How Index Cards Can Help Manage Thoughts and Keep You Going Everyday.

This simple system is key to find clarity, focus, and productivity

I believe that while cloudy thinking complicates, clear thinking motivates. That’s why The Three Card Technique is a simple system that prevents buying into distractions so you can maintain focus and improve your productivity.

* Three index cards or something similar

*Tape (optional)

*A pen

1. Write one of the following on each index card:

  • I am focusing on
  • to-do list
  • bs list

2. Place the to-do card on your left and bs card on your right. (And yes, bs stands for exactly that-bs)

3. On the “Your Focus Is’’ card, write down a quick phrase that describes the task. Examples are “editing two pages’’, “filing tax return,” and “creating PowerPoint for a sales meeting.” Place the card where it can easily catch your eye.

4. Start working.

5. When a thought comes to you, itemize it on the to-do card or the bs card. A priority item belongs to the to-do card. Everything else goes on the “bs” card.

How It Works

For instance, say you are writing a book and your objective is to develop the main character. Write on the focus card “You are writing up the main character’s looks and motivations”. Place it in a hard-to-miss location like in front of your laptop or around the outer frame. I use multiple locations around my laptop and even in the bathroom. It takes what it takes.

As you go along, the following thought pops in your head, “schedule Molly’s vet appointment.” Seeing Molly is in heat, you’re not a breeder, and pooches are howling on your porch, spading your dog belongs on your to-do list. Notice how you feel.

Index card with to do list
Index card with to do list
My bs list

Next, your brain tells you to “pay electric bill”. Where does this go? It all depends upon the timing.

If the due date is at the end of the week and you’re scheduled with back to back to back meetings, paying your light bill should go on your “to-do” list.

That said, if the due date is in four weeks, bills can go on the bs list. Why?

Always use the bs card to house unimportant to-dos. These include untimely items, worries, positive notions, negativity, nostalgia, and anything else not relevant to completing your work and keeping your day on track. The other day, I had “remember my cousin Sal.” Sal was a nice guy, but I could think about Sal later while avoiding my children. Remember, the idea is to stay clear and focused so work gets done and not dis your relatives.

Also, the bs list isn’t a dumpster full of irrelevant tasks and notions. More often than not, when brains are overactive, they like to make things seem more urgent than they are. The purpose of the bs list is to inform your mind that every thought and idea it spews will not distract you from what is truly important. It tells your brain that you’re in control, and you know what’s required. That said, be careful. Some bs items are essential, just not at that particular moment. Therefore, always use your noodle.

Again, the purpose of the Three Card Technique is to support you being clear-minded, productive, and not wandering a low-grade strip mall. The best part of this system is you won’t feel drained by distractions. You’ll have the energy to go right to the next task. Just look at your new to-do list. The good news is it’s ready to go, and you will be too.

For more articles by Anthony, click here

Photo of Anthony Fireman
Photo of Anthony Fireman
Photo by Charles Abrams Photography

Published in The Boston Globe Magazine; Trying to figure it all out by expressing ideas, fears, hopes, and dreams; I have a dog, a very influential dog. Very.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store