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The Power of Project Lists

Hey friends, Last week I wrote about The Inbox for your Brain. I talked about how I use the app Thing
The Power of Project Lists
By Ali Abdaal • Issue #62 • View online
Hey friends,
Last week I wrote about The Inbox for your Brain. I talked about how I use the app Things to note down any idea / to-do on my mind. Doing this has made my mind free to think rather than to store.
The next stage of my productivity system involves organising everything I need to / want to do into a list of projects. In Getting Things Done, David Allen defines ‘project’ as simply anything that takes more than one step.
These days most of my projects are videos I want to make, but I’ve also got more pedestrian projects on the list like ‘start regular singing lessons’ and ‘put up Harry Potter posters’ and ‘setup new monitor on desk’. Each project then has a series of tasks. For example, video projects tend to have research / write / film / edit / public tasks. The singing project has ‘research singing teachers in Cambridge’, ‘contact teachers to find someone nearby who can do evenings’, ‘attend first singing lesson’ - you get the idea.
There’s nothing novel here, it’s just a to-do list after all. But I think that working with projects in this way, using a system like GTD, has two main benefits.
1 - Trust in the System
When most of us use to-do lists without researching a system, we tend to only put down the things that we feel warrant being written down (eg: serious stuff, work stuff etc). The value of a system like GTD is that it makes us define absolutely everything we have to do as a project, no matter how trivial it seems, as long as it’ll take more than one step.
Sure, we’ll spend a bit more time doing data entry, but that’s more than compensated for by the mental space we save in knowing we can fully trust our system to capture and organise everything. We then don’t need to rely on our brains to store residual tasks, and can instead use them to generate ideas, insights etc - the true job of thinking.
If our projects or to-do lists even captured 95% of our total tasks, we’d have to spend valuable brain space storing the remainder 5%, and we’d be constantly wondering if something fell through the cracks. As with a lot of other things (eg: alcohol, vegetarianism), having a 100% system is far less mentally taxing than having a 95% ‘in moderation’ system.
2 - Background Processing
I’ve found that the other major benefit of having all my Projects visible on a list is that my brain runs background processing on lots of them. Earlier today, I flicked through my projects list containing ~20 new video ideas, and then while watching the India vs Pakistan cricket match in the doctors’ mess, I found myself coming up with ideas for structure and content for some of these videos.
We all have random thoughts throughout our days. Having an always up-to-date projects list primes our brains to think about useful things a little bit more. I’m hoping that over time, the additional processing time will lead to new ideas and insights that’ll ultimately help me do more of what I love.
Have a great week!

This week’s podcast episode
Stuff I enjoyed this week
1 - Article - I enjoyed this piece from Business Insider about how procrastination isn’t a time management problem, it’s an emotional problem. I’ve spent a long time thinking and writing about procrastination and productivity, but never really paid much notice to the emotional side. It’s something I’m planning to look more into.
2 - Podcast - This episode of the Farnham Street podcast featured Thomas Tull, the founder and ex-CEO of Legendary Pictures, the production company behind The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and others. The move-producer-turned-investor perspective was very interesting, as were his thoughts about where the world of entertainment is heading.
3 - Podcast - This episode of GaryVee’s podcast was rather good. It’s a compilation of 5 concepts from his book The Thank-You Economy, and contains some gems like the the Rickey Henderson effect, and how “karma is ROI positive”.
Kindle Highlight of the Week
If I get criticized for this, will I suffer any measurable impact? Will I lose my job, get hit upside the head with a softball bat, or lose important friendships?” If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing. Being remarkable is exciting, fun, profitable, and great for your career. Feeling bad wears off.
From Tribes by Seth Godin.
This week’s video
Harry Potter - Medical Science Explained | Doctor Reacts
Harry Potter - Medical Science Explained | Doctor Reacts
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Ali Abdaal

I’m Ali, a junior doctor, YouTuber and podcaster from Cambridge, UK. Every Sunday I write an email newsletter with some thoughts, life lessons and interesting articles I discovered on the internet that week.

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Ali Abdaal, Cambridge, UK.