A writer's "Hipster"

It appears most of you started out developing your kit as an organization tool, with other aspects added on. Me, I started with a writer's notebook and gradually added in just a couple organization tools.

My need for 'portable' organization resources is very minor. I've always identified as a writer, even before I published anything, and so one of my requirement for a job is that it be just that: something that brings in money but that I basically don't have to think about outside office hours. My business organization stuff is completely separate from my Life organization stuff, and it kept at work.

What I always carried was notebooks, for the recording of inspirations and bits of overheard dialog and such, but mostly to turn stray chunks of time into writing time. Over the years, many types of notebooks were tried and found unsatisfactory. Elegant ones intimidated me, spiral bound notes got smushed and snagged on things, glued pads fell apart, composition notebooks didn't lie flat... I was picky, yes?

A few years back I started using index cards and I've never looked back. Well, you guys don't need to sing their praises, I'll just note that if you use them for an ongoing WIP like I do, the FIRST thing you write on the card MUST be the page number!

Here's my 'kit':

"Cover" -- I call it that, though it's rarely on the outside of the stack. It's main purpose is to ensure even thin stacks are stiff enough to write against easily. It's simply a piece of strawboard (from an old legal pad) cut to 3.25 X 5 inches.

To one side of this I glue-sticked a regular index card with my name/address/phone/email and an offer of an extravagent reward for returning the stack. Then I covered that side completely with clear contact paper. The other side was completely covered with contact paper, too, but this was a scrap of an attractive print. The printed contact paper laps over the edges to form a 1/2" border on the other side.

Halfway down each of the long sides I've cut a tiny v-notch, about an eighth of an inch deep. (This is the reason for the extra quarter inch of width.)

"Binding" -- One covered elastic 'pony tail' holder. About 79 cents for a dozen, I think it was. Method: stack all the cards, stretch the elastic onto them, settling it into the notches to make it less likely to get 'rolled' out of place.

"Contents" -- 90% are simply blank white index cards. (Does anyone know where I could buy ruled ones with the lines going the other way? As in portrait alignment?)

In addition, I carry a few 'stripers' and two 'pockets.'

Stripers: Lay an index card on a disposable sheet of paper. Using a magic marker (for brightness) or a highlighter, run it down the full length of both long sides creating a colored stripe on each edge. Turn the card over and repeat on the other side.

These stripers can be instantly picked out of a deck by 'splaying' it a bit. You could use colored index cards, obviously, but I find it a hassle to keep decks of many colors on hand.

I carry a single red striper every day. This is my To Do list. It goes, face out, on one end of my stack.

Underneath it goes a single green striper. Here I record financial transactions: cash withdrawals, debit card usage, cash borrowed or loaned, that kind of thing.

Underneath that goes a couple blue stripers. These are lists of stuff to buy, divided by types of stores: grocery, drug, hardware, etc.
This isn't for planned shopping trips, just if I happened to end up near an appropriate store.

I may or may not have some purple stripers -- these are for any urgent or unusual need.

"Pockets" -- Take two index cards and tape them together along both long sides and the 'bottom'. Try to use tape that is less tearable than scotch tape. I was able to "borrow" some cloth based 'bookbinders' tape for mine. Adhesive tape (like for bandages) might work well. For these I did use colored index cards, but I could have simply colored them.

My green pocket holds a folded blank check & a $20.

My blue pocket holds a half-dozen postage stamps and self-adhesive address labels.

I also have made red and yellow pockets, but they are used rarely.

The key, of course, is being systematic about the, er, system. EVERY night, right after I finish cleaning up the kitchen, I sit down at my desk and go through my stack.

Most green card info gets entered into my checkbook register then crossed off. Notes about cash loans stay on the card until repaid.

Any undone TODOs get written onto a new red striper, along with new tasks for the coming day.

If I've used something from the pockets I replenish them, and written-on white cards are removed and fresh ones added, and I'm all set for the next day.

After that, I open my WIP and start typing in everything I wrote on the white cards, and continue on for my regular writing session.

It's a very simple system, but it meets my needs.

I *could* take a picture of my stack, but a stack of index cards with an elastic around them? Does anyone really need to see that?

Update: In response to the requests, SusanBeth has uploaded a picture of her Hipster PDA. You can view it in the kit gallery. - DJ

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Vertical Lined Card

The only place I have seen them is at Stalpes.

Very useful, IMHO. Wish i could find them elsewhere as well.

Thanks for the tip, I'll go

Thanks for the tip, I'll go check out my local Staples more thoroughly.

Vertically lined cards

I believe Levenger (http://levenger.com/) has all sorts of 3x5 index cards (they call them the "pocket briefcase"), including vertically lined.

re: a writer's hipster

I'd love to see a picture, but you painted the image well. Very creative! I especially like the thought of the stamps always at hand. Maybe you might find some of the diyplanner hipster to do, and note cards useful if you haven't had a chance to look at them yet. (I'm not sure how it will expand with the next release and the creativity pack, but perhaps you have suggestions?) I was thinking of doing something like this with a cover for a hipster, and wish we had access to stores that carried beautiful wrapping or print making paper here.

Did you mean a fabric print? that could make things very durable and have a nice tactile quality. It made me think of a favourite cotton dress I had worn too thin to wear, and it could be a nice way to recycle the material. I also left me imagining how somebody that loved to quilt (not being very handy with a needle myself) could make a minature quilt (without the cushy part) as a hipster cover. Or what about a collage of beautiful stamps (where is that old stamp collection anyway?) It makes me want to have multiple covers and change them as the mood strikes. Pehaps I should put that energy my work (aka paintings) waiting for me. I'll settle for one cover for now, but it is so much fun!

all the best, jp

No, I just meant a contact

No, I just meant a contact paper with an opaque print rather than the clear contact I used on the other side. Simple and utilitarian.

Your ideas for fabric or quilted covers sound great -- just what I need, activities to fritter away valuable writing time on. :)

My current cover is my third method, and may evolve further.

My first method was a 'wrap around' cover simply cut from one of those plastic file folders. I thought the built in 'expansion' creases in the fold would work nicely for stacks of varying depths, but that then changed the 'width' of one side. When the side got too long, it tended to buckle and let the cards slide out quite easily, when the side was too short, the outside edge of the index cards took the abuse of the elastic and got ruffly and bent. Not that that is of tremendous importance, it just irked me. More critically, the plastic simply wasn't stiff enough to form a good palm-top 'writing desk.'

My second version was cut from various types of cardboard. Corrugated w/the channels running the long way worked okay for stiffness -- but the edges crumpled away quickly under the pressure of the elastic. Strawboard (I believe that's the right term, anyway, the stuff they use to back pads of paper)comes in varying thicknesses. The thicker ones worked nicely at first, but are terribly vulnerable to water. Rain or even a muggy summer day softened them into uselessness.

Version three, strawboard waterproofed with contact, so far is working well.

I think a piece of acrylic (such as they make cutting boards out of) would be even better, but I haven't tried the experiment yet. Another idea is getting one cut from that, um, hard wood-chip-based stuff they use for making clipboards.

Anothter cover possibility

Another option for a very stiff and durable cover would be plywood. At a hobby store or any store with model-making supplies, you should be able to find what's called "aircraft plywood." It's a very thin layered plywood with nice woodgrain on the outside layers. Comes from about 1/16" to 1/8" thick, maybe a little thicker. I though about using two pieces and some book rings to make my own planner, but got lazy.

Sorry guys

Sorry guys, I can't receive email with my account details. I need to register here. What's up?

Covers and Stripers

I use the "striper" trick, too, but not nearly so extensively as you! I use them mainly as separators - usually no more than two, and the color doesn't mean anything.

Though, it is a goal of mine to have a well-designed color-coding system...

I use colored cardstock "index card wallets" like you describe, but with a binder clip instead of a pony tail holder. They expand very cleanly to about 20 cards, but can handle more than that, with a bigger binder clip. I use them like GTD's "context lists".

How thick does your stack grow, typically?
Brian King

I just checked it out, and

I just checked it out, and you didn't mention the "cosmic goat". Nice touch! Not quite how i imagined it... for some reason I kept seeing the print from that dress. I think i will have to make it soon!

Thanks for the inspiration! :-)


I also think so

I also think so, very creative picture. It made me think of a favourite cotton dress I had worn too thin to wear. - You read my mind.

Writer's Hipster PDA

This was a wonderful forum post, and your detail and methods should certainly help to inspire others. I know it's got my head reeling with some possibilities for future Hipster PDA templates. My sincerest thanks for taking the time to let us know about your deck and how you use it!

all my best,
a million monkeys typing : http://www.douglasjohnston.net

Thanks! I'm looking forward


I'm looking forward to checking through the hipster templates -- I'm sure there will be some I'll want to adopt for my stack.

I would love to see a photo!

I would love to see a photo! Perhaps that would motivate me to get my system together. But thank you for the thorough description!

I make my own portrait cards

I make my own portrait cards by taking 5x8 index cards and cutting them into two 3x5s and a 2x5 with a paper cutter. I use the 2x5s for book marks, around the house lists and phone messages.

Note: the portrait cards at Staples come in a pad with glue at the top. Blank and grid cards are easier to find.

Padded index cards

Staples is where I get my 'portrait index cards. They are padded, that turn out to be a blessing fot me :-) The padded index cards are also in the landscape mode as well.

Stock no. for the portrait style is: 006351. I guess you can order them online as well.


That is *brilliant*. BTW, I

That is *brilliant*.

BTW, I tried Staples on line, and they don't mention anything other than normal ruled and blank cards. :(

Er. The brilliant idea was

Er. The brilliant idea was chopping down 5 X 8s to make your own vertical 3X5s -- somehow I got the reply in the wrong place.

Also, since a couple people have asked, I'll take a picture of my fabulous stack, once I dig out the camera.

I'm sure you all will be amazed and awestruck. Hey, it looks just like a pile of index cards! LOL.

Perhaps if you fanned it out.

That might make it a little more useful. I'd espically like to see your pockets and stripers. :)

- Mark

3x5 "Portrait Cards"

THE place for 3x5's of this type is Levenger.com. You can get them lined, with a grid or with a "widowpane" at the top. You can even get them custom printed with your name at the top (or any other text you want ) but that adds to the price. The cards are high quality and excellent for writing. The also sell a lot of "3x5 accessories" such as leather 3x5 pocket holders, 3x5 desk stand "organizers", 3x5 carrying cases, desktop storage, etc. etc. They deliver great service for an online vendor. I am going to use their "CIRCA" line of covers and binders for my new A5 DIY Paper Planner - It's a really neat system and they sell a special punch which is required to punch the DIY planner pages (you'll need to use heavy paper though). I'm not affiliated with this company, just a very satisfied customer

Levenger is tops, but you

Levenger is tops, but you can also get vertically-ruled cards at Staples, believe it or not. It's the only other place I've ever seen them.

Circa DIY

I had a Jr size circa laying around and after finding this site resurrected it and turned it into an A5 planner. It works perfectly!

What a great system, fantastic article

Thank you so much! What a great system. You did paint the picture beautifully. Just one question, what is a WIP?


I'm guessing it's Work In Progress.

(I'm a manufacturing scheduler. WIP is my bread and butter...)


writers, artists, schedulers.... we all use that particular shortname....

Portrait Oriented Index Cards

The full name for the portrait-oriented index cards is "Padded Index Cards." The distributor is Esselete, under the brand-name Oxford. Although it says "Item No. 006351" on it, the Staples web site does not know it by that name, nor by any other I can find. The receipt shows SKU (which matches the UPC on the front) of 078787063518, and the price is $1.99 per 100.
Update: Go to www.outpost.com and search for "Oxford Portrait Padded Index Cards" $1.29 per pack of 100. Probably means you can get 'em in the office supply section of Fry's.