Managing Cards

Lots of XP and related practices focus on using IndexCards: StoryCards, CrcCards, TaskCard, WriteItOnaCard, etc. It leaves me with a mental picture of Kent's and Ward's offices being filled with stacks and stacks of index cards, in the same way that cartoon millionaires are shown sitting in the middle of stacks of bills.

How do you all keep track of all these cards? See also ShopForIndexCards

Sure to start a flame war: Lined or unlined (often the backs of lined cards are blank)

-- StevenNewton

Lined? Unlined? Barbaric! Real index cards are quad-ruled.
TedNelson has an interesting card filing system: see the first page of TheCurseOfXanadu article.
CargoCult question: What size cards do people use for WriteItOnaCard? Is 4x6" optimal? Do people use color coded cards? (Maybe blue for stories, green for tasks, red for HonoraryUserStories?) -- JohnBrewer

I find color kinda neat. When doing CRC, I might use one color for public classes and another for private classes -- that sort of thing. I haven't figured out how to use color for user stories yet. A story's risk is assigned to it after it is written (and can change after that), so you wouldn't want to use color for that. I dunno. -- anon

All the same size is slightly important, color is fun but not important. C3 had lots of colors. Tried using them for specialized purposes for a while, but that just meant you had to run around looking for a pink card. I'm sorry to be so extreme, but YouArentGonnaNeedIt. --XpHammer

Sorry, I have that idea patented. Just waiting for Beck's pride to subside enough to authorize it. -- ykw

Any thoughts about size? 3x5 cards are clearly too small. 5x8 might be too big. Is 4x6 JustRight?? -- JohnBrewer

3x5 cards will fit in your pants pocket without making you look overly excited about XP. You can even get a neat leather case for them. I slightly prefer 4x6 for table work because you can get more down. This may be a mistake. C3 used 5x8, except that instead of buying them they saved money by having them made at the print shop. So they were more like 5x8.5. One size is best, any size. -- RonJeffries

I agree. I always use 3x5 cards, because portability is part of what makes index cards such a useful technology for me. I also use rubber bands and bulletin boards. And the black plastic index card box mentioned by someone else on this page, but this is more useful for archiving rather than active "knowledge work" (as TheMythOfThePaperlessOffice would call it). -- ApoorvaMuralidhara

What do people have preprinted on their cards? The same stuff as on the C3 cards show at or something more? -- JohnBrewer

C3 dumped all that stuff. They use blank cards now. -- rj

I received enlightenment at an OOPSLA program committee meeting. It was the third one I had been on (maybe fourth) and KentBeck was also on it. The time came to make a schedule. This typically takes several hours on a whiteboard. Instead, Kent pulled out a bunch of cards, we wrote events on them, and placed them on a table. It took half the time it usually does. Kent said "Index cards are good for many things."

Some time later, I was at a meeting where twenty people made a schedule. The schedule had a quarter of the things on it that OOPSLA has, but they made the schedule using Word displayed on a screen. It took more time than it usually did at OOPSLA committee meetings. For many things, cards are better than any competing technology.

I try to always carry cards now. Blank 3x5 cards. They are ideal for CRC, because you can't write too much on them. Brevity is a virtue. Also, when you fill one up and need to write more, copy it to a new card a summarize. Abstraction is a virtue. The only reason to use larger cards is so you can write with a fatter pen and see them from further away. -- RalphJohnson

Big (4 by 6) cards work well when you have a dozen people sitting in a circle on the floor. For group planning and tracking activities, I like to use large pieces of foam-core board and 3 by 5 PostIt notes. For < 25USD, a collaborative PERT chart that can be picked up and moved in seconds. -- DaveSmith

I agree! I love 3x5 PostIt notes for BrainStorming ideas. What 3M needs to do is create PostIt note IndexCards. Hmmmmm.... -- FrankPurcell

3M now makes Post-it sortable cards which are index cards that you can stick to things but they do not stick to each other. - sp

Hands up everyone who misses PunchCards?...

Hee hee... Our elementary school had 10000 (or more) punch cards sitting in the vault, complete with EBCDIC. We got them ages before I arrived when the computer lab at the nuclear research lab -- the one that gave meaning to our town -- switched systems and donated the surplus. Why they were in the vault, I don't know (perhaps because computer-related material was considered valuable), but we'd occasionally use them as cue cards for speeches and what not. I found them fascinating, perhaps one of the few people who knew what they were. I must have a wad somewhere at home after I "borrowed" some from the vault. Why I knew what punch cards were at such a young age and why I had access to the vault are other stories completely... -- SunirShah

Advantages of good 'ol punched cards - a) they're easy to print (assuming the card reader's still working), and (b) certain activities are seen to be complete (or not) when you can (or can't) shine a light right through the card deck!

Cards (used punched 80 col, 3><4, and larger) worked for me. Used them from 1967 to the mid 1990s -- notes, todo's, addresses,... etc. Still got one year of college notes in a box of cards. Still got 100..200 bibliography of computer graphics in a tray of cards.

Reorganise, shuffle, scan through quickly. Card trays/boxes make good door stops.
Big complicated ideas, dropping them, storage, transferring from card to computer or paper. Not buying enough cards in advance.
For more.... See RobertPirsig's LilaAnInquiryIntoMorals. Wish I'd invented the "Program" category of cards that talk about how you use the cards.

For the last 10 years I've been trying out palmtop devices. Now I'm testing a PalmPilot Pro. Almost better than cards. But not quite.

-- DickBotting

I found a little Rogers plastic box (less than $5 CDN), designed to hold 3x5 cards (like a really cheap Rolodex, but called a card file). It has a lid that snaps shut and holds firm. It's about 2.5 inches deep and can hold about 400 cards (though 300 is less crowded). It fits nicely in my laptop case and I haven't had any problems with it. It's durable and slightly flexible plastic, not that cheap stuff that cracks.

I actually have two boxes (one black, one grey) in case I get several projects, but I've only had occasion to use one at a time. Instead of using two to keep track of projects, I ended up getting different coloured cards (white, pink, yellow, blue, green) in packs of 100 (less than $1 CDN per pack). I typically have 2-3 colours in the case at a time. If I need to keep track of small sub-stacks, such as 'finished' vs. 'unfinished', I just place them in alternating colours (pink, yellow, pink, yellow).

The latest project I finished, I took out all the cards and put them in the other box which I leave at home, but I guess I could wrap them in an elastic band and put them away somewhere. I would probably throw them out under normal circumstances, but I'm planning on going through them at a later date to write up my experiences using them (it's my first complete project using StoryCards?). I found all these things in an OfficeDepot? all in one section and laid out as if they were waiting for XPers to come by and pick them up.
The thing that most makes cards so flexible is that they have limited space and that if the collection is small, it's highly accessible. Information on a card tends to be concise, focused and something one will refer to later. I find small adhesive colored dots more useful and flexible than colored cards, since they allow "multiple inheritance". Reserve a small place at the upper right corner of the card for up to 4 dots (or some other useful number).

When there's less referencing of a card, you should scan it. This is better than elastic-banding or discarding. I use my PaperPort for this because it's so flexible and has an excellent method of organization via folders and sub-folders, etc. One CD-R can contain hundreds to thousands to millions of cards, and several can fit in my laptop carrying case at one time, so I am unlikely to run out of space for or be without all the cards I have ever written. This is what I call MIVS: managing information via scanning.

The two color-coding schemes aren't mutually exclusive. I use card colour to quickly leaf through and find my sub-stack. I would find that difficult if they were all white, but with different coloured dots on the face. What do you use the dots to categorize?

In college I used cards to organize concepts for a particularly difficult paper. I tried colored cards (not enough colors) and dots on the cards (not easily categorized in a deck). I solved this by using colored markers, and coloring the top-right corner (about a 1cm x 1cm triangle), INCLUDING the card edge. You get as many colors as you want, plus you can see the colored corner when the cards are in a stack.

I agree that color cards and color dots can be used together. The strength of the dot approach (where the category might be progress toward completion, the dot can be placed over the earlier dot which signified a completion of a certain level. The four positions might represent certain kinds of activity) The only limit to this process is one's own imagination and ingenuity.

A Simple way to handle cards, from the XpMailingList: See CardRack

I hate dealing with paper, so the managing cards made me look into DigitalStoryCards (and settle on IterateByDiamondSky). -- Jtf

A Wiki is nothing but a collection of electronic index cards everyone can contribute to! And I mean this as a compliment to Wikis, for index cards are one of the best inventions in the story of humanity!

So why not use a ProjectWiki and/or HandheldsWiki for ManagingCards?

Have any of you tried electronic index card programs such as ndxCards ( ? I would like to learn about using such a tool in XP. The software allows for flexible ways to manage the cards - can look at the cards as pictures in a tool such as PowerPoint & organize the contents of selected cards in a written document. -- Arasu

Check out for a somewhat costly, but apparently effective way to manage your index cards. The Scan/Plan system has been around for years.

CategoryCrcCards DigitalStoryCards CategoryCard is gone.

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