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Personal Productivity Playing Cards!

As I'm learning how to present personal productivity concepts [1] effectively to individuals and groups, I've come across some people and areas of study that have given an idea I want to share: Personal Productivity Playing Cards. In the interests of open sharing, and in the hopes that you'll have some ideas, I'd like to provide my initial thoughts on how they might work and what games could be played. I'm a total novice at this, so your feedback is especially welcome - and I'm quite interested in seeing something like them come into fruition.

Purpose & inspiration

I really like the idea of using cards for education, esp. in group settings. I think Roger von Oech's Creative Whack Pack (cards) is awesome, and I really enjoy pulling out my deck of Oblique Strategy cards when I need some inspiration. Two others neat decks include 2006 Drivers of change cards ("What will our world be like in 2050? This set of cards identifies some of the leading drivers of change that affect our future.") and IDEO's Method cards for design.

But by far the neatest deck (and the one that made me think of cards for personal productivity) is the Extreme Programming Playing Cards that Joshua Kerievsky et. al. put together [2]. First, the cards are physically satisfying to play with - solid, smooth, and attractive. More importantly, they've come up with some clever games to play with them [3].

So the idea is to create a set of cards - and some corresponding games - that participants can use to learn modern personal productivity concepts, in order to handle modern life's information overload.

The cards

My first take on the card format is to have separate card types, much like the XP Problem, Solution, and Value cards. NB: For clarity (because my blog audience is GTD-ware) I will use GTD® terminology to describe the cards, but final versions would be system-agnostic. Following are the card types, each followed by a count (i.e., # cards in the deck) and description:
  • Phase (5: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do; each would summarize basic concepts),
  • Process step (6: What is it?, Is it actionable?, What's the next action?, Can I do it in two minutes?, Can I delegate it? Can I defer it?; each would have examples?),
  • Process diagram (1: something like Allen's WorkFlow Diagram)
  • Tool (9: IN, Trash, Someday/Maybe, Reference, Waiting For, Next actions, Calendar, Project plans, Projects; each would summarize concepts and list typical examples),
  • Stuff (~15 cards representing typical stuff, with details),
  • Challenge (~5 cards describing typical personal organization challenges, e.g., Papers piled everywhere, Late to meetings, Important emails being lost, Can't find project materials)
Note that, instead of having separate cards for each sample project, action, and delegated task, I've envisioned putting a few on their corresponding Tool cards.

I'm painfully aware these are very preliminary, but I hope you get the idea.

Some example games

What kinds of learning games could we play with these cards? I can think of a number of them right off, and I'm certain I'm missing some good ones. A few examples:
  • Stuff busters: Apply workflow processing and organizing concepts to Stuff cards, using Process Steps to decide and placing each item on the appropriate Tool pile. This is similar to the quiz in part two of Organize Your Office! Simple Routines for Managing Your Workspace by Ronni Eisenberg, where she asks what would you do with:
    1. a business magazine you need to read;
    2. research material a subordinate has just given you that you need for a report;
    3. a written request form someone for some information;
    4. a booklet explaining new company benefits;
    5. a memo requesting your presence at an upcoming staff meeting

  • What's the solution?: Pick a random Challenge card, explain the problem, then demonstrate how other card(s) address it.
  • Just do it: Decide your current work "state" (e.g., start of day, lots to do, sick baby, didn't sleep) and apply the four criteria model to decide which action from the Next actions (Tool) card might be done now, and why not others.
  • Pocket/Purse/Briefcase surprise: Pull something out of one of these and apply the Processing step cards to determine what to do with it.
  • Phase skip: Collect the five Phase cards, pull one out, and describe the problems that skipping it could cause.
  • WorkFlow puzzle: Re-create the process diagram starting with a jumbled up pile of Process step and Tool cards.
Importantly, I understand that debriefing is crucial for learning, and to foster discussion.


I believe a set of productivity cards could provide a nice tool for simulation games to help people get better organized, and I've sketched out a few rough ideas. What you think? I'd love to hear your ideas for both the card types as well as games you think would be enjoyable and educational.


I didn't realize I have a soft spot for combining games (and technology [4]) with learning, until I recently connected with Marc Shiman (his blog is Inspiring Discovery), who knows a lot about this area. I've heard it called simulation gaming, and NASAGA seems to be a great starting point. Also related is the broader field of professional training, and one of its top organizations is American Society for Training & Development.

In the category of simulation gaming, you might enjoy Playing With the Rules: An Interview With Thiagi and An Interview with Marc Shiman. In particular I like Thiagi's take-away tips:
  • Take an improv class.
  • Plan with your left brain and implement with your right.
  • Keep an open mind and a playful mood.
  • Always conduct a debriefing. The game is just an excuse for having a discussion among the participants.
  • Don't count the number of games, but make a few games count.
  • Play with the rules, rather than within the rules.
  • Start with a minimal set of rules and introduce more as needed. Intervene only when necessary; let players' behaviors determine the flow of the activity.
Finally, Steve Sugar (another top-notch game thinker) writes Ten of the Very Best Reasons for Using Classroom Games (and for Justifying Their Use in Your Organization):
  • Reason #1: Games are Fun with a Purpose
  • Reason #2: Games Provide Feedback to the Learner
  • Reason #3: Games Provide Feedback to the Trainer
  • Reason #4: Games are Experiential
  • Reason #5: Games Motivate Learners
  • Reason #6: Games Improve Team Work
  • Reason #7: Games Provide a Less Threatening Learning Environment
  • Reason #8: Games Bring Real-World Relevance
  • Reason #9: Games Accelerate Learning
  • Reason #10: Games Give You Choices for Your Classroom


Reader Comments (8)


One idea that could give you almost a full deck of cards is to create a 'trigger list' of playing cards (to be used in the 'collect' phase.)

Questions that spawn idea creation / things to do / products to buy / people to contact / projects to complete or keep track of / etc.

Examples of cards could be:
1. Do you have any comittments to your spouse, children, work associates, that you have your attention on that you could track more completely?
2. Do you have any community activities that you are thinking about participating in?
3. Is anyone you know having a birthday anytime soon (and do you want to get them a gift or take them to dinner?)?
4. Are there any books that you want to read or movies that you want to see?
5. Are there any house projects that you want to get started on this weekend?

I would think it would be pretty easy to come up with 50 or so of these...

What do you think? I think this could produce quite a bit of valuable brainstorming that would be positive toward a more complete mind sweep!

May 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Paul Womack

Nathan - that's an excellent idea! Another take on it is to create a smaller number of Trigger cards, each with a dozen or so items, maybe one for home and one for work...

Here's the "classic" list from Allen's book, via 43Folders: [ Incompletion Triggers | http://wiki.43folders.com/index.php/Trigger_List ]. Thanks!

May 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Matt -

Believe it or not, I've already begun on something like this!

I'm creating 3x5 cards (in a 4-up pattern) in NeoOffice (a Mac OS X specific version of OpenOffice).

However, the directions of my cards are slightly different: if you are "stuck", or procrastinating, or losing time to something not useful, the idea is to pull out a card and do what it says.

The inspirations for the contents of the cards come from Tom Peters (and his 50Lists books), from Marla Cilley ("The FlyLady"), and from David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Such cards could be:

* Invite someone to lunch you haven't seen in the last six months. (re: Tom Peters)
* Take the trash out of the room you are in (re: Marla Cilley)
* Are you dressed to shoes? (re: Marla Cilley)
* Clean something in your current Zone (re: Marla Cilley)
* Is what you are doing beneficial to your clients? (re: Tom Peters)
* What is your current Context? What is the Next Action? (re: David Allen)
* Is this a WOW! Project? (re: Tom Peters)

...and so on, along with some notable quotes for life, such as:

"Difficulties mastered are opportunities won." -- Sir Winston Churchill

...and so forth.

June 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Douthitt

Hey David, what a great idea! I know the cards would be a major hit. Give me a holler if you want to collaborate - I've got some others I could add.

June 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt!
I am a teacher and think your idea is great. I am working on my certification for special education right now so when you asked for ideas, mine went toward life skills.
1)Steps to obtaining, setting up, and maintaining housing
2)steps for obtaining a drivers lisence, purcasing a car, and regular upkeep of car.
3)Knowing when to go to the doctor or hospital: small cut? large gash? fever?
4)Washing clothes and dishes.
5) Proper handling and storage of food.

I started by saying these would be needed by special education students transitioning into adulthood, but other high school students who do not have proper guidance would also need these lessons.

July 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdeborahlynn

Hey, deborahlynn - I love your idea, which sounds like creating cards for more general life skills. Neat! Thank you for reading, and for your comment.

July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell


I saw you also asked a question on linkedin about order fulfillment for this idea.

I wanted to introduce http://www.shipwire.com which is expert in storage and shipping of this type of product

[ Outsourced storage (warehouse) and shipping (order fulfillment) for growing businesses | http://www.shipwire.com/ ]

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterNate

Thanks for the pointer, Nate.

December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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