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Here’s Why a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Bestselling Author Use This Ancient System to Stay Organized (It’s Over 250 Years Old)

Going back to the basics is a good thing–sometimes.

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BY Tom Popomaronis - 02 Mar 2019

pulitzer prize finalist and author

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We live in an age where to get more done, we frequently turn to increasingly complex technology. But there are actually some reasons to think that going the other direction could make us more productive overall. Sometimes, going back to those basics can reap benefits that have been overlooked.

Pulitzer Prize finalist, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, written by Robert Pirsig of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fame, was organized and composed almost entirely thanks to Pirsig's highly organized system of note-taking on index cards.

National bestselling author Anne Lamott writes that she keeps index cards everywhere -- kitchen, bedroom, car - and makes sure that she always has one on her when heading out. Her students often ask what she does with the cards after writing on them, but Lamott says it's just the act of writing something down that helps her embed it in her memory.

The roots of the index card go back to the 17th century. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish inventor who was known as the father of modern taxonomy 'pioneer of information retrieval' , and emerged his need to be more efficient in tracking classifications. Thus, the 'index card system' was born.

I know what you're thinking... "Wait...really, Tom? Index cards?"

Oh yeah. Index cards. Keep going, fellow reader.

Remembering more is one benefit of being a card-carrying eccentric (pun intended), but whether writing something down aids your memory, or you simply rely on the cards to do the remembering for you, there's another huge upside:

Having written it down, your brain can free itself from the conscious task of actively hanging onto a name, an idea, or whatever it may be.

This isn't just true for writers, but for everyone.

Rather than clutter up this page with all the benefits of writing things down, I'll just refer you here, and here, and for good measure, here.

But much of what's described in those articles is more pointed toward medium- to long-form writing.

Where does the index card fit in?

Almost anywhere - and that's pretty convenient. But jokes aside...

Writing for any length can be helpful, but often it's hard to find the time to do more than jot down a few words.

And chances are, if you don't have time to write things down, you definitely don't have time to forget. Leaving what you remember to chance, and letting an important name, time, or other detail slip through your fingers can come at a big cost.

Yeah, but that's what smartphones are for, right?

Well, yes.

But there are also reasons to believe that writing by hand is where the full benefits kick in.

Surely that has something to do with why Richard Branson does it. He, and Bill Gates.

And Facebook COO Sheryl Sanders.

And Tim Ferris.

And J.K. Rowling.

That group of people (and it's just a starter pack of pen-to-paper note-takers) isn't wanting for success.

If it works for them, it's got to be worth a try.

Now quickly, go write yourself a note to pick up some index cards on the way home.

P.S. If you're worried about wasting paper (fair point), try to fill up a whole card before moving to the next one. You can fit a lot in 3x5 inches. Also, plant a tree or ten.

 

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