Getting Sh*t Done | To Do Lists


If you're making to-do lists now, or if you've abandoned them somewhere in a painful past, they may be sabotaging you.

(First I tell you that you don't know what you're doing with your time, and now this! The nerve!)

Suspend your disbelief, though, and pretend that your to-do list looks like this:

Let's not even touch #2 or #3. Let's just look at #1.

When you look at #1 -- on a sticky note, in your bullet journal, in your app of choice -- what is your first thought?

  • "That's too big/abstract/nebulous."

  • "What even constitutes 'working on' a paper?"

  • "I'm just gonna skip over that because I need to get things done today (read: I need to cross things off this list)."

  • "It's not pressing, so I'll just move on to stuff that's due sooner. That's a better use of my time."

Ultimately, how do you even cross that sh*t off your to do list?


Instead of a weak "work on LASA paper," I made a comprehensive and exhaustive list of everything that it will take to finish the LASA paper.

Am I supplanting "work on LASA paper" with this full list? Or, in other words, am I saying that finishing ALL these things is supposed to replace "work on LASA paper"? Hell no! We've got some more steps here. Let's break it down.

Here's what you do: Write down every individual task, no matter how small, that has to be completed, in the order they have to be completed, for the project to be considered "done."

The LASA paper, for example, is a conference paper, so there are lots of moving parts to it:

  • The abstract has already been accepted to the conference, so yay, that's done. But there are other conference-related logistics involved -- our association membership fees are paid (they had to be in order for us to submit to the conference in the first place), but we need to register for the conference itself and then book our travel and accommodations. We also have to keep track of all the receipts for grant reimbursement and tax purposes.

  • There's still some research to be done -- transcribing and translating of interviews, coding of interviews, making sure we're up on the latest theory and empiricism.

  • Then there's the actual writing of the thing. Though the initial purpose of the paper is just to present it, in a working format, at a conference, we're hoping to submit it soon after to a specific journal, so we have to check that journal's rules about formatting, citation, length, etc.

  • After I take a first pass at writing the thing, my co-author gets a second pass at revising. Then, when I get it back, I'll do some editing and give it a polish.

  • And, last but not least, I have to prep the paper for a conference presentation -- I'll make some jazzy slides and practice a few times.

So all of those tasks are enumerated on this one single list, the central to do list for this entire project.

And I make these to do lists for every single project I'm working on. All of them.

You can see I've started to annotate this list already -- I added "J" to tasks that I'll complete, and "M" to the tasks for my co-author, and checked off the little boxes next to the tasks we've already completed. Using brackets, I started to group certain tasks together.

You'll see why, and to what end, in the next post!