or, “How I Hacked the 43 Folders System to Work Better With Index Cards”
People who know me know that I love severely. It has gotten me into trouble at times, but I really do feel like it is one of my best qualities. Might even be my single best one.
One of my more recent loves is the Hipster PDA.
When I started carrying a Hipster PDA back in April, I immediately got a lot of shit for it at work. I would always be fishing a stack of index cards out of my back pocket, obsessing over “dumb” things like ubiquitous capture, but I never let it phase me. As a high-functioning obsessive-compulsive, letting a stack of 3x5 cards run my life made a lot of sense. If something was important, it had space on a card. If something was really important, it had an entire card to itself.
Then when stuff got done, I could throw away the card. This was the real killer feature for me, because I found my life constantly weighed down by stuff I didn’t need anymore, worrying about stuff that had already happened. Throwing away index cards was a physical way for my body to recognize that something was “out of sight, out of mind”, and it made my life instantly lighter.
My Hipster PDA was great. I used it for important notes, stuff for podcasts, personal statements…once, I even spent an entire day posting to Twitter with it. I tried different configurations and a few different taxonomical systems with colored index cards and different priority levels based on where they were placed in the stack.
Eventually, it just got really fucking messy. So I quit it in favor of douchey Italian writing notebooks. My affair with notebooks lasted only a couple short months, just long enough to realize that I actually really do love index cards and I’m sorry for every straying.
I’ve long had my eye on the 43 Folders organizational system. I hate friction in my life, so a simple, lo-fi organizational system that doesn’t create unnecessary friction is perfect. The problem was always two-fold.
1) I don’t really have a lot of papers going in and out, so full-size folders don’t make sense.
2) I don’t really have a place to store a box of full-size folders.
I wrestled with this for months. I was Odysseus, and the file folders aisle at OfficeMax my Sirens. I’ve had boxes of folders in my shopping basket dozens of times, only to snap back to rationality moments later.
Then one night a few weeks ago, I was at BestBuy picking up a new wireless mouse, and I saw that OfficeMax was having a sale on file folders. Everything I’d need for 43 Folders would only cost like $5, so I said “fuck it, The Sirens win. I’m crashing on the rocks.”
Thankfully, enough other sailors had shipwrecked, and there weren’t actually enough folders.
But it got me to thinking. The two limiting factors had always been my usage volume and the size of the system. At the time, I was still using notebooks, but when I was using index cards to run my life, I had plenty of paper going in and out. And index cards are small, so if I could find a way to tailor the 43 Folders system to index cards, storage size wouldn’t be an issue. So I hit the index card aisle, poked around for 2 minutes, and had my solution.
Here’s what I came up with:
For about $15, $10 of which was invested in the index card box itself, I had a complete 43 Folders system. I took some plastic, lettered index card dividers, flipped them around, and wrote on the tabs with metallic sharpie. I ran out of yellow and orange, hence the green tab for 31. I may go back and buy another pack of dividers, just for the one extra orange divider for 31, but I can live with it for now.
This thing is immensely satisfying. It is simplistically, and functionally, beautiful to me. The whole system fits in my laptop bag, so I’m virtually never with out it. It works perfectly with index cards, and is just large enough to fit my douchey italian writing notebooks for permanent safekeeping.
It was exactly the excuse I was looking for to get back on the index card standard, and I don’t think I’ll ever look back. I’ve eliminated the taxonomical nightmare of colored cards, back to plain, lined white index cards. I couldn’t be happier.
Thank you for reading.
I love you.
PS - The title of this post refers to the number of folders in my 43 Folders system. I have always had perpetually important notes, so I added a 44th tab labeled, simply, “Perm” to the very back of the system. This tab houses my notebooks, important business cards, personal affirmations, and other longer-term notes that don’t fit in the 43 Folders taxonomy.
I was apprehensive about adding a Perm tab, because I do worry that it will turn into a general repository of stuff I don’t want to throw away. As long as I’m mindful, this shouldn’t be a problem.