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Work from a calendar, not a To-Do list.

Want to get shit done? Throw out your notebook and open your iCal.

Jason Chatfield
8 min readMar 31, 2019


On a given week, I do a daily comic strip, regular New Yorker and MAD Magazine cartoons, I do stand-up comedy shows all over the city, perform and voice act in TV commercials and volunteer as the President of the National Cartoonists Society. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. I do get a lot of questions as to how I fit it all in.

My old notepad of daily and weekly To-Do lists…

The short answer is: Realistic attention management.

The longer answer is: I have a system that works around my brain, and subverts any tendencies to procrastinate — especially during periods of extreme willpower depletion.

One of the biggest productivity revelations I had in the last 15 years while working freelance, and trying to juggle a million different projects was to work directly from a calendar, not a To-Do list.

I worked from a To-Do list for a long time, using a page each day to cross items off. It felt good to run a line through things as I got them done, but sadly, I never really got as many done in a day as I should — or could have.

Some tasks take longer than others, but all tasks look the same in a list. Seeing them in a calendar gives you a more realistic idea of how long tasks will take to get done.

If you need to write down all of the things you need to do in a list to get them out of your head (especially before sleep on a Sunday night) then, by all means, do so. But, once they’re down on that list, start plugging them into your calendar to give you an actual idea of how much time you have to do them.

Knowing you have assigned these tasks a time and date to be completed, you will be freed from the anxiety those unfinished tasks create in your mind. This nagging anxiety is known as The Zeigarnik Effect.

The Zeigarnik effect is a psychological phenomenon describing a tendency to…



Jason Chatfield

New York-based Australian Comedian & Cartoonist for the New Yorker. Obsessed with productivity hacks, the creative process, and the Oxford comma.