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Anatomy of a Cardfile or,
The Secret Lives of Three-by-Fives

by CEO (Cynthia Ewer, Organized)
Editor, Organized Home

SHE cardsConsider this tapestry, my cardfile.

Yes, it is time to assemble our cardfile. We've gotten up early, marked out Activity Lists, and begun to flirt with the concept of a Basic Week Plan. In the ABC of SHE, "C" is for Cardfile--and here we go!

As we make out our cards, we'll look at the issues one-by-one. First, Anatomy 101: the cards themselves.

No secret here. You use multi-colored 3-by-5 file cards to create the heart of the SHE home management system. Each card will contain the following information:

  • Frequency
  • Time
  • Estimate
  • Job name and description
  • Skipped:

Start with your Activity list. Choose a job, and write the job name (Mop Kitchen Floor) in the center of the card. You may add descriptive information (Use Magic Mop and clean covers, white vinegar on hardwood) to make it easier to delegate the job.

In the upper-left-hand corner, assign a frequency to the job: daily, weekly, seasonal, yearly. In the upper-right-hand corner, estimate the time necessary to complete the job. And at the bottom, write "Skipped:"--here is where you'll make pencil checkmarks each time you skip this job. Remember, two checks, and you must do the card!

That's the bare bones, now for the bells and whistles!

The Color Controversy

Pam and Peggy grew their cardfile system over several years, and along the way, a few points have veered here and there around the compass face. One of these is the use of color.

In Sidetracked Home Executives, Pam and Peggy used color to indicate job frequency. Daily cards were yellow, weeklies were blue, monthly cards were green. Pink cards had a totally different purpose: they were "personal" cards, while white cards held data and yearly tasks.

By the time P&P published "The Happiness File", they'd begun to push the color connection further. Now different colors began to indicate different functions. Volunteer work, or paid work, or social, or prayer--color could stand for all of these areas.

At this point, the CEO noticed something: since we already have an entry on our cards for frequency, why not harness that color tool for a different purpose?

So she did. Color, in CEO's cardfile, designates type of task. Yellow cards are housekeeping cards, whether the jobs are dailies, weeklies or monthlies. Green cards hold work and writing projects. Blue cards ruled my life during our homeschool years, and now stand for home decorating and home improvement projects (yay! an empty nest!) White cards hold information, list contents of storage boxes and tell me when to back up my computer. Pink cards are still "personal"--haircuts and manicures and sort-the-wardrobe cards are pink. Orange cards help me prepare for the holiday season and entertaining.

Using color to distinguish between different types of functions dovetails neatly with the Basic Week Plan. Yellow cards are divided between cleaning days. Green "money" and work cards go to Desk Day, pink cards to Free Day. Using color, I see and sort my tasks according to the BWP.

This is not SHE-orthodoxy, but it works! Think color as you build your cardfile. The tool will serve you well, helping you juggle job and home and school and church and family: all the colors of your rainbow life.

How Many Jobs Can Dance On The Head Of A 3-by-5?

With publication of "Get Your Act Together", Pam and Peggy broke with the one-job-per-card rule. Now they advocate putting all your kitchen jobs, say, on one card. With publication of GYAT, a raging controversy arose among old-time SHEs.

Some love the new spare, uncluttered look of many-jobs-per-card. "After all," they say, "it was so discouraging to see so many cards every day!" Other SHEs were outraged. "What? I love filing each and every card--gives me encouragement and a good feeling to tuck that baby away!" This camp pointed out that if you group jobs on one card, what do you do when you only finish some of them?

Both sides are right. It's up to you to decide where you fall. Do you want one card, listing all related jobs, for simplicity? Do you need the extra encouragement and/or motivation of one job per card?

There's even a good middle ground: if you do the related tasks, say laundry, without getting too sidetracked, by all means group "sort clothes, wash, dry, fold and put away" on one card. Others of you, out there (and you know who you are) will be sorting on Monday, washing on Tuesday, letting wet clothes sit on Wednesday, drying them on Thursday, ignoring them on Friday, ignoring them on Saturday, and fluff-drying them again right before church on Sunday. For you, better break each task out onto it's own card!

One Card At A Time

Many baby SHEs quail at the thought of diving into a huge cardfile just full of jobs and tasks and work. Ducky, a veteran Get O member, devised the OCAAT concept to cover just this phobia. OCAAT (pronounced Oh-Cat) is short for One Card At A Time.

Which is what you do. You make one card. You file it. You do it until becomes routine and comfortable and you're happy with it. [This time frame will vary directly with the number of children you have and the strength of your spouse's packrat tendency.] Then you make another card.

Many SHEs have climbed the ladder to O Nirvana using OCAAT. Think about it.  The best way to encourage yourself and other is to form an OCAAT club on your Get O bulletin board, wherever in cyber-space it may be. One Card At A Time will lay a paper trail OUT of disorganization!

Daze Of Our Lives . . .

Another point of controversy concerning the bones and tendons of the cardfile, dividers. Yes, dividers, those pesky little things.

In SHE, Pam and Peggy recommended that you divide your current "month" using numbered 1-31 dividers, one for each corresponding day.

There is only one disadvantage to this system: anybody who is sidetracked enough to need a cardfile is going to have, uh, a problem figuring out which number is Tuesday. I am quite serious! Using only a 1-31 divider means that cards will, not may, but will be misfiled. You'll find cleaning cards under your Free Day, I guar-on-tee it.

So do yourself a conceptual favor. Remember your overburdened little brain, and stick a set of days-of-the-week dividers in the front of that cardfile. No more squinting at teeny calendars to remember whether next Tuesday is the 8th or the 9th, no more misfiled cards. Referring to your BWP, just dump the heavy cleaning cards behind the little divider that says, "Tuesday".

In the CEO's file, front to back, live the days of the week, then numbered dividers for the rest of the month. Following them, are a year's worth of monthly dividers. How does it work? Each morning, I pull the days cards from their divider, and move the Sunday divider to the end of the week. At the same time, I move the NUMBERED divider for that day (this month, the 13th) to the end of the numbered cards behind the month of August.

This setup, weekly followed by monthly dividers, gives me almost six weeks of daily-filed cards. No, it's not cumbersome! And it works far, far better than the old numbered guess-the-day system.

To Print, or Not To Print, That is the Question

Should you print your SHE cards?  Upon mature reflection, the CEO is of two minds on this issue. Computer-printed cards have a lot going for them. They're more professional-looking. When you're delegating cards to unwilling family members, that computer printing gives things an extra bit of authority. They're cleaner looking and just plain more pleasant.

But. Yes, there is a but! So you decide to print your cards on the computer? You have just multiplied the energy required to set up the cardfile by a factor of two or three. Will your printer take 3-by-5s? Can you find tractor-fed cards, or laser cards? If you do, they're gonna be expensive! When you need to add a card, will you put it off until you can print it on the computer? Until you've put off the entire thing? Cards and all?

Don't laugh! The CEO has done all of these things. If you're a computer whiz and if you promise faithfully to do all the cards, go ahead and print them. But if you're here to get your home organized, making cards by hand is just plain simpler, easier, and not much slower than going computer-fancy. 

Start those cardfiles . . . and get organized!

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more great stuff from the author of the 21 essays:
OrganizedHome.Com - Tips and Tools to Get Organized at Home!
get organized for Christmas and find holiday crafts and gifts:
Organized Christmas - Get the Plan, Get Ready for Christmas

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