How to Use a Learning To-Do List

Constantly dropping the ball is no way to keep a job. When people give you instructions, take notes that help you learn.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #419

My coaching client Kerry has a new employee, Harper. Harper is … well … not exactly the brightest candle on the cake. Every few weeks, Harper needs assignments and workplace rules explained. Even if they’ve been explained in the past. Harper looks like a fool, and Kerry looks like someone who is seriously contemplating action too drastic to mention in a public forum. 

But Harper is blissfully clueless. Don’t be Harper! Even if your boss isn’t complaining, that doesn’t mean you’re ahead of the game. Ensure your own rapid learning by using a learning to-do list (i.e. a to-do list that learns). You’ll automate your tasks and get better, all at once.

Intern MG is on loan to intern at Grandma Cuddles’s Daycare Center. Cuddles has a keen eye for making the best possible use of every new intern. She has MG processing incoming customer orders. She’s knows that mistakes sometimes happen. And MG knows if they happen because of him, he’ll get a chance to visit room 101, the discipline room. MG does not want to visit the discipline room.

So he has decided to use a to-do list that learns to get on top of his game as quickly as possible. Otherwise, he might get fired. Or worse.

Take Notes

First, MG has to make sure he really understands Grandma Cuddles’s instructions. Cuddles isn’t always the most coherent.

You’ve probably noticed that when anyone tells you how to finish a task that needs to be completed to satisfy your corporate overlords, it’s easy to zone out, because they’re incoherent. But don’t! Instead, take notes.

Taking notes shows you’re paying attention. If you don’t take notes, they will feel stressed because they won’t know whether you’re getting it or not. Taking notes sends an unequivocal message to the person across the table. It says, “Keep going, I’m listening, and I will get this right.”

Take notes by hand. Physically writing things down has been shown to improve memory. You have actual capability for memory, and using your computer doesn’t activate it. Use paper.

Use Paper, not Computers

Don’t use a laptop. Even perfectly complete notes on a laptop or tablet won’t get remembered as well as handwritten scrawls. Even aside from the memory considerations, when you take notes by laptop, you visibly zone out and nonverbally disconnect from the people around you. It really shows, and people can tell. For some reason, this doesn’t happen with handwriting. You can learn more about why handwriting is so much better in this previous Get-it-Done Guy episode.

Cuddles asked MG to handle an incoming order for a shipment of rare earth metals, including her very own secretly discovered element, Cuddleonium. The customer needs someone to do the mining, and, well, Grandma’s little tykes just love playing in the quarry with their shovels. Major excavations require a lot of detailed planning, especially when there’s radioactivity involved. For example, don’t have it shipped to the warehouse because it’s too hot there and the metal might explode. 

MG got everything on paper to Grandma’s approving nods. It was clear to her that Intern MG is an attentive young man! But notes are only the beginning. 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.