The Incredible Creative Power of the Index Card

An old-school tool that rivals its digital competitors

Ryan Holiday
Published in
8 min readJun 11, 2019


Photo: Martin Barraud/Getty Images

IIt's just a blank little piece of paper measuring a few inches across. And yet, it may be one of the most powerful mediums ever created.

I'm talking about the index card. 4-by-6. 3-by-5. Ruled. Blank. Colored. You're probably familiar with the variations.

As unassuming as index cards are, they've managed to produce:

They've also been instrumental to me. In the course of my career as a writer and researcher, I've written on at least 10,000 4-by-6 inch notecards (not including daily to-do lists, which I also use them for). They've now served as the backbones for 10 books, and close to a million words of published prose.

Photos by Ryan Holiday

How many hours have I spent on quiet afternoons with a stack of books I'd recently finished, going back through and copying onto index cards all the passages I liked? Stories. Quotes. Research. Things I was inspired by. Things I want to look up. Things I need to fact check.

A thousand hours? More?

Nearly every dollar I’ve made in my adult life was earned first on the back or front (or both) of an index card.

The only record I have are the thousands and thousands of cards, my sometimes aching hand, and possibly carpal tunnel syndrome.

Notecards are where I sketch out ideas. They're where I record quotes that I want to



Ryan Holiday
Writer for

Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’