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stack of shorties

I’m a stationery nerd. I can’t resist poring over the shelves of office supply stores for unusual items that might fit a tricky niche in my productivity lifestyle.

Occasionally I strike gold. For instance, this weekend I discovered Pacon‘s exellent blank tagboard flash cards. They come in boxes of 1,000 in an assortment of 5 colors. Each flash card is 3″ x 2″.

The cards are designed for study purposes, but for a productivity nerd they suggest a variety of other interesting uses. Smaller than index cards, they lend themselves to a single thought, task, or other concrete item each.

On the drive back from a weekend spent out of town, I pondered various ways to take advantage of my nifty new cards (which I’ve nicknamed “shorties”). I came up with a few possibilities, but here’s my favorite.

The Vicious Index Card Cycle

As I’ve mentioned before, I carry a “pocket briefcase” loaded with index cards for taking notes on the go. Here’s the index card routine:
  1. Sit at my desk, eager to tackle a long list of tasks.
  2. Get called away to the first meeting of the day.
  3. Race around the office from meeting to meeting, scribbling down solutions to existing problems, tasks I may or may not have on my list, ideas for new projects, etc.
  4. Return to my desk with four or five index cards densely filled front and back with indecipherable notes.
  5. Spend forty minutes processing the cards into my to-do list (sticking to David Allen’s 2-Minute Rule).
  6. Sit back, sigh with relief, and immediately get called away to another meeting, or a lunch, etc.
  7. Rinse and repeat as my task list grows monstrously large and nothing actually gets done.

The Needles in the Haystack

You might suggest that I tackle a major task before worrying about the cards. Problem is, I’ll have written down 1 or 2 important, time-sensitive tasks”somewhere“so I’ll need to process everything to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.

Shorties provide a handy solution to this dilemma. Keep 3 colors of shorties in a business card case or snug in a rubberband. I’m starting off with green, red, and yellow:

  • Tasks to process immediately on returning to my desk.
  • Tasks to process before the end of the work day.
  • Tasks to leave for my Weekly Review.
One task per shorty. I reserve index cards only for project ideas, extended notes, anything that won’t lead to a concrete to-do.

Now I can return to my desk, process the time-sensitive tasks, and get to work as soon as possible, saving bigger stuff for when there’s time.

To get your own shorties, go to Amazon or plug your zip code in here to find the nearest Pacon dealer.


  • lisa

    gravatarFeb 19, 2008
    11:55 am

    one task per shortie? that sounds like an outrageous waste of paper / money / time later re-sorting scribbles.

  • Jacob Cass

    gravatarFeb 19, 2008
    4:25 pm

    That sounds quite practical however not resourceful… there are services like this online for example, http://www.tadalist.com/ which saves on paper wastage.

  • Georgio

    gravatarFeb 20, 2008
    12:10 am

    Lisa is right. What a waste. Surely just buying statuionery for the sake of it is probably counterproductive for you and the environment. A simple scribble notepad would surely solve this collection problem, save you money, space, and time.

  • David Moldawer

    gravatarFeb 20, 2008
    4:22 am

    Lisa and Georgio–I see shorties as a way to save paper. Lots of people use index cards for individual tasks. These are much smaller and thinner than an index card. There are advantages to one idea per card, so I don’t think it’s fair to suggest everyone has to carry around a large sheet of 11 x 17 and write in small letters to conserve. Used cards should just get recycled.

  • lisa

    gravatarFeb 20, 2008
    10:45 am

    who said anything about 11×17?! or one sheet of paper? i think you’re being unfair with that comment.

    i’m not hating on your idea – i’m all for organization and i love lifeclever – i just don’t agree with notecards.

    personally, i carry around an 8.5×11 notebook and use a homemade hieroglyphics system to mark notes per assignment. all my day-to-day ideas, notes, tasks to follow up on, etc are copied to & managed in excel or entourage. the notepads typically take almost two years to fill and it’s a cheaper investment, plus if you don’t use spiral bound they can be completely recycled.

    i think you and i have the same process once we get back to our desk: rip though the notes and outline the rest of the day, right? it’s just a matter of preference.


    gravatarFeb 20, 2008
    6:04 pm

    That’s what I was thinking…. What a wasteful and inefficient way of organizing. You will need to come up with a method or organizing them, which might require more little paper. :(

  • Lex

    gravatarFeb 21, 2008
    3:48 am

    Paper is recyclable and the paper companies plant more trees to renew supply.


    gravatarFeb 22, 2008
    12:38 am

    Well just imagine being more organized and saving a few trees in the process. LOL

  • Daniel

    gravatarFeb 24, 2008
    11:53 pm

    @ Lex: Yes, paper is recyclable, but recycling paper, making more paper, and planting new trees all require energy that doesn’t grow on trees.

  • Dana

    gravatarFeb 26, 2008
    8:04 am

    “…all require energy that doesn’t grow on trees.”

    So does running a computer.

    The amount of paper she is “wasting” is a drop in the bucket compared to the voracious amounts of junk mail and newspaper inserts we all discard daily.

  • Dee

    gravatarMay 17, 2008
    9:31 am

    I think it’s an individual choice and what works for that person.. me personally I prefer index card for checklists as they are more durable than a regular piece of paper and I use the portrait style however I also use pocketmod as a to-do list that allows me to use a single sheet of paper into six smaller pages, I categorize it for Shop>Call>Do for ea. page and leaving the front and back covers blank having the inside pages lined .. I can place the pocketmod in my back pocket or purse. If it works as far as making the individual more efficient and thereby balancing the scales to allowing that person to have more time to do the things they like to do .. go for it.. My Two Cents

  • slothbear

    gravatarJun 18, 2008
    1:28 pm

    Thanks for this idea! This presorting idea can be adapted to whatever system someone is already using — thus leaving the environmental concerns to each of us, right where they should be.

  • gregory alter

    gravatarOct 6, 2008
    9:18 am

    I have used many todo organizing systems, both computer and paper. There is a real advantage to having one item per card active at any one time. As for saving paper, it is easy to get a total of 8 todo items on each card if they are one liners, or at least several at a time, as long as you cross out items not in use. Computer entry is fine if you have your laptop with you and it is “always on,” or an organizer with a keyboard you can actually type quickly on. For my own use, I am going to try these shorties, again. In the past, there was an executive todo system that fit in fancy leather holders of various sizes that sounds like the size is the same as these, and I remember it fondly except for the cost of refills.