Sunday, November 9, 2008

Always have pen and paper!

Ok, this will be the start of a series of blog entries about my recommendations based on years of business travel. This first one will be on 'Always have a pen and paper!'

I've been one to carry a pen with me... all the time... for many years now. This habit has been quite helpful in many ways. It comes in quite handy to have your own pen, to sign receipts, fill out customs documents, and the most important... to take NOTES!

I use a Mont Blanc with Rollerball Refill... classy, spins nicely, doesn't leak, and puts down a clean smooth black line, even works through carbons. It's not too thin, not too thick, just right.
Well, what to take notes on? This has been a journey for me for many years now. I've tried small notepads, larger notebooks, Franklin Day Planners (various sizes), the backs of my business cards, etc.

My current system is to always have with me 3x5 index cards. These are always available to me to take notes, write down lists of To Do's, leave notes to students, or a wide variety of other uses. I've opted for a personalized 3x5 card from with my Name, blog, and e-mail addresses. These I can give as reminders to students or friends of my contact information.

I use a grid pattern. It can be used to organize To Do lists, or draw out network diagrams, or design things. I like it.
I found this article on the history and use of Index Cards... a pretty good synopsis of the ubiquitous 3x5 card!


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

The monks of medieval times employed a hands-on system for marking a manuscript’s key words: they would use a symbol that indicated a finger pointing to the term—that digit being the forefinger, or index finger. Index traces its roots to Latin and the concept of informer, or pointer. Its Greek forbear means to show

Eventually these pointy fingers found their way to the back of the book in the form of an index of terms

But how were books themselves being catalogued? In fits and starts, it seems, with the Alexandria Library using an alphabetical system in the third century B.C. E., but the European libraries using a peculiar rhyming system 11 centuries later. Things got better organized in the nineteenth century, and in 1820 the first card catalog appeared in a library in London

The American hero of the library index card was Melvil Dewey. He introduced his decimal classification system in the 1870s, in the library at Amherst College in western Massachusetts. The card he devised for his catalog drawers was approximately 3" x 5". The typewriter had been invented a few years earlier, and ultimately the card and the keys met and married

The Library of Congress started printing its catalog index cards in 1901. For the next eight decades or so, the library index card and its attendant cabinets would serve as the Google of their day. Nicholson Baker, in his elegiac essay on card catalogs that appeared in The New Yorker in 1994, reported that the New York Public Library harbored 10 million cards

With all these cards in libraries, perhaps it was only a matter of time before they segued into general use. Thrifty librarians primed the pump by setting out discarded cards for patrons to use for notes. Seeing the cards’ usefulness, stationers began offering blank cards for sale. Business and professional people, writers and students adopted the cards as standard tools for researching, filing and organizing information.

And then, of course, computers struck. Card cabinets in libraries were dismantled and the cards discarded. There simply wasn’t enough room anymore to capture all our knowledge on a 3" x 5" descendant of papyrus. The once ubiquitous little cards, whose origins are so closely linked to cataloging knowledge, teetered on the brink of extinction

The index card is still a handy palimpsest, the screen on which one can quickly capture first ideas, reminder notes, titles of books friends recommend, your grandmother’s recipe for pumpkin pie. Index cards, with their scratch-outs, imperfect erasures and caret insertions, jog our memory as only the tactile can

By contrast, electronic systems live a perilously finite existence. Better operating systems, application software and search engines will come along and the current hero will be banished, forgotten, trashed.

Get your digit out, the English are fond of saying—meaning, get cracking. Get your digit out—and your pen—and jot a note on an index card. It still has a place in the digital world.

“A key tip: try to limit what you write on cards to a single topic or subject, such as a grocery list on one card, a hardware list on another. For work, keep cards for different people or areas of responsibility.”

“I use a very fine-point pen to get lots of information on one card and I write neatly—most of the time.”

“I almost never write on the backs, and this saves me from always having to turn cards around to see if there is writing on the back. Occasionally, when I’m taking a bunch of notes on one topic, like during a speech, then I’ll write on the backs. But I number each card side, 1, 2, 3, which is my cue to look at the backs.”

How to thrive with the power of 3 x 5

They have been around for a century, they’re as low-tech as they come, but 3 x 5 cards can fill an exalted role among twenty-first-century thinkers. Within the realm of capturing ideas and acting on them, they fill a niche that notebooks and electronics can’t. What could be...

  • simpler to use
  • easier to shuffle around
  • handier to keep and pull from a pocket
  • more disposable—or lasting—than a simple index card?

1 comment:

Gramps said...

The 3 x 5 card is a must in evereyone's home. I have used them for years just as you mentioned for lists, take notes, etc. Thanks Keith for the info. I too have always carried a pen. Karrissa has a picture of Bob and I with her and McKinley. Both of us have pens in our shirt pocket.