How to Replace Index Cards With Excel or Google Sheets
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Digital index cards can be just as useful, if not more, than paper index cards. That’s what I set out to prove when I share the value of making index cards with Microsoft Word. But the problem with traditional index cards? They aren’t searchable.

One of our commentators on the above article, William Caldwell served us a simple but genius idea: using Excel sheets in place of index cards for better searchability and organization.

Instead of Excel, I prefer Google Sheets because I can access it from anywhere (and Google Sheets is free). This tip also does not need any prior knowledge of spreadsheets. It’s that simple! Let’s see how William turns a single spreadsheet column into a database.

In his own words, this is what you need to do in either Excel or Google Sheets:

  1. Open a new file or a workbook.
  2. Change the width of column A to approximately the width of the screen.
  3. Enter every information you want to save on its own line.
  4. Give it a 2-4 letter code. (e.g. “Add” for an address or phone number you need to write down, or “Travel” and the name of the B&B you stayed at in Michigan.)
  5. Save the file.

Thanks to the letter codes, you can do a data sort to put all items together. You can use the search function to find information faster than with a stack of index cards. Also, you can create a new spreadsheet for each year.

How to Replace Index Cards With Excel or Google Sheets Simple Database

You can keep track of any information with a code or a “tag” word. Think of these uses and make up your own as you go along:

  • A Christmas gift list
  • A database of recipes organized by the main ingredient
  • A commonplace document for favorite book snippets arranged by theme
  • Anniversaries and birthdays in your extended family
  • Track potential clients with a mailing list

My favorite spreadsheet is a commonplace book where I relate ideas mentioned in books to the personal life areas I can apply them to. I can quickly scan down the rows or use a sort to narrow down to the ideas I collected for a specific life area (e.g. motivation).

Is the idea of a simple database too obvious for you? Or have you applied it for storing a particular type of information?

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  1. Laura Lambert
    November 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    What about the 2 columns? The first (very narrow) where you place your short code for the note then (very wide) where your note goes. Then you can sort or filter by your code to to all related even quicker? I'd make the first column only 1 or 2 characters wide and set to display vertically for the code especially for phone use, and the next can be nearly the with of your screen. (Probably want to leave a little room for the scrollbar.)

    • Saikat Basu
      November 11, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      That works too, Laura. The point is that a spreadsheet overawes many of us. But, it can be used in so many simple ways we don't often consider with our fondness for the next shiny app :)