Checkboxes and Making Lists

Just discovered this Wired article (written back in May) on the power of filling in checkboxes from Mythbusters Adam Savage.

Savage describes an interesting alternative to the bullet journal styling using checkboxes and a physics metaphor of momentum. He also breaks down his process of going from brain dump to specifics, and describes how he sunsets unfinished projects (something in my experience, we rarely hear folks talking about).


It was a good article. And a good argument for using a a good cross-platform outliner or outliner app/service like Dynalist, Workflowy, or Checkvist (which I’m always silently threatening to switch to from the annoying overly expensive OmniOutliner or the limited Cloud Outliner Pro).

It’s only “annoying” or “limited” if it’s not the right app for you. A user who makes heavy use of OmniOutliner would certainly get their money’s worth out of it. Meanwhile, Cloud Outliner Pro might have just enough features so that it’s not overwhelming.

This is the Goldilocks syndrome. Is it right for you? YMMV.

Like paper? :slight_smile:

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Very nice article. Thank you for posting.

Similar to checkboxes – I’ve been using David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner worksheet as a page template in GoodNotes to plan daily tasks and track progress.


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OO is annoying for many reasons, often articulated in the Omni forums, as I’m sure you well know. And the limitations of Cloud Outliner Pro are rather obvious as well.

What’s the other platform besides paper? :wink:

I was intrigued by the last one. (Unprecedented keyboard support, eh? Hmm.) Here’s a link to save others a search:

I liked the down-to-Earthiness of the article. There’s nothing really new in there—of course it’s handy to make lists—but the nuances are refreshing!

The “physics” of knowledge work has always fascinated me, for instance. Adam mentions momentum, but there’s others. In my own reflections on the article (originally posted here) I thought of three:

  • Inertia. The longer a project sits waiting for you—weighing on your mind—the harder it is to get it moving.
  • Friction. Inertia is driven by initial friction. In parallel, of course, kinetic friction can make it hard to stop working on something. This is why multitasking doesn’t make sense with most projects.
  • Surface area: It can be hard to attack a single, huge project idea, just like how a large ice cube melts slower than many little ones. List making is a key way of breaking up the surface of a project into smaller pieces, making it easier to handle. Increasing surface area also facilitates collaboration: it’s easier to hand off smaller pieces to others, and to put them back together again.

I’d love to discuss others if they occur to anyone!


Hi everyone,

I ended up receiving Adam’s book as a Christmas present and have enjoyed reading it. It’s inspired me to manage my tasks differently in subtle ways, one of which is the addition of a middle state between “to do” and “done” (the half-filled checkbox). Using Rocket, I’ve created shortcuts to rattle off a series of items and indicate my progress. Pretty sure you can right click and save as to grab 'em:

I type :do: for do
I type :doing: for doing
I type :done: for done

Here’s an example list:

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For anything ongoing like that I’d jump to Trello, and use todo/doing/done columns:

possibly alongside color-coding.

If there were lots of parts/subtasks, I might consider using swimlanes, which you can find in similar kanban products like Kanban Tool.

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