Checklists As Integrated Habits


Yesterday evening when my wife got home, we got to talking about my latest tool improvements and she asked about something she wants in the version I build for her to use. She has an app on her iPod Touch that she likes a lot, because it moves things to the next day when she checks them off. There is only one button and one description. It couldn’t be simpler.

I tried to explain where I was coming from with my tool idea, but the more I talked the more I felt like I was wrong in my thinking. There was a third category of things I should be doing every day, and it wasn’t a habit or a routine. It was just a checklist item and nothing more. It didn’t need all the other trappings I had developed. It was just a tickler that would remind me to do something each day.

In other words, it was something that had once been a habit that was now part of what I did every day. I just did it, like breathing or sleeping or buying a Twinkie whenever I went for a drive in the car. It was what all the other things I was trying to change aspired to becoming – part of what I am and how I carry out each day. And as I write this, I realize these things might only exist on one day – the current day. They would act like those items in the app my wife uses. Once you do them, they move themselves to the next day. They don’t collect data or offer a place to hang insights. They just move on to the next day, where they will remind you again that you need to do them.

But maybe they aren’t this third category of things after all. Maybe they are habits and routines that have achieved a different kind of status. Maybe they are the pinnacle of being a habit or routine. Maybe they are something that moves itself into the future each time you do it, whether it is a day or a week or a year.

What I love about writing things down and reading them later is that the transcription process often makes the ideas better. This post is an example of just such an improvement. When I started writing, I thought I was going to describe a third category of agenda items, but that evolved as I was explaining what it was all about. Now, there will be a new state for agenda items that will check them off and move them to the next day or week or month. That simplifies my daily practice a lot, because 20% of what I do is little things that require no attention at all. I just do them and they move out of today into some future date.

Will all of them be integrated habits or routines? In the beginning, I think so. But as I go through the rest of my day and start to notice how little information I am putting on other habits or routines, I am sure another 20% will evolve into this new category. Once I get this implemented, the result will be an agenda that is made up of reminders that leave today when they are completed, and real work that requires more attention.

I don’t think I would have seen this improvement if my wife and I hadn’t talked last night on the porch. And it helped that I wrote up some notes about how to implement the idea I had then before I went to sleep. That meant I could read those notes and come up with this blog post this morning, where summarizing things would make me realize there was an even better idea waiting for me to discover it.

Sometimes you just need to talk about an idea with yourself to test it; writing it down isn’t necessary. But writing it down and hearing to what you are saying as you read it seems to be a good idea. Doing that every day, several times a day, might help you nudge your future in a different direction.

Isn’t that what we all want to do?

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