Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Keeping Organized: Note Card System

I am the queen of organization books. I read book after book, visit site after site, all in an effort to be more organized than before. Organization does not come naturally to me at all. My mother was not very concerned with it either, and then once every 5 or 6 weeks she would say, "Okay everyone- time to get this place cleaned up!" So the idea of daily upkeep was really new to me when I first got married. By the end of the second year of marriage, we had a pretty good system in place, and that lasted us until I got pregnant with our first son. I was exhausted all the time, so my wonderful husband picked up the slack for a little while. I thought once I had the little guy things would be easier, but it was harder than ever- boy, was I naive!

The system I have in place now is from a combination of sources. I've borrowed the things that I need from various systems, and that has really worked for me.

The big help is my file box. I have an index card file box that I use to keep track of my life. This is a modification of the SHE system.

The List

I started out by creating a list in Excel listing every imagineable task that I am responsible for in our home, my work, and my kids and husband's lives. When I say everything, I mean everything! I went room by room thinking of each individual task that needs to be completed and put it in the list. Then in the next column I decided how often these tasks reasonably need to be performed. I want to stress the word "reasonably" because it's easy to say you want to mop the kitchen floor every single day and systematically declutter the house every day, but will that honestly happen? Also, life stages effect how often I feel I need to clean certain things. Because I have a crawler right now I am religiously vacuuming our living room every single day. Once he's older and not picking things out of the carpet as often I will go back to vacuuming a few times a week.

Once you have your list created, go through and see which tasks can be combined together. On my kitchen list I had: 1. Put dishes in the dishwasher, 2. Clean Stove, 3. Wipe down Counters, 4. Wash table. I put those tasks on one card that says "Clean Kitchen" at the top, then lists those separate tasks underneath.

Making the Cards

Now you are ready to put it onto cards. I wrote all my tasks on index cards, dividing them by color. Daily, weekly and Monthly regular tasks are on blue cards. Trips out of the house are on pink cards. We go to the library, bank, post office, grocery store, and Whole Foods each week, so those are on pink cards. Additional things come up- going to play with friends, various appointments; those all get pink cards. I keep health related items on yellow cards. I have cards to remind me about drinking enough water, taking my vitamins, exercise, and keeping devotions and reading time. I use green cards for seasonal tasks and tasks that can be done any time that month. White cards are for tasks relating to my business, and I'm constantly adding those to whatever days I need to do them!

One of the more important types of cards for me to include has been "maintenance" cards. I have "maintain the linen closet" and "maintain the bathroom cabinet" cards and others like that that are monthly cards. If I spend 10-15 minutes a month maintaining the areas that I've already spent time organizing I don't end up needing to re-organize them very often.

Another important type of card specific to me are project cards. As I think of projects that need to be done around the house or bigger cleaning/organizing projects that I want to accomplish, I add those cards as well. They are usually the types of cards that take multiple days for me to accomplish, because it is rare that I'm able to find several hours in a row to dedicate to a project. So I work at them for 15-20 minutes a day and then I am always making a bit of forward progress.

When I wrote out my cards I put the task in the center of the card, the timeliness of the card (daily, weekly, monthly, whatever) in the top left corner, and the approximate amount of time it takes for me to accomplish the task up in the right hand corner. The reason I do it this way is because one of my problems is that I often get overwhelmed and think that I have no time to get anything done, but by looking at the card and remembering that it's really just a 5 minute task, I don't get overwhelmed as easily. You may find that you don't need that little reminder, but it has been very helpful for me.

Filing the Cards

By now you should have a big stack of cards detailing your tasks. Next up is filing all those cards. I bought dividers labeled by number 1-31 to correspond with the calendar date, and then another set of dividers labeled by month. My seasonal cards go in the monthly dividers, and the rest of my cards are filed by date. For the sake of easiness, let's assume you are starting on the first of the month. Put your daily cards behind the number 1 card. Next, sort your weekly cards by which day of the week you would like to perform each task. I put more tasks on Mondays and Fridays because I only work a half day on Monday and don't work at all on Fridays, so I get more done around the house on those days. I still do about an hour's worth of house stuff on the other 3 days, but I try to make those simpler tasks since my brain is usually taken up with work things on those days.

After I add weekly tasks, I look at my monthly tasks. I've done these in a variety of ways, depending on how our life schedules were at the time. I used to put many of them on Saturdays, but now that we have piano lessons and errand running on Saturday mornings, I spread them out- usually no more than 1 task per day, but some of those monthly tasks work together nicely so I might put those together.

Seasonal tasks can be assigned a day if you would like, but I've gotten into the habit of putting them in under day 1 and then moving it to the next day if I don't accomplish it. Usually I'll have that task done by mid-month, and occasionally not until the end of the month. That's just how it works best for me, but something else may work better for you.

I also include white cards with work tasks. I keep a stack of white index cards on my desk and as tasks come up that I will need to complete on another day or week, I write it on a white card and put it behind the divider for the appropriate day. Because I'm a sole proprieter these work task cards can be anything from billing to research to copying and then actually meeting with clients.

Using the Box

In the evenings I look through the next day's tasks and put them in the order that I want to accomplish them. I'm trying to establish a routine of doing certain daily tasks at the same time every day, so I put those in order first, then add in the weekly, monthy and seasonal cards that apply to that day. I try to put in work tasks earlier in my day since that is when I'm more alert, but often work tasks happen after my kids are in bed for the night.

As I complete cards during the day I move them to their next home. Daily cards that are accomplished move to the next day, weekly cards move to the next week, and monthly cards are filed under the next month . I also move the numbered divider for that day to the back so the current day is always at the front.

I keep different colored cards on my desk and add cards as needed and take cards out that no longer fit our lives. The thing I love about this is that it is fluid. If I'm not able to accomplish much on a certain day because of unexpected things coming up, I either move the card to the next day or week and have another go at it then. My work schedule is not very set, so this method fits my life perfectly right now.

Please feel free to ask questions in comments if you have any!


  1. This is certainly one of the most flexible organization systems that I have seen. My life is pretty calm right now, but it should be picking up soon. It seems that ithis system requires some time in the beginning to get set up, so I might try this now before things get crazy. That way when things pick up, I just have to add tasks one at a time.

    Thank you for your idea!

  2. Wow--you say organizing doesn't come easily to you but you would have had me fooled! That sounds like an amazing system. Very inspirational. How long every day do you find you are spending on the things on the cards?
    Welcome to the bloggy writing world!

  3. MemeGRL> This system has taken me awhile to put together, so it sounds like I've got it all together, but I've really just made changes as necessary along the way.

    To answer your question, I spend about an hour on daily tasks (all the usual stuff like cleaning up after dinner, emptying the dishwasher, laundry, etc.) and then varying times on other tasks. On one of my work days I may only spend a total of 15 minutes on weekly or monthly tasks, but then on Fridays when I'm off work I may spend 90 minutes or so. That's what I like about this- I can balance it however I need to balance!

  4. Thanks for explaining your system -- it sounds both wonderful *and* doable! I've already got my task list going on Excel... :-)

  5. [...] Note Cards Reloaded January 20, 2009 Filed under: organization — violingirl @ 6:00 am Tags: Cleaning, Note Cards, organization, Organizing I’m still on a bloggy break (oh please, oh please let my computer get here by the weekend- I have about 1000 pictures to share!) but I thought I’d let you know what my little notecards have been up to. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out this post. [...]


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