2020 and the return of the HPDA

If you read yesterday’s post, you may have noticed this tin can filled with index cards on my desk.

Tea can with index cards

The tea was a gift from my daughter and is long gone, but the can it came in seemed too nice to throw away. So I kept it around, figuring I’d eventually find a use for it. I didn’t think that use would take me back 15 years.

I’ve been one of the lucky people who’ve been able to work throughout the pandemic, and I’ve been able to work safely from home most of the time. My trips to the office have been mainly for dealing with bills and the mail and for shuttling books and file material back and forth from home. My time there has generally been limited to a couple of visits a week for no more than a few hours.

So when I’m at the office, I typically want to whip through a short set of tasks as quickly as I can and leave. At some point in late spring, I found myself writing a checklist on an index card and stuffing it in my back pocket before I left for work. While at the office, I’d check off the tasks; when there was nothing left to check, it was time to go home.

It struck me that when I needed to be efficient and complete, I went from digital to analog. Instead of pulling out my phone, which has the entire world in it, it was better to pull out that one card with just what I needed and nothing more. I had rediscovered the focus that comes with a stripped-down version of Merlin Mann’s Hipster PDA.1

The completely stripped-down HPDA didn’t last long. Sometimes I learned things at work that needed to be acted upon when I got home, and it wasn’t always easy to write them down on a single flimsy index card. So I retrieved my Levenger Pocket Briefcase from a back shelf in my closet and began using it as a writing surface and to hold a few extra cards.

Levenger pocket briefcase with task list card

As you can see in the photo, the handwritten task list gave way to a printed one. I started using the HPDA at home as well as at work, so the tasks it contained needed to be expanded and organized by project. But even with the expansion, it’s still just one card (sometimes the flip side, too, but I try to avoid that) where I can immediately see the things I need to do and mark them off as I do them. A new card is printed every morning, and the items that were checked off during the day are transferred to my task manager every evening.

That task manager is Things, which I’ve been using to track my work across Mac, iPad, and iPhone for a couple of years. It syncs well, it looks good, and it fits the way I think. The formatting and printing is done through a few scripts and configuration files repurposed from this setup that I put together about 10 years ago.

I’ll detail those scripts and configuration files in a later post. This post was for thinking about how 2020 taught me that what I was doing in 2005 and 2010 is still worthwhile and probably shouldn’t have been abandoned. And to explain why I have a tin can full of index cards on my desk.

  1. Remember when he was Merlin Mann?