Despite all the technology available today, I still go back again and again to the low-tech solution of index cards. Index cards are an incredible brainstorming tool, whether you’re working alone or with a group. They not only allow you to capture ideas; they then enable you to organize a process, build a plan, map out a large project.
Yesterday I used index cards to develop a book idea. I’ve used them to think through websites, to assign authors and topics for our blog, to write speeches — and once, to start a company.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a large project to get your arms around. Start with a big stack of crisp new index cards and a good marker. If you want to use multiple colors of cards, sometimes that helps you divide things into categories.
Start writing down every idea you can come up with on a single index card. If you’re creating a new process or mapping out a project, write down every single step you can imagine you need to address. Large, small, whatever.
Then start moving the cards around into groups or stacks. I like to use a large bulletin board for this, but sometimes at Tribe we spread them out on the conference room table or tape them to the wall or windows. single element of the project that you can think of.
For instance, this is how it worked for the book project. First I pulled out all the cards that seemed like they deserved their own chapters. I pinned them up in a row on the bulletin board. Then I started sorting the other cards to put them in the appropriate chapters and pinned them up in columns. Before I knew it, I had an entire book outline.
They also work for organizing tasks. If you were mapping out a major project, for instance, you might end up with lots of tasks as well as ideas. Some will be huge, like “develop proposal for management approval.” Others will be small, like “call so-and-so for the vendor they used on such-a-such a project”
Break the large ones down by adding more cards. Write down the smaller steps they require and then put those index cards with the large task. You might want to put each team member’s name on a card and then divide up tasks by putting each card under one team member’s name.
What do you do when you’re finished? Sometimes we photograph the arranged cards so we can recreate that information in a spreadsheet or word document. Other times we just stack them up in order and work with them from there. Once in awhile, you might want to leave them up, and remove or check off each card as you accomplish that task.