Writing cards in daily life

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Great habit of collection.
The late Dr. Pye Smith, when apprenticed to his father as a bookbinder, was accustomed to make copious memoranda of all the books he read, with extracts and criticisms. This indomitable industry in collecting materials distinguished him through life, his biographer describing him as “always at work, always in advance, always accumulating.

Samuel Smiles, Self Help, 1900.

Start from diary

Start from diary.

A first step of the PoIC is to write down all of our thoughts on index cards and collect them in the dock. As I wrote in the Four Cards, the easiest way to start PoIC is to use this for diary.

When I just started to use index cards, I used to feel that it was difficult to start writing every single morning. Consciously or subconsciously, whatever. I used to spend a long time before writing thinking "what I should write...". In an extreme case, I couldn't write anything.

One day, I found there is a tip to overcome it. The answer is simple: just start writing. Anything is okay. All I need to do is just pick up a pen and card, and start.

But at the same time, if I say "let's write something", I feel a certain resistance. Because "something" is too fuzzy. Rather, I say to myself "let's start from diary". More precisely, I start from the weather of the day, like "Fine", "Cloudy" etc. In Japanese, it is just two or three letters (晴れ or くもり). Then record what happened in the morning -- say "got up 7:00", "arrived at office 8:30" -- on the same card. It's not difficult either. Just describe without thinking. This card should be classified a Record Card. This way, I fill the first card of the day.

Avalanche writing

Avalanche writing.

In my case, I write the first card of the day at office. I get some ideas on the way to the office. While writing the diary, it triggers what I've been thinking.

In fact, a 5x3 index card is too small to write everything about the morning. The diary is quite short, really just a record. So just after the Record Card, I write the ideas on Discovery Cards, one by one. The ideas are not only about work, but also about life. Because discovery generates new discovery.

I take 15 - 30 minutes to do this every morning. Start from a Record Card, then gradually shift to Discovery Cards. I call this as avalanche writing. An important fact is that what triggers the avalanche is just enough with a tiny stone, the Record Card as diary.

I keep this habit on weekdays. When I sit down at the office, I immediately pick up an index card, and write a diary. No effort, no resistance. A single Record Card + average five Discovery Cards. Over one hundred index cards per month only with this. Now you won't be surprised that my dock is filled by many index cards.

Note taking

Line and memo on the book.

We use Cite Cards to extract the contents of a book. There are several merits to taking notes on the book.

  • Enhance memory by hand writing notes
  • Enhance memory by reviewing the cards later
  • Store the complete record of the contents in the dock

A way of taking notes might largely depend on a person and situation. In my case, reading a book is something like "eating". I don't hesitate to put memos, lines on the book. To do this I buy all books I want to read. I read about this approach to reading in 渡部昇一 (Watanabe, Shoichi, 1976). I use pencil and darmatograph (highlighter) for this. As I wrote in four cards, there are two styles of note taking. We can choose one of them or a combination of them. When I take notes from a technical book, it sometimes exceeds 20 - 30 cards per day. According to my own experience, output without input is impossible. The Cite Cards are the input. It is a seed that someday blooms.

Making Cite Cards requires more effort than the other three cards. Sometimes this is good because we try to select valuable contents, worthy of our required effort to take notes.

When we understand what the author says, we can express it in our own words. I recommend using that as the title of the Cite Card. Expressing one thing in two ways, i.e. author's words and our words, helps our understanding. And the title describes what we thought.

Manipulate actively

Generate new card from past cards.

I wrote three "do not" principle (do not classify, do not search, do not revise order) of PoIC in Chronological Order and Task Force. Umesao (1969) emphasised for usage of index cards in an intellectual productivity as follows,

"Here I emphasise again, what is important is not classify cards, but manipulate them time and again. Pick up some of them, and make various combinations. If you repeat it, you won't keep index cards idle, even tens of thousands of them."

The "manipulation" that Umesao emphasis is flip, pick up, and make a combination : we should manipute index cards "actively". On the other hand, "search", "classify", "revise order" are passive acts. Even active or passive, these acts looks same if we see someone is doing it. However, his/her mind inside is completely different.


We call a software to display web page as "browser". The origin of the word "browse" comes from act of herbivorous animal wonder in a forest and eat young leaves. For me, an act of flipping index cards is not a word like "review", but more like "browsing" is appropriate : a tour, flip as I like, read here and there. I usualy browse index cards with drinking coffee or tea.

When I have time, I flip index cards in a dock. I remind what I wrote because every index cards have own time stamp. "I wrote this card that time." The time stamps conforms my own history.

At same time, I can read index cards objectively due to elapsed time. Because, in affirmative meaning, I forget them.

Contributors of this section

Vogelap, Priyadarshan, Brussell8

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