I plan my life with 3 x 5 cards

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I keep thinking of overhauling my so-called planning and tracking system. Not that it's elaborate or anything. Right now I write down everything on plain white index cards. I have one for my to-do list, one for my grocery list, and, if I'm getting fancy, one to plan my meals for the week. I often have others as well: books to look up at the library, art materials to buy, or birthdays I've forgotten and need to apologize profusely for.

My friend Rachel uses a household notebook to plan and track her life. I tried it a couple years ago, then again a year ago, and I just can't seem to get the hang of it. (The notebook above is my recipe notebook, not a household notebook.) I love the idea of having a designated place to keep track of everything from phone numbers to to-do lists to meal plans and grocery lists, but I haven't been able to keep up with it. I'd like to blame lack of time, but I realize that if used properly, the household notebook idea should help with the time problem. Perhaps its a fundamental organizational problem on my part. Or maybe I just don't care enough. I'm not sure. Also, it's so big and clunky. Maybe if I just find a smaller 3-ring binder…

So anyway, it's 3 x 5 cards for me right now. With periodic household notebook envy.

Just curious, how to do you plan and keep track of all the details of your life?


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  1. Barbara Zaborowski says

    I make lists on scrap paper; I lose the lists; I do most of the stuff from memory; the stuff I don’t do either didn’t matter or I get a second chance at them. My bosses are used to me asking for another copy of papers they handed out at meetings, especially if it’s anything that needs to be filled out and turned in.

  2. says

    I have countless notebooks that remain unused. No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to escape writing on scraps of paper and old envelopes! I say go with whatever works. It used to drive the control freak in me crazy that I couldn’t stick to using one date book, let alone any sort of organiser notebook. But now I think it reflects the way the creative mind works and I like it.

  3. tasha says

    We’re pretty paperless in our house. I work from my computer, and keep in touch with everyone on it, so it’s a constant in my life. Husband is addicted to his iphone, so everything goes back and forth between us wirelessly. Grocery lists, phone numbers, lists in general, any and all info, and this way its easy for us to share it when we aren’t together but need it. When we do paper things, it always gets lost because I am a hopelessly unorganized SAHM, who’d rather play all the time than clean house!

  4. says

    We’re paperless as well. We splurged and purchased iPhones for Christmas this past year. I had an iPod and a compact digital camera for the diaper bag on my wish list; my husband had the flip camera on his; someone told us iPhones could do all that, and so much more, and it’s true, and now, I’m not sure how I managed before my iPhone. It keeps all my lists – groceries, to-do, wish lists, art supplies running low list, keep my eyes open for these when thrifting list… we keep a collaborative calendar between my husband and I so we both know what’s going on and can add events anywhere/anytime… we can deposit checks into our banking account from the iPhone, get turn by turn directions when driving, arm and monitor our home security system from our phones… it goes on and on..!

  5. says

    I have about 4-5 journals going at once, and I do everything in them. And they are random. If I’m writing in one of them in the morning, I end that morning with writing down my to do list for the day in that journal. I also save scraps of paper – things I accidentally printed or something – and use the back side. I end up using a lot of that paper, and it feels good to get use out of it before recycling. Unfortunately, some rather good drawings end up on crap paper, because I’m not worried about ruining the paper, so I just let go on it. Last but not least, I have a chalkboard in the kitchen. I can forget something a minute after planning it, and if I don’t end the day feeling like I accomplished something, I feel rotten about it. I have a specific list of things I’ve realized I need to do a little of each day in order to feel sane, and I have them written on the chalk board. I check them off as I do them. That has been the most helpful household organizing thing of all so far. My list, if you’re interested, is this: Dad (my husband), Ben (my son), God (as in, spend some quality time with each), Pick Up, Clean, Laundry, Dishes, Dinner, Creativity, the Weed Patch (my small business). If I do a little of these each day, even if it is just 5 minutes, it helps keep our household in order.

  6. Lynelle says

    I have a giant dry erase calendar and we notate everything that is going on or will be going on and stare at the calendar.. our kids know what is also going on and it helps them to look forward to certain events or dentist appointments that are coming up. As far as grocery lists go… I use scratch note pad paper… or envelopes I was going to recycle away… I try to make them right before I go and make a final sweep through the kitchen..

  7. says

    Usually I use google docs (especially since I can share the documents with my husband) but mostly I depend on my sieve like brain LOL. I’m GREAT at making lists, plans, etc. I’m AWFUL at actually revisiting the lists so I’m not so sure the method works for me either.
    I too tried the household notebooks but really who was I kidding. I get so hyperfocused on making the notebook perfect that I didn’t have time to do anything else.

  8. Mary says

    Great post! This is something I think about all the time and how I can improve. I try to be organized and keep everything in my filofax but my list(s) usually it ends up on a piece of scrap paper that eventually gets lost :) Thanks for all of your inspiration such a pleasure to get a moment to read your blog and think about something fun to do with our boys!

  9. says

    I use several different websites to keep me organized ( here’s my list ), but I’m also in the process of creating a notebook for the things I want to be accessible even when I’m not at the computer.

  10. says

    This is a great post and I am in fact writing a post on this very subject. Here is how I do it. I used to keep everything on paper. But I found that I was constantly rewriting list after list and losing them or forgetting them. Even when I kept them in my notebook. Since I spend a lot of time on my computer I make lists in my email program. I create emails to myself, save them as drafts, and keep them there until I am ready to “get er done”. If I am leaving the house, I just click send and it goes directly to my blackberry. When I remember something I need to do, I send myself an email from my blackberry. I basically talk to myself all day through emails. Lol. It really makes sense, saves paper, and I have created different categories. When I finish the post I will link up! Thanks for your insight. I never knew what a household notebook was until today!

  11. says

    I cut paper for printing into 6-8 pieces and take a piece each time I need not to forget something. Each of these pieces is devoted to some theme. For example, the things happening during the day which I’d like to write down in the diary I am making for my growing daughter. The same piece of paper is for the things I need to do. I when I do something from this to-do list, I cross it out and get great (!) satisfaction that something has been accomplished. All these pieces are lying on the table in front of my computer and I also get satisfaction when I feel I can throw away one of them as everything has been done from it. Again – much satisfaction is felt.
    I think I will not be able to keep a “book” because of this “satisfaction” thing with little pieces of paper – when you see that “life is moving” crossing out and throwing away.
    Anastasia

  12. says

    Schedule/calendar reminders go in my Blackberry (my new high tech toy which I mainly got bcs I was tired of losing track of my calendar items/appointments and I’m so on the go, I liked the idea of having access to phone numbers, appointments, etc. all in one place and with me at all times)…I don’t even have internet access for it (don’t want to spend the extra $ or be so tied to it), but got it mainly for the organizational functions. I even log my son’s allergy/headache journal in there…it has a “memo pad” function that is great for jotting down lists or notes. That being said, I also use index cards for jotting down shopping lists, or tacking reminders to the fridge about kids’ school assignments, etc. Then there are my outlook calendars on the computer, whcih I also stick on the fridge. I’ve also used a composition book in the past (pre-blackberry) for all my work-related notes. It was a very disorganized, jumble of notes and lists, but at least I knew where to look…it was all in there…somewhere. You can see how disorganized I am about organization. It’s a many-layered work in progress, especially for us creative types! Too many free-floating ideas to keep track of!

  13. orlova says

    There is a very useful book, called Getting Things Done. It just explains why some things work for us and others don’t. It also has very good information on how to organize things and USE them after.

  14. says

    Fabulous post. I read it in my feed just as I was getting out my own 3×5 for a recipe. I use them just like you. They are sturdy and the kids don’t seem to want to steal them for scribbling or cutting practice. They also sit nicely in the top row of my keyboard for reminders.

  15. says

    You are a SHE! (Sidetracked Home Executive).
    Ha. I discovered this book earlier this year and immediately started using their system. The book is a quick read, and a little silly, but the system WORKS, and it’s so similar to what you already do that you’d probably have no troubles “upgrading”. Good luck!
    Sidetracked Home Executives, by Pam Young and Peggy Jones

  16. says

    I was so excited by your title, hoping it would give me something to use other than the ever-useful-but-somehow-not-useful-to-me Home Notebook. Like you, I’ve tried that one to no avail. Maybe I just lack discipline (maybe? ha!). One thing that helped for a while was using a beautiful orange leather planner that my husband brought home. It had been given to him at work and he didn’t need it. I changed out all the month dividers for my own homemade dividers (Menu Plan, To Do, Important Numbers, etc.) and it was pretty enough to keep me motivated…for a while. Hm. Still looking for a solution. Good luck and please share if you find something that helps! :)

  17. says

    I have a huge dry erase board, dry erase calendar and cork board. Everything gets put up there. It looks like a mess most days, but it works pretty well for me.
    I constantly text notes to myself.

  18. says

    If you like your 3x5s, why not keep them?
    You could slip them into a photo album with pockets sized for 4×6 photos, and keep them organized by week or day this way. If you want to take a list with you, get a pocketbook sized photo album to slip the list into and take with you in your purse, with a few blank cards for writing on the road.
    Then, you can file the 3×5 lists you want to keep in a recipe box or index card file box with labeled dividers.

  19. Kathie E says

    The company Levenger (www.levenger.com) sells “tools for serious readers” and one of their main organizing tools is the 3 x 5 card. It is a pricey, high quality store, but good for browsing & ideas or major dream lists. Just thought you might enjoy it.

  20. says

    Great post! I too wish I could keep up with an organized household notebook. I have one of the Levenger circa notebooks which I love b/c it’s like a spiral but pages and come in and out and be rearranged like a 3 ring binder. I do manage to write somethings down in it but I’m not consistent. Sometimes my to do list is there, sometimes its on a scrap of paper or on my computer. I have a pocket calendar that goes into that notebook but I often fail to update it. We have a dry erase board on the fridge where we right groceries we need and things we need to buy at Target or other stores. That system does work well for us but I’d love to find a better to do list system that I would really stick with.

  21. Candice says

    You are the perfect candidate for the Circa Notebooks from Levenger. http://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/PRODUCT/Product.asp?Params=Category=326-339|Level=2-3|pageid=7342 My mother-in-law introduced me to this system last year and I love it. The system uses disks to hold the notebooks together. These make it really simple to quickly slide the paper on and off of. I keep one main notebook in my puse with the added dividers to seperate the different sections. Then I put several books around the house wherever we need scratch paper. The great thing about this system is that it doesn’t matter which notebook that you write in. Just grab the closest book and then pull out the sheet and snap it into the right section in your main notebook. Same theory as a three ring binder but no annoying rings to open, you can make the book as small as you want because it’s only as thick as the papers that you keep in it, and you can get a book small enough to fit in your purse even 3×5.

  22. Katherine says

    I use a day to a a page diary, scrap paper for grocery lists, and a small box for all the bits waiting to find a home- but the box drives me crazy so I need a different system for all the ephemera. I’d love to hear more about how you organize your day and fit art into it. I find it so easy to get overwhelmed by all the housework, diaper changing etc. I also loved your recent post on the art spaces in your home.

  23. ginger says

    I do use a home notebook!!! It works for me. A regular 3 ring sized binder. Then, seperated by tabs.
    Front section is most referened items. Other tabs are: adresses, calendar with preschool calendar, libray and preschool calendars included in there, a kids section, misc., passwords to everything and anything, business cards, blank paper.
    I make lists for EVERYTHING and put it in here. For example in my “kid” tab section I put lists for: All holiday traditions, their wish lists, notes to write in their diaries,a list of all restaraunts with outdoor dining options to choose from on a whim, book wish list.
    I even have a 3 page bucket list under the MISC tab! House project to do list, Honey to do lis, an insert type thing to put plant care instructions.
    We keep our neighborhood, preshool, church, and phone directories.
    Possibilities are endless! :)
    Make one and add to it and reorganize as you think of more things.

  24. char says

    Wow… I never stopped to think about this, at least not since my son was born. I like this notebook idea, at least for those things I need to save long-term but don’t really know where to put them so they won’t get lost (like pre-school calendars, seasonal rites/events we’re looking forward to, etc).
    I use my planner to organize the day-to-day stuff. I find that if I put a new to-do task on a day (when I will have enough time), then I remember to do things when they need to get done. Long lists of to-dos make me want to crawl into a hole and vomit–they’re too overwhelming for me, and they never seem to get done and go away.
    I keep my planner with me to capture books or music to look up later at the library or wherever, and this is where I put phone numbers of folks to call (I put them on the day I plan to call them. If I don’t get to it, I just move it to the next day.)
    I have a stack of library circulation cards (rescued from trash at a school library) that work perfectly for grocery lists–and they happen to be 3×5″!
    Thanks for introducing me to some new ways to keep life working well!

  25. char says

    PS I got a sketch book at the grocery store to capture my ideas about art projects. I get way more ideas than I have time to pursue, so it’s nice to have a way to record the ideas so that I don’t have to use up RAM trying to remember them.
    PPS Thanks to folks for sharing how you use your iPhones, etc. to do it all electronically. When the budget allows, I think I might have to try one of those… by then the cost of an iPad will be about $30, and it will fit in my pocket!

  26. arb says

    Lots of great ideas in here, i need to try some of them! We use a shared Google calendar and that works great, only I can’t seem to get my husband to check it often enough. I love that I can view multiple calendars at once, and share certain calendars with others. So we have a shared household calendar, I have a freelance calendar (for due dates of projects and such), and we also have a calendar we share with our neighbors (because we do a rotating childcare share with them and this keeps it straight). S’s preschool uses Google calendars too so I have her school’s master calendar viewable as well.

  27. says

    I’ve been toying with the idea of note cards as well. I thought I might use them to write down the name of a dinner that is quick, nutritious and easy to make. I’m trying to plan out our meals for the week and often don’t get inspired because I cannot think of anything. I think picking a card from a box of great tried and true meal ideas might help a bit. I’ve just been procrastinating getting the cards. And am searching for a lovely box to store these in….. and on it goes.
    I’ve printed out a list of things to look for when I’m out thrifting and glued this to a business card that fits easily into a slot in my wallet. I organize my world with scrap paper lists and Google calendar I don’t mind my somewhat inefficient system- it works for me and my family!

  28. says

    I have a small 4.5 x 7 inch spiral bound notebook that I keep on my desk and can fit in my purse if I need to take it to go. I always get one that has a spot to slip scraps of paper into it, a little pocket on the front. I’ve been known to tape a pocket in the front cover of my notebooks if it doesn’t come with one.
    I use that notebook to keep track of longer term lists. Currently, I have a list of pregnant friends w/due-ish dates and expected genders, a list of potential blog posts, an ongoing list of things to do for a big vacation coming at the end of the year, ideas for a Blessingway I’m hosting next month etc.
    For my daily lists, I use scraps of paper. I’ve tried to keep my task lists online or in my notebook, but they get REALLY messy as I cross stuff off (the crossing off of items is immensely satisfying to me and I don’t get that feeling when I click a checkmark box on the computer). I also get a lot of pleasure out of re-writing my list so I can see what needs to be done again. Since I print a lot of coupons from the internet, odd size scraps of paper are often around from clipping the coupons out. This, however, makes me vulnerable to the “OMG, where’s my LIST!!!” syndrome. Do not *mess* with my list. Ha!
    There’s something geekily satisfying about your method. . . all of your “scraps” are the same size. I LOVE that. And, the 3 ring binder for 3×5 cards linked to by one commenter seems like the perfect answer to organizing your lists.
    Wow, who woulda thunk I had so much to say about lists! Ha!

  29. says

    Mostly random scraps of paper that get lost. I have a sketchbook that I write random notes in, but not household planning stuff. I use Outlook at work so I usually put weekend activities on it so I get a reminder before I leave on Friday. I am a compulsive list maker, so the notebook appeals to me but I don’t think I could keep it up. The best thing that has ever worked for me was index cards and I was just thinking about how I needed to use them again. I made two every morning – a “maybe if I get to it” list and a top 3 list. The top 3 list was a list of the top 3 things that needed to get done. It’s relatively easy to get three things done and I always felt like I accomplished something. It helps keep you focused on the important things.