“The Morning question, What good shall I do this day? Evening question, What good have I done today?” — Benjamin Franklin
Opening the drawer to the right of the kitchen sink, I would find the card or paper folded in half with the list of dinners for the week and on the other side the list of groceries needed. Early in life, I discovered a love of lists (and of paper and pens) from my mother.
While my paper of choice for writing a list is a 4x6 index card, I remember hers were normally on a sheet from a stenographer’s pad, folded in half lengthwise, which fit perfectly in the front of the drawer. Lists have been valued throughout history, and Franklin’s questions to begin and end his days are a nice place to begin.
I’ll admit I love paper — pads of paper, reams of paper, nice stationery, pages of a book and index cards. Actually, index cards are at the top of my list of papers I love, and I love them because they are a great place to write lists. I’ve tried planner notebooks — every size imaginable — both paper and digital.
Nothing does the job quite like an index card. What job? The job of list, recipe, idea, or note holder. It’s perfect!
In my effort to hopefully encourage you to give the index card a try, I did a lot of investigating into the history of the index card. It’s sure to be the highlight of your day, so stay with me.
Everything has a beginning, and the index card is no different. Carl Linnaeus, a well-known taxonomist (he liked nature) who lived in the 1700s, decided it was helpful to have information about his findings in nature on separate sheets of paper so he could refer to them later more easily.
A large sheet of paper wasn’t really necessary, so he created what worked for him — an index card. It could be contained in a system (often alphabetical) and allowed for the important findings and facts to take up the small space. In 1876 Melvil Dewey built sturdy cases to house cards cataloging what was available in the library — 3x5 cards, and the Dewey Decimal System was born.
While card catalogs utilize the 3x5 cards, I find that for all my notes and doodles, the 4x6 offers me a little more space. You might be wondering why I would encourage you to pick up a pack of cards, and it’s a fair question with many exciting answers.
Do you enjoy reading? Do you find that you wish you could remember where it was in a book, or in all of your books, that you read about a certain topic? Index cards to the rescue! As you read a book, you can highlight and put pieces of paper in passages with meaningful information, and then go back through and record what you really want to hang on to on an index card. There are many articles about how to do this most effectively, so I won’t go more in depth here.
Are you a student? Maybe you are in school or are just a student of life. Index cards offer a way to record the most important information from your instructor, textbook, or if you are a student of life, the best way to get various stains out of your white shirt. Truly, having the facts on an index card will help you prepare for the upcoming test in a way endless notes cannot.
Are you learning a new language? Write those words on an index card! If you put the word on the front and the pronunciation and meaning on the back, you can test yourself as you practice and prepare for your next international conversation.
Are you struggling with life? If you take a few minutes now to set up some coping cards, you’ll be able to pull them out when life catches you by surprise.
Let’s say I want to cover a few different emotions, so I might use a marker to make a red line across the top of three cards to use when I’m feeling angry. I might make a yellow line (like sunshine) across the top of a few cards for when I’m needing a boost of happy. And because purple is my favorite color, I might have a few cards marked with purple for when I just need some general inspiration.
• On each card with red, I’ll write a slogan/quote/thought that might help diffuse my anger.
“Don’t take it personally.”
“Breathe in, breathe out. Keep breathing till the anger passes.”
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” (not certain of source)
• On each card with yellow, I’ll write a slogan/quote/thought that might help me not feel so sad, anxious, or fearful.
“I’ve been sad/afraid like this before, and I survived. I can survive this, too.”
“It’s ok to not be ok.”
“Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it.” (Albus Dumbledore)
• On each card with purple, I’ll put the words I know will encourage me when I am feeling uninspired or frustrated with how things are in the world.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.” (Marcus Aurelius)
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” (Seneca)
Simplest of all, of course, is writing your list of things you want to accomplish today on an index card. Just write them on the card and keep it with you. The simplicity is refreshing, and the ability to mark things as you finish them, wad up that card, and toss it in the trash is empowering.
You don’t have to be Ben Franklin, but his list of virtues is not the worst place to begin using these great cards which can hold points of wisdom, reminders of hope, and doodles for when you’re bored in a lecture.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org).