily tasks?

Read more about Mystie’s index card to do list system:

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I'm all about digital and paperless planning - but sometimes the internet has distractions. Learn why an index card to-do list is so effective and useful.

  1. Amy
    | Reply

    This has been very helpful, can’t wait to start using index cards!! :)

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