Life Hacks: The Notecard System


After a crazy interlude of packing, purging, and more packing before we move on Friday, I’m back with more life hacks.

My first semester of college, I remember a very distinct breakdown. One of those I-have-so-much-to-do-and-no-one-understands-or-has-ever-been-as-stressed things, coupled with a dawning realization that I had to get a system FAST to manage the self-paced nature of college. No one would tell me what to do and when, and the  long deadlines and lengthy projects were daunting. Furthermore, I am a devoted supporter of only working 6 days a week, and I wasn’t sure how to make that happen, when everyone else is off studying on Sunday nights. I do not work on Sundays, be it college papers, Masters thesis, or PhD prep. Taking a day off should really be its own life hack, but I’ll just throw that one in for free. But in order for this blissful day of rest to happen, you have to plan ahead. Like, all-week ahead, so that Saturday night isn’t a breakdown of to-do lists and a frantic decision to once more work on Sundays.

Enter Life Hack #2: the notecard system.

Since college, I have used this organization system to structure my weeks, collect my thoughts, and get things done. I’ve mentioned it before, but there are many things I am not good at. Most natural skills in fact. However, I am a beast of time management and just getting things done, which compensates for most natural shortcomings in life. I am also a type-A list-checker-offer, which makes this system ideal, but I firmly believe it could make any person crazy productive. At its core is the idea that you cannot possibly tackle everything every day. Looking at what you have to do for the whole week– the whole month, will be so overwhelming that you won’t do it. But just looking at one day is doable. Here it is:

  1. Sunday night, lay out 3×5 index cards for however many days of the week you have to be productive. For me, this is usually 6, but if I know I will be out of town or something over the weekend, I will tweak it. Label the cards with the days of the week.
  2. Go through and write down all standing commitments, like “small group” or “mime class.” (Please tell me that last one is applicable for someone.)
  3. Add in all daily personal goals, like working out, reading something each day, or whatever. Feel free to put on things that you KNOW you will do, like making a bed, so that you can be triumphant and cross them off. Productivity is a mental game.
  4. Next, add errands and chores.
  5. Lastly, figure out all the other things you have to do that week and add them to the days in which you know you have time to do them. For me, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days I work from home, thus they get more things assigned to them. One day a week I usually just write “catch up on emails” and do that all in one sitting. The key is to cut work down into manageable chunks. For instance, if I was to look at my work for this semester, it would be: “write 2 chapters of dissertation.” That is impossibly daunting. But for next week, I know that on Monday I need to get 2 books from the library, Tuesday read half of one, etc. This is doable, and thus it will get done.  It is also a very calming thing to sit down Sunday night and, instead of getting stressed, just break down the work into tiny bites.
  6. Staple the cards together and check off things as you do them. Hold yourself to actually completing your day, but even if you don’t- rip off that card and toss it at the end of the day. This step is vital, because it makes you feel like a winner. If things didn’t get done, add them to wherever you see space on a later day.

When you get to Sunday, or whatever your day off is… there is no notecard. And thus, you do no work.

Glory hallelujah.

What’s your weekly organization strategy?


Both images are from here, with all sorts of beautiful desk setups.

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21 Responses to Life Hacks: The Notecard System

  1. Amanda says:


    I have a similar system, but since so much of what I do is the same every day (washing bottles, reading to the babies, running a load of laundry), I keep it all on a dry erase board. I put the daily tasks in wet erase marker and add in the extra things (appointments, weekly chores, etc.) in dry erase. Check everything off with a dry erase marker and at the end of the day, you can erase it all the the wet erase tasks will be ready for the next day.

    I also make it a game to get a third of the tasks done before girls wake up in the morning and another third of the tasks done before they get up from their naps. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I feel like a life champion.

  2. margyriou says:

    I love your notecard idea! I’m a type-A’er as well but usually my lists pop up in various places (phone, post-its, random lists in every room), and it’s hard to keep everything in check. I will definitely be using this system from now on!

  3. Angel says:

    I use the ap wanderlust. It rewards me with alarms and then charms when I complete my list. I can share lists with my hubby or co-workers. It’s sublime.
    Before that I kept a to-do list on my gmail calendar.

  4. Ashley Smith says:

    I’m distracted – you’re moving over the weekend we’re scheduled to get 16-24 inches of snow??? Girl, put that on an earlier notecard!!

  5. This is incredible, I needed note cards in my life and I had no idea! I am buying some tomorrow x

  6. E.H says:

    That. Is. Brilliant. I am going to do it tomorrow because it has me super excited to try this. Thank you for sharing!

  7. E.H says:

    The note in my calendar says: “note card my life”

  8. brigid hogan says:

    This is so good! I really should pick this habit up — or at least use the to-do list section of my calendar more…

  9. Nancy says:

    Post-it notes! I keep a running list for all those pesky things that pop into my head (shoe shopping! emails! items for grocery list!) and distract me when I ought to be doing work things. Before I head home I stick it in my calendar and have my ‘to-do on my own time’ list right in front of me.

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  11. Natalie says:

    I began using this system after reading it here, and it has been great! I was previously logging almost all my “to-do’s” in my iPhone calendar and it was stressing me out. I decided to modify your system a tiny bit and don’t put my normal daily stuff on the notecards (I would have more than 1 note card per day LOL) but use it for all the little things I can’t seem to remember. I now only use my iPhone calendar for actual appointments/daily activities and reminders of my family’s schedule, and these notecards for everything else. It has been a game changer for me. I love, love, love crossing things off a list and this definitely makes me feel like I am getting things accomplished during the day- YAY! Thanks!!!

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  13. Love this. I am going to try it. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Katie says:

    I realize I am late to the game on this- but I am loving the notecard system. I have always wanted to use a daily planner, but the thought of carrying around an entire year’s worth of pages feels completely overwhelming and unnecessary. I love just being able to see ONE day at a time.. and when the day is done, it’s done!

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