Index cards are the atomic unit of paper, and as such offer a wide array of options for their use in structuring your life. They also have many limitations.
I hope that in this space we can share the little hacks that let us leverage the advantages of these little cards, and identify and try to solve their limitations and drawbacks.
Of course, one of the best Index Card hacks of all is the Hipster PDA.
Index Cards are available in many different varieties and colors, including:
- Blank, lined or gridded
- White, colored or striped
In 2004, 3M introduced Post-it brand Index Cards. They are especially useful for organizing projects or posting notes on walls.
Index Cards are also known as Record Cards in the UK. In Japan, Index Cards are known as æƒ…å ±ã‚«ãƒ¼ãƒ‰ (jouhou kaado, lit. information cards).
 Writers and Index Cards
 Vladimir Nabokov
Index cards were like his laptop and text editor: portable, in that he could write in the car while his wife drove him across the Western US on butterfly expeditions, and easily editable, because their order could be reshuffled (and he used a pencil). They also allowed him to write his novels non-linearly, middle last. The fictional poet John Shade in Pale Fire composed his 999-line opus on index cards. Nabokov also preferred to write standing up.
Compare Nabokov's streamlined writing system with that of Marcel Proust, who would have early drafts of his books printed, and who would then paste into it new pages and extensions to existing pages, and just generally foul it up.
 Robert Pirsig
Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote another book, Lila, the main character in which uses index cards to organize his thoughts. You can read the relevant excerpt here.
 Anne Lamott
Found on Orange Crate Art, this is a quote from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life
- I have index cards and pens all over the house--by the bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, by the phones, and I have them in the glove compartment of my car. I carry one with me in my back pocket when I take my dog for a walk. In fact, I carry it folded lengthwise, if you need to know, so that, God forbid, I won't look bulky. You may want to consider doing the same. I don't even know you, but I bet you have enough on your mind without having to worry about whether or not you look bulky. So whenever I am leaving the house without my purse--in which there are actual notepads, let alone index cards--I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange or for any reason worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it. Sometimes, if I overhear or think of an exact line of dialogue or a transition, I write it down verbatim. I stick the card back in my pocket. I might be walking along the salt marsh, or out at Phoenix Lake, or in the express line at Safeway, and suddenly I hear something wonderful that makes me want to smile or snap my fingers--as if it has just come back to me--and I take out my index card and scribble it down.
 Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham
In their paper, A Laboratory for Object-Oriented Thinking, they described the use of index cards for capturing an object oriented design as Class-Responsibility-Collaborator sets. By using the physical cards and a simple model, not only could they be easily visualized and rearranged, but non-programmers could be encouraged to participate in the design process, producing results which were more usable. Also, the physical size of the cards limits the functionality which can be given to any one class, keeping the classes simple and focussed, which often leads to improved design.
- The cards are being used as props to aid the telling of a story of computation. The cards allow its telling without recourse to programming language syntax or idiom.
 Barry Farber
In Barry's book, How to Learn Any Language, he gives a detailed description on how he learns multiple languages easily. A critical element is carrying around a set of index cards clipped together by a binder clip (with foreign language words to be memorized printed on each card). Then, at those inevitable moments when everything slows down (like being in a traffic jam or a line at the supermarket) you can pull the cards out and start memorizing words.
 Other Writers
Other writers who use/used index cards:
- Ludwig Wittgenstein - Philosophical Investigations was repeatedly re-arranged.
- Marcel Duchamp - green cards were his favorite.
- Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, co-authors of prequels to Frank Herbert's Dune novels. Check out the last photo on this scrapbook page.
- Sarah Vowell uses index cards when writing her books.
- Historian Annie Haven Thwing wrote several books on the history of Boston, starting from Colonial times. She kept her notes on index cards--125,000 of them. The card index is now in the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society, where contemporary researchers still find it useful.
- John F. Kennedy: "Ich bin ein Berliner"
 The Rite of Not Knowing
I came across this use for 3x5 cards and thought of the 43Folders crowd right away. http://www.spiralnature.com/spirituality/discordianism/disczen.html I am not sure if this guy has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek or not. In my experience, Zen is just a little more connected than this, it is the "Be Here Now" thought that drives Zen in my mind. Just another take, I guess. Thanks --JWS 19:14, 18 Apr 2005 (EDT)
 See Also
- Hipster_Variants#Postcard_PDA gives some reasons why 4x6 index cards are better than 3x5 index cards or 5x8 cards.
- Flickr Photoset: Getting Things Done With Index Cards
- Wikipedia:Index Card
- Levenger.com: Dancing with Darwin: The vanishing index card is a useful species still 'Just about everyone's heard of -- and has probably used -- 3 x 5 cards, but where did they come from? Surprisingly, their origin dates back a thousand years. Also known as index cards, their evolution is rooted in the concept of cataloging, or indexing, key words in a book.'