← Chetan Surpur

Life Hack: The Checkpoint Method Will Supercharge Your Day, Every Day

Edit: This post is deprecated in favor of the simpler Time Bending method.

I just had the most productive day I’ve had in years. I finished everything I wanted to get done today through 10 hours of solid efficiency, no sweat. And the best part – I have 4 whole hours to do whatever I want for the rest of the day, and I know I completely earned them.

It’s called the Checkpoint Method, and it will supercharge your day. It turns productivity into a game, and the prize is the best one of all – free time to do anything you want and feel great about it too.

A few months ago, I wrote about the 30/30 Magic Work Cycle that I follow, which made its rounds on the Internet and helped lots of people make smooth progress on all kinds of shit that takes an impossible amount of willpower to get started on. But that’s for when you know what you need to do, and you just gotta blaze through it. What about actually planning what you need to do, and sticking to your plan? That’s where the Checkpoint Method will change your life.

The recipe

  1. Choose when you want your day to start, and how long your waking day will last.
  2. Choose how many hours of productivity and how many hours of free time you want in your day. This will depend on how much work you actually need to get done. Note that an hour of productivity can include everyday chores, like showering or lunch, and free time is really free time. For example, it’s finals week, so I chose 12 hours of productivity and 4 hours of free time.
  3. Write down a list of tasks you want to complete today. Each task should be concrete and explicit, and should take just less than an hour to complete. For example, instead of saying “Study for exam”, say “Do problems 1-3 of first practice exam”. You can add as many tasks as will fill up your chosen hours of productivity.
  4. Start your day. At the beginning of each hour, choose any one task from your list and complete it within the hour.
  5. As time passes, your reserve (free) time is being drained. Whenever you check off an hour-long task, you replenish an hour of reserve time.
  6. At the end of each hour is a checkpoint. If you finished one hour’s worth of productivity within the checkpoint, you’re on track. Otherwise, you used up some of your reserve time.
  7. If you are able to check off more than one task in an hour, you gain more reserve time for each additional task. This way, you can regain lost reserve time by working faster, or even earn extra reserve time if you move quickly enough through your list. Remember, the objective is to maximize the reserve time you have left at the end of the day.
  8. If you work efficiently and finish all your tasks in time, you get to spend your allotted reserve time however you want. But be warned – the first day you try this, you’ll probably just spend all that free time sobbing in pleasure at the thought of how much shit you got done today.

Is there an app to help with all this?

Of course I made an app. Why, you think I would have made you keep track of all that shit manually? What kind of asshole did you take me for?

Here, take it and run. It works beautifully on your smartphone too. And if you add it to your iDevice’s home screen, it turns into a full-screen offline app. You’re welcome.

Get out your magnifying glasses, cause we’re taking this bitch apart

Hopefully, it’s obvious enough why this method works. But if you really need some convincing, let’s break it down and see what it’s made of:

  • The explicit task component

At the heart of the Checkpoint Method is the process of splitting up your work into clean, clear chunks. It’s much easier to kill a task when you know exactly what you need to do and you know that it can be done within the hour. And at the end of the day, you can tell yourself, “I now have these 12 things I did under my belt,” and you know exactly what those things are. It’s a great feeling.

  • The hourly deadline component

Everyone knows how hard it is to do something when the deadline is so far away that it’s just a dot. So by having checkpoints every hour, you have a simple deadline to work towards; it really motivates you to finish that bit of work you’re doing so you can check it off before the end of the hour and maintain your level of reserve time. It feels like a race in which you always know exactly where you stand and how well you’re doing, so you never lose track of time.

  • The reward system

Instead of just screwing around all day, not knowing when you’re working and when you’re procrastinating, this method collects all your free time and turns it into an incentive to work towards. Opening your assignment in one window and spending an hour procrastinating on Reddit doesn’t feel like free time, even though you didn’t actually get anything done. Instead, turn that same time into explicit free time, and do something you’ll actually enjoy without any guilt or stress.

A couple questions you (probably) have

  • What about tasks that will take 30 minutes or 2 hours?

2 × 30 minutes = 1 hour, so if you check off two 30 minute tasks before the checkpoint, you’re good to go.

As for 2 hour tasks, split them up into two 1 hour parts, and then just do them contiguously.

  • What if I don’t know exactly how long something will take (like a difficult math problem, for example)?

In this case, it’s okay to be vague and say “Work on math problems for 1 hour”, and then at the half-hour mark, evaluate how much you were able to get done and update the task accordingly. With enough practice, you’ll get the hang of it and you’ll be able to estimate fairly accurately how much you’ll be able to do in an hour.

Just try it already

In fact, this method is the sort of thing productive people do all the time already – finish everything they need to get done without distractions, and spend their free time at the end of the day without worry. But for those of us who find it hard to swing that way, sometimes all we need is a little push in the form of a formal process. So the Checkpoint Method is here, to shove you headfirst towards an amazing day, every day.

So just try it. I promise it won’t bite. If you have a great day with it, let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear about it.

Now, I think I’ll go watch not one, but two goddamn movies, and still sleep like a baby.

All this will not be finished in the first hundred days. Not will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. John F. Kennedy