3 Ways To Build Better To-Do Lists

This prolific (and also very nice) guy wrote extensively about the importance of checklists in medicine, and how we need more of them. If you work in healthcare and are now accustomed to doing “timeouts” you have this man to thank.  Some people say checklists make medicine sound like a cookbook, making doctors work like computer software following instructions.  

But there’s simply no doubt that computers are quite possibly the best multi-taskers out there (guess where the word “multitask” came from). A computer is basically a multitasking Zen master. Even before multi-core CPUs exists, a computer has millions of tasks per second and somehow manages to get it all done without a hitch.  To make the user feel like everything’s being done simultaneously, software programmers must figure out ways to decide how to group and divide this very long list of 0’s and 1’s properly.

So maybe we humans can learn a few things from how computers get things done after all.

1. break your todo tasks into atomic steps

This led to the concept of an atomic instruction.  In computer science, it is an instruction that is indivisible.  The instruction can consist of many different discrete actions, but once a computer starts one action, it has to finish all the rest of them.

When you write an item down on a todo list, take a moment to think “can this be broken down further?”  Many things can.  For example, “create a talk on CT of kidney disease for Friday” is not an atomic step because it can be broken down as thus:

  1. Identify the diseases I want to talk about.
  2. Download CT images of these diseases from the computer.
  3. Put the CT images into a slide presentation.
  4. Type in my teaching points to the slides.
  5. Proofread the presentation slides.

Each of these steps, depending on your available time and expertise, may represent an atomic step and should be done in a single sitting, but finishing #1 does not necessarily mean you must immediately move to #2.

to be continued

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Howard Chen
Vice Chair for Artificial Intelligence at Cleveland Clinic Diagnostics Institute
Howard is passionate about making diagnostic tests more accurate, expedient, and affordable through disciplined implementation of advanced technology. He previously served as Chief Informatics Officer for Imaging, where he led teams deploying and unifying radiology applications and AI in a multi-state, multi-hospital environment. Blog opinions are his own and in no way reflect those of the employer.

2 responses to “3 Ways To Build Better To-Do Lists

  1. Pingback: 3 Ways To Build Better To-Do Using Programming Concepts (2 of 3) | Figure Stuff Out

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