We always start from a fresh blank card. There is a format, but not a printable template. Our thought is non-linear. We cannot predict what idea/thought/infomation comes next. No PC, no printer is required in this system. The blank card is, in David Allen's words, "mind like water" and "ready for anything". Let's look how to write cards in detail.
- 1 Header
- 2 Icon and Tag
- 3 Title and Contents
- 4 Date and Time Stamp
- 5 Cross Reference
- 6 External Link
We stack all cards chronological order, that is, along time series in our mind. It is convenient to include compressed information in the top part of each card. Let's define the top three quadrilles space as a Header of the card. We write Icon, Tag, Title, and Time Stamp in the header part. While flipping cards in the dock, all we need is to concentrate on this header.
Icon and Tag
As we see, the index cards are classified into four kinds according to the contents. That is, Record, Discovery, GTD, and Cite. I found all thoughts/ideas in ourselves and information around us are represented by only four kinds. It is necessary and sufficient.
Proper icon and tag are added to head of title and top of the card, respectively. The icon helps to identify the contents visually. You can customize these icons as you like.
Design of Icon
In my case, icons for Record, Discovery, and Cite are designed based on a "circle". There is a practical reason for this. These three kinds are little difficult to distinguish sometimes. For example, a discovery based on a record, or a discovery based on someone else's idea. By making these icon based on a circle, it enables one to put a circle first, then allows a few seconds to think which kind it belongs to.
Tag as an indicator of our thought
Again, I emphasize that the tag is not for classification. All cards are kept in the dock with chronological order. When we write cards, there is no need to mind their order and kind.
Finding Open-loop Easy
The tag is important especially for GTD cards. An unfinished task is an "opened loop" as it means in PoIC tagging method. This simplicity makes it possible to find an open-loop much easier, even in the dock.
If we find two-separated dots in the sequence of cards, it is open-loop. After accomplishment of the task, the open-loop is closed (filled). Then it looks like a bar similar to other three cards.
Why only four kinds?
There are 25 squares on the top edge of the Correct's quadrille card. It is quite possible to put more than four tags on a card. Or perhaps a combination of two tags. Then why the number of tag is limited only four in the PoIC method?
One reason is a matter of human recognition. Yukio Noguchi (野口悠紀雄) claims "magic number of three" concept. There is a limit of kinds human can handle unconsciously, and the number is "three". If the kinds over three, it will be difficult to handle. Ideally speaking, three tags are the best for the PoIC.
In fact, at the beginning, I adopted only three kinds of tag (Record, Discovery, and GTD). It is, however, difficult to distinguish "my record" and "someone else's record" with single Record cards. It is more convenient if I can see how many other people's ideas are in the Dock. In this way, Cite cards, the 4th kind, was born to separate "someone else's record".
Another reason is more practical. If the number of tags increases, it is more difficult to count the blocks from left edge. It makes difficult to put on tags. For three tags, we can put a tag in flash of light without counting blocks. For 4th kind (5th block), we have to count. For 10th kind, for example, it takes 5 seconds to put tag. Even if we introduce many tags, some day most of tags are not in use because of a resistance in subconscious level.
I must say the four kinds is minumum but maximum.
Title and Contents
The title should be short and exact as possible. The shorter title makes review process easy and speedy. The title is written in third quadrille from top edge. We can concentrate to see only few lines when we flip cards in dock.
Keep title dynamic to grab attention. For Cite cards, title is left free for ourselves. We should think our own title for a quote. Then we can express how we think, what we feel, our interpretation in the title. And it reflects how we understand the quote.
Contents is about 120 letters in Japanese. Keep one card for one topic, and don't put too much contents. Soon you will establish your own way to write short and exact contents.
The title is summary of the contents. I usually write contents first, and the title last. After writing contents, I have some time to think what icon and title of the card should be. It avoid discrepancy between title and contents.
Not use back side
Most of time, the contents can be included in one side of card. In case it's hard to put contents on one card, do not use the other side. This time, we use two or more cards. In the title, put number/total like 1/2 or 2/2. Then all we need is to see one side.
Flipping card takes more time and effort than we imagine. Plus, most of the time we forget to see the other side. Another reason is physical: we only see one side when we review the cards in dock, or we spread the cards on desk top for brain storming. If we allow to use the other side, then we have to be always suspicious during these processes.
Include Free-hand drawing
I think the most important benefit of using analog media is free-hand drawing. It enable us to express our thought in simple and rapid way. And this is one of big reason I return to analog paper. Especially, it is important for idea capturing process. By expressing our thought visually, our understanding become deeper. The drawing works good for review process, too. We can retrieve the contents visually in shorter time.
Here, I would like to introduce a character who frequentlly appear in my cards. His (Her?) name is Medama-chan (めだまちゃん, Dear Eyeball). Medama-chan is alias of myself, and thinks, writes, and sleeps in a bed in cards. Medama-chan likes Discovery cards, and doesn't like GTD cards. Usually, Medama-chan facing sides, and hands appear sometimes. The most attractive feature is long eyelashes. It is much fun if you have such character on your cards.
Other possible contents
Besides usual sentence, following would be possible,
- item (shipping list, two minutes tasks etc.)
- number (temperature etc.)
Date and Time Stamp
David Allen (2003) emphasize a great habit is to date everything we hand-write. Such time stamps trigger our memory, and give contexts between cards.
Further more, a date and time are very important in the PoIC method. The time stamp defines the absolute name of the card. This absolute name is used for cross reference.
The time stamp appears at the top-right of each cards like,
Include week infomation
Information about "the day of the week" is important. Because our life is based on the week system. It is easier to remember what I did last Sunday, than just a sequence of numbers like "2006.11.19". It is quite possible to use a rubber stamp for time stamps. Unfortunately, I can't find a rubber stamp with the day of the week. Also using rubber stamp interrupts the sequential writing of cards. A handwritten time stamp is quicker than a rubber stamp.
In the PoIC, the time stamp has another important meaning. The date and time stamp defines the "absolute name" of card. The absolute name is used for cross reference between cards.
Time stamp must be unique, but not necessary to be accurate. This is like URL of WWW. We can define a name of the html file as we like, but the name must be unique if these files are in same directory. This absolute name technique was first introduced in "Talk about Information Cards" thread, stationery board, on the 2-channel.
- In the absence of a stamp for day of the week, I use shorthand documented here. BoBraxton 03:07, 5 October 2007 (MDT)
The absolute name permits us to span a link between cards in a consistent way. In the following example, the card at bottom spans a link to the card at top. This method can be extended to any kind of documents easily. Actually, I put time stamp for any document I write/copy/printout.
In my case, the cross reference is frequently used between sequential cards. It is convenient to define omission rule,
- If one spans link from a card written in the same day, one can omit year, month, day, and week.
Then all we need is only time stamp. It looks like,
Ref. : 18:02
It corresponds to relative link of HTML, or, ./ and ../ of Unix.
A "Trackback" is one of feature of weblog. It is useful to know one article refers to another. We can take advantage of this feature into index cards. This idea is originally from a comment by riclav @ flickr.
Trackback is easy to implement. Just reverse of the link. I use a red pen for emphasis. If there is many trackbacks on a card, it indicates the card is useful.
Link to digital file
This is experimental. I name digital files using absolute name as I do for cards. In a picture, I show how to make time stamp with Unix command. Kevinmarsh kindly introduced me an application TextExpander which enable to expand a text "ymd" to the time stamp format. Absolute name of digital file enable to link to cards, like,
Ref. : @PDF 2006.11.02 Thu 18:02
To find a digital file on computer, which referenced in a card, search file with "20061102Thu1802" in name.
I usually link only from digital file to card, and not reverse. It is enough for me because the card system is center of information in my system.
It is convenient to include file type information when link.
- Card (default. no prefix)
- @Proj. Pap. : Report Pad (I use Okina's Project Paper)
- @Pr. : Print out material
- @Cp. : Copy material
- @mail : E-mail
- @PDF : PDF file
- @Word : Word file