Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Productivity and a low-tech To-Do List

The guys over at LifeHack posted a really good article about Granularity for Students which got me thinking about past ways that I have kept a To-Do list. When I was in High school, my task list was kept in a little spiral bound notebook much like this one except fatter: The system was simple. When I got a new task, say, to take LifeHack's example, writing a research paper, I would draw a line under my previous tasks (this was the signal that a new task was being written) and I would write down every little step that I had to complete that task. For our example, I would write:

  • pre-write on topic
  • narrow down topic using topic tree
  • write a preliminary thesis statement from topic (although, I'd prob actually write "prelim thesis")
  • do library catalog search
  • go to library and search those book's index for my topic
  • read what I found
  • Make a prelim outline with pg #s
  • gather quotes for each part of outline
  • write a rough draft of each part of the outline.
  • Reread each section for clarity.
  • Combine and work on transitions.
  • Sleep (I'll explain this one below)
  • read paper for clarity.
  • proofread for agreement
  • proofread for voice
  • proofread for punctuation errors.
  • Have friend read paper.
  • make final corrections
There are some steps that are vague because of lack of information. I can't very well write down that I need to read specific books sections when I don't yet have my topic. When I do get this information, I'd cross off the vague entry with a sort of zigzag line like /\/\/\/\/\ (straight meant completed, zigzag meant moved), go to the bottom of the whole list, draw a line and list out the detailed info.
Note about "Sleep":
I believe that it is a whole lot easier to proofread a paper, if you haven't seen the paper for 24 hours. I call this my sleep on it period.
This system led itself to easy daily use. In the morning (or the night before), I'd decide what I'd get done that day and I'd highlight those things. I'd work through the highlighted items through out the day and I'd cross them off as I completed them. At the end of the day, I'd look at highlighted items that I didn't complete and I'd make one of two decisions:
  1. Do them tomorrow - I'd just leave them highlighted.
  2. Postpone them for a later time (not tomorrow)- I'd zigzag cross them out and move them, unhighlighted, to the end of the list.
  3. Decide not to do them ever - just cross them off.
I'd also review the whole list every couple of days for stragglers that are left on old pages that had almost all tasks completed. I'd either decide not to do them, or move them to the end of the list. The pages that had only completed items got paper clipped together so they would be easy to bypass. The review process was much like the GTD review process.

All in all it was a great system and the only reason that I stopped using it is because I bought my first Mac and decided to try iCal and it's To-do list. But now that I am not taking my computer around so much, I may switch back to that old system. Good ol' Pen and Paper (and highlighter). Plus, there is probably a way to do something like this electronically too. :-D

Horizontal Rule


Chris said...

Very nice system. I'm in college and I think I'm going to adopt this system. Thanks!

Horizontal Rule
Horizontal Rule