The Science of To-Do Lists: Psychology Can Make You More Productive

Are to-do lists about feeling a sense of accomplishment or actually getting things done? The typical way of writing lists can result in feeling good about yourself at the expense of productivity.

Charles Duhigg:  Before I started working on this book I wrote to do lists the same way that most people write to do lists. And it turns out this is exactly the wrong way to write a to do list according to psychologists and neurologists. I would sit down in the morning and I would just jot down all the tasks I wanted to do that day. And I would put on a couple of things at the top of my page that were like pretty easy to do. Because it felt so good to cross those off like early in the day and feel a sense of accomplishment. And I’d put my big tasks at the bottom of the page. Sometimes at the top of the page I would even write things that I had already done because it just made me so happy to like sit at my desk and be able to cross something off right away.

Psychologists call this using a to do list for mood repair rather than for productivity. And it turns out this is exactly the wrong way to write a to do list. The right way to write a to do list, the way that genuinely productive people at companies write to do lists is that at the top of the page they write their big ambition, their stretch goal. They write something that seems almost impossible to achieve because that reminds you all day long what you actually want to get done. And then underneath they write out a plan. They write a smart goal. They break that big ambition into small components. Now that gives me a way to start in the morning. But what’s important is that when I get something accomplished, when I’m able to cross something off my to do list I don’t experience that sense of relief that allows me to go spend half an hour or 90 minutes like on Facebook, right.
I don’t feel like I can take a break and I can go waste time wandering around. I’m ready to start on the next task because at the top of my page I’m constantly being reminded that although I’m making incremental progress this is in service to a bigger goal. There’s something bigger and more meaningful that I want to accomplish this day. And as long as I’m being reminded of that, that I still have a plan study after study shows I’m much more likely to get more things done and to focus on the right things each day.

 

Are to-do lists about feeling a sense of accomplishment or actually getting things done? The typical way of writing lists can result in feeling good about yourself at the expense of productivity.

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Credit: NASA
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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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