Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Joy of Checklists

After the euphoria of my book launch, a return to reality meant that I began feeling buried in book-related work again.  So I've reverted to a consequence-based technique I took advantage of when I was beginning the research for the book so many years ago:  a variation of the ubiquitous checklist.

Learning is fun and rewarding, so it wasn't hard for me to read journal articles and books.  Taking notes on the important points wasn't hard either.  But categorizing and recording all the notes in appropriate computer documents was time-consuming and tedious.  (I ended up with several thousand pages.)  I tried a number of tricks to help myself keep motivated, such as different schedules of reinforcement:  Work till 3 PM, then take a break.  Or finish entering the notes from this book, then break.  These common techniques can be quite effective.  But not always.  In this case, I still found myself dreading the drudgery.  Could I use my own science to do better?

In one of the classic forms of checklists (there are many), you might make a list of errands to run, or items to buy at the store.  Upon accomplishing each goal, you check it off.  That's frequently rewarding in itself, and can bring a small but noticeable feeling of satisfaction.  At the end of the trip, you get to toss the whole list.  Mission accomplished.

To help with the note-recording drudgery, I simply created a new document in which I summarized what I'd accomplished that day, and I did this as I finished each task (immediate reinforcement). It's not really a checklist, but it's a kissing cousin, I'd say.  For five extra minutes of work each day, the difference in motivation and emotion was significant.  Instead of just working to avoid the negative of lots of notes piling up, I was also working for a positive reinforcer:  the chance to record the completion of a task, and see all those accomplishments add up in black and white.  Clearly I was getting somewhere after all. These sorts of progress markers can help ease any large project along, at work or at home. 

Plenty of research backs up this merely anecdotal evidence, and I provided some examples in the book.  My only question is, why did it take me so long?! 

What works for you?

1 comment:

  1. I don't make checklists in the traditional sense, but I did find my own "kissing cousin" which seems to work well when I am feeling overwhelmed with aversive school related tasks. One night I was studying with my friend Rutvi, and I became slightly (okay... maybe not slightly) overwhelmed. She recognized my distress. Even though it was getting late, she asked me to take a walk around the psychology building. It was such a welcomed break!

    Once we got back to the department, she had me set a deadline for when I needed to go home, it was five hours away. She had me assign chunks of time for each of the tasks I needed to complete. Once I did this, the relief was almost immediate. I realized that if I worked consistently, that I could actually accomplish all that I needed in the five hours I had left. Crossing off tasks and time slots for the next five hours was so rewarding. I am so grateful to have been introduced to that technique! Time blocking and task lists from here on out!

    So far that has been the only technique that has worked for me!