A checklist written on a vertically orient 3"x5" index card

Cognitive Net: Checklists, Index Cards, Ivy Lee, and the Leverage of Simple Interventions

A checklist of 6 – 10 items on an index card, created daily, can be powerful and accessible coping for interest-based operating systems.


We love lists and checklists.

Checklists are simple interventions with lots of leverage.

All the examples, I noticed, had a few attributes in common: They involved simple interventions—a vaccine, the removal of a pump handle. The effects were carefully measured. And the interventions proved to have widely transmissible benefits—what business types would term a large ROI (return on investment) or what Archimedes would have called, merely, leverage.

Plain soap was leverage.

The secret, he pointed out to me, was that the soap was more than soap. It was a behavior-change delivery vehicle.

The Checklist Manifesto | Atul Gawande


We complement our digital coping systems with lists written on physical index cards, in particular Analog from Ugmonk. Ugmonk’s Analog is a simple intervention with lots of leverage. It’s an accessible and achievable system, beautifully distilled.

Index card oriented vertically with a todo list handwritten on it.

Analog doesn’t replace your digital tools, it works alongside them by helping you focus on your most important work.

Analog is a simple, repeatable process. Starting fresh with a new Today card helps you adjust to your changing priorities.

At the beginning of each day, write up to 10 tasks on a Today card.

Use Task Signals to mark each task as completed, delegated, or in progress.

Carry over unfinished tasks on a new Today card, or move some of them to a Next or Someday card.

Analog – Ugmonk

Fitting with our love of constructionism, each Today card is an artifact, a wonderfully textured and considered artifact that captures a day and a moment in your life.

You don’t need Analog cards, of course. Any index card will do. We also like Exacompta cards with their Clairefontaine paper.

Ivy Lee

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Ivy Lee explained his simple daily routine for achieving peak productivity:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

On Managing Priorities Well

Ivy Lee’s productivity method utilizes many of the concepts I have written about previously.

Here’s what makes it so effective:

It’s simple enough to actually work.

It forces you to make tough decisions.

It removes the friction of starting.

It requires you to single-task.

The Ivy Lee Method: The Daily Routine for Peak Productivity

Interest-Based vs. Importance-Based

Autistic and Kinetic (ADHD) people have interest-based rather than importance-based, priority-based nervous systems.

If you ask a person with ADHD, has the importance of the task ever once in your life been useful to you, a person with ADHD with honesty can say no. Importance rewards and consequences are nothing but a nag to me.

“I have always been able to do anything I wanted to do so long as I could get engaged through interest, challenge, novelty, urgency, and passion.”

“I have never once in my life been able to make use of the three things that organize and motivate everybody else: importance, rewards, and consequences.”

There are implications for this as well. Not being able to make use of importance makes decision-making almost impossible. If importance and priority do not organize and motivate us, and if what we get out of a particular choice does not matter to us at all, all choices look the same, all starting points look the same. They’re all sort of shades of grey. That makes planning and organization very difficult. You don’t know what your goals are. Most planning systems are built for people who are neurotypical because they are based on two things that the ADHD nervous system doesn’t: importance and time.

Consequently, Franklin Covey is nothing more than a setup for failure for people with ADHD.

Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks: RSD, Hyperarousal, More (w/ Dr. William Dodson) – YouTube

Analog + Ivy Lee is simple enough to help interest-based neurotypes cope in priority-based cultures. Checking an index card for what to do next offers a distraction-less clarity compared to checking our online devices with their infinite, enticing rabbit holes.

Point of Performance

When psychologist Russell Barkley (1997) refers to that space between stimulus and response, he calls it “the point of performance.” It is that particular time and place where we are called upon to recognize our options and commit ourselves to a course of action. It is a window of opportunity that is available only for a limited time. According to Barkley, response inhibition is the key to keeping that window of opportunity open long enough to consider our options and choose our path. Barkley cites response inhibition as the most fundamental of the brain’s executive functions and the gateway to accessing the other executive functions such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, planning, and problem solving (Barkley, 1997).

Executive Function and Child Development

On Saturday, Jon sits down at the table and cuts a piece of paper into strips. He then writes his chores on the strips—one chore per strip. Next, with Mia’s help, he puts them in the order that they are to be done. The final chore is his favorite—taking his dog to the park for a long walk. Finally, Jon puts the strips together to create a paper chain. Once the chain is completed, he attaches it to his wrist so that it will always be at the point of performance as he moves about the house completing his chores.

An hour later, chores done, Mia, Jon, and the dog are on their way to the park. “That was fun,” Jon says to his mother. “And I got all my chores done by myself! Let’s do that again next week.”

Executive Function and Child Development

Tie It To Ya

I, Ryan, hang my index cards around my neck at point of performance. I cut the covers off two Rite in the Rain Index Card Wallets, stuck them back to back with hook-and-loop, and put two label markers in the pen loops. The whole thing hangs around my neck from a lanyard with a magnetic quick connect.

Analog index card in an index card holder with two black markers on each side in pen loops. A magnetic quick connect is attached to the bottom of the card holder.

My cognitive net is always at hand and ready to capture thoughts before they are forgotten.

Further reading,





2 responses to “Cognitive Net: Checklists, Index Cards, Ivy Lee, and the Leverage of Simple Interventions”

  1. […] Cognitive Net: Checklists, Index Cards, Ivy Lee, and the Leverage of Simple Interventions Changelog: Updated and New on Stimpunks.org for Calendar Week 3, January 2023 […]

  2. […] Cognitive Net: Checklists, Index Cards, Ivy Lee, and the Leverage of Simple Interventions […]

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