I work really well when someone tells me what to do. “Read this paper,” “think about this idea,” “see if your graph can be embedded on a sphere, rather than the plane” — with such instruction, I can be very productive. However, it can be a weakness to rely on others to make your To-Do list.
My strategy is to make my own list of things to do. In the example to the left, I was revising a paper, so I went through the referee’s suggestions and made an exhaustive list of all the things I had to do (other than line edits).
That kind of To-Do list is obvious, but I also make them for my research. Those lists are less impressive since few of the boxes are checked off, but it gives me many ideas for things to do if I am temporarily stuck on my current project. An example would be:
[x] Finish writing up the case n=4
[ ] Work out the cases n=3, 5, 6
[ ] Come up with a general rule and prove it for all n (i.e. “prove thesis”)
[ ] Write up rule and proof (i.e. “write thesis”)
[ ] Read 1989 paper (i.e. “expand depth of knowledge”)
[ ] Read book chapter on Teichmuller space (i.e. “expand breadth of knowledge”)
It is nice to have a record of such ideas of things to do, since eventually I will graduate and I won’t have my advisor to help suggest places to go next.
Have you had success, or lack thereof, with unconventional styles of list-making?