Adam Savage on Lists, More Lists, and the Power of Checkboxes | WIRED




WHEN I WAS younger, if you’d told me to make a to-do list before I embarked on a project, I’d have rejected the idea out of hand. List making was the death of creativity! I think a lot of creative people look at lists like that. But here is the thing: They are the natural part of any project of scale, and a logical list combined with a system of checkboxes will bring order to even the most unruly and complex project.

The value of a list is that it frees you up to think more creatively, by defining a project’s scope and scale for you on the page, so your brain doesn’t have to hold on to so much information. The value of a list is that it frees you up to think creatively

The story genius Andrew Stanton, who cowrote the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. franchises and directed both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory for Pixar, talked to me about this first pass at listing out the component parts of a project. He was consulting with a group recently, and they were working on the early stages of a project when he said to them, “Can we just all agree right now, this is going to suck? Whatever we’re talking about now, no matter how much we’re getting excited, let’s just all understand it’s going to be a mess.” They were shocked, wondering if he was insulting the project itself. He explained that no, he was simply letting them know that in a project with any amount of complexity, the early stages won’t look at all like the later stages, and he wanted to take the pressure off any members of the group who may have thought that quality was the goal in the early stages. Sacrificial List

Mark Frauenfelder, founding editor in chief of Make magazine, insists that “you’ve got to do at least six iterations, minimum, of any project before it starts getting good enough to share it with other people.” That very first iteration, what I call the brain dump, Mark calls “the quick and dirty stuff.”

Sacrificial List

Step 2 is to take that massive list and start to carve it into manageable

Step 4: Diving In I almost never begin at the beginning. Usually I examine the subcategorized list and I look for the toughest nut to crack. The real ass-kicker of a problem. The one for which I have the most difficulty imagining a solution at first

Step 6: Put It Away for a Bitreview

I frequently abandon projects, for various reasons. Life, travel, TV shows, more important projects—there are lots of reasons that I’ll shelve some projects. Not permanently, but they’ll lie dormant for periods of anywhere from days to sometimes years. In those cases, I find it handy to make a list of exactly where I stand with that particular build: what I’ve gotten done; what I was planning to do next; what is needed for the next steps. Checkboxes here are vitally important, particularly for when I’m ready to come back to a project. I want to feel like I’ve made meaningful headway before taking a second crack at something, and seeing all those colored-in checkboxes really