Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

How to do a to-do list

How to do a to-do list
Get oriented.
Get organized
Look 'em in the eye
Sleep already
Exercise. Now.
Get blogging
Get coding
Get smart(er)
Get lucky

To-do lists don’t work. Unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t need one anyway. (So says the Harvard Business Review, and who is 60sR to argue with them?) But what if we were to tell you that cognitive science suggests a way to blast through tonight’s homework load…using a turbo-charged to-do.

What to do? Start by writing a to-do list of everything you need to do tonight. Then, allow us to introduce you to…

The How-To-Do List

to-do list "everything" on whiteboard ollyy/Shutterstock

Is this you? Then you'll want to check-out Multitasking for the Singletasking Mind.

A to-do list is just a wish list. It maps out the things you’d like to get done. It doesn’t explain HOW you’ll get them done. But if you figure out how you’re going to do something before you actually sit down to do it, you’ll find the doing to be much easier than you ever imagined.

For the How-To-Do, you’ll need a different set of tools than you needed for the to-do List. For the to-do list, you just needed a piece of paper and a writing implement. For the How-To-Do you’ll need the following:

1. A sibling, a friend, a parent. Somebody.
2. A voice.


The rules are simple: Just review your to-do list, explaining in detail how you plan to accomplish each task. Thus, To-Do becomes How-To-Do.

A homework to-do list, written on and 81/2 x 11 sheet of white lined paper. Radu Bercan/Shutterstock

How not to-do.

Don’t say, “I’m going to do my trig homework, and then I’m going to write that stupid essay for English class.” Explain exactly which math problems you’re going to do, which problems you expect to be difficult, and why.

Don’t just say, “I have to write this paper on The Scarlet Letter.” Explain that you’ll be writing, say, a 1000-word essay about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of the letter “A” as a symbol in The Scarlet Letter, and highlight the key points you plan to include.

Details are really important here. Give yourself 15 minutes for this exercise. Don’t worry: You won’t be wasting your time.

The How-To-Do gets your brain in gear

When you write your to-do list, you use regions of your brain that translate ideas into words. Once those regions finish translating, those words just sit there until you need them.

That’s why to-do lists aren’t very effective. They’re just words. They don’t tell you how you’re going to get everything done.

But a How-To-Do shifts your brain into reverse. When you explain just how you’re going to do your something from your to-do list, your brain has to go fetch those words and translate them back into ideas. Researchers at Emory University recently discovered that this step stimulates whatever other regions of the brain might be engaged with whatever activity you’re describing.

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Cover art for the 60second Recap video study guide on Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic

60second Recap's study guide to the "Scarlet Letter" might help, too.

The How-To-Do makes your work easier

The parts of your brain you use for trigonometry homework snap into action when you describe your detailed plans for doing your trigonometry homework. Those regions of your brain you need to write your Scarlet Letter essay light up as you describe your detailed plans for writing all about that flaming red “A.”

And when you finally sit down to put your Scarlet Letter brilliance on paper? You’ll find that it’s a lot easier to get going, and get finished.

Think of your brain as a muscle. Before the workout, get it warmed up. With the How-To-Do, your brain will be limber and ready—and your homework? You might just find yourself saying, “Pfffft! That was easy.”

Now that your brain is ready to run, here’s what you MUST DO to keep it humming at peak efficiency.

Does the How-To-Do work for you? Let us know!

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