What I learned from Leonardo Da Vinci and Thomas Edison’s to-do lists?

Bumped into these crazy to-do lists by Leonardo Da Vinci and Thomas Edison. I was blown away! There’s so much to learn just by studying these lists. Most importantly, the lists are a reflection of who they really were. Check out Da Vinci’s list:

[Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs

[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio

[Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace).

[Discover] the measurement of the castello (the duke’s palace itself)

Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.

Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion.

Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)

[Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes (no one really knows what Da Vinci meant by this)

Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders

Draw Milan

Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.

[Examine] the Crossbow of Mastro Giannetto

Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner

[Ask about] the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese

Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the mathematic.

— Open Culture, Leonardo Da Vinci’s To Do List (Circa 1490)

What did I learn?

  • Observation holds value only when you record them somewhere. (The notebook!)
  • Action oriented lists — not vague, but super-specific (like Got to the store and buy stuff… what stuff, moron!?)
  • Inttectual curiosity — the list above focuses on learning from resources (including masters)
  • Passion and drive — without which you can’t make/have a significant contribution/change/impact or influence


Now, take a look at Thomas Edison’s list:

Things doing and to be done:

Cotton Picker
New Standard Phonograph
Hand turning phonograph
New Slow speed cheap Dynamo
New Expansion Pyromagnetic Dynamo
Deaf Apparatus
Electrical Piano
Long distance standard Telephone Transmitter which employs devices of recording phonogh
Telephone Coil of Fe [iron] by tt in Parafine or other insulator
Platina Point Trans using new phono Recorder devices
Gred Battery for Telephones
“ “ “ “ Long Distance
“ “ “ — Phonoplex
“ “ “ Jump Telegraph
“ “ “ Voltmeter
Improved Magnetic Bridge for practical work
Motograph Mirror
“ Relay
“ Telephone practical
Artificial Cable
Phone motor to work on 100 volt ckts
Duplicating Phono Cylinders
Deposit in vacuo on lace, gold + silver also on cotton molten chemical compound of lustrous surfaces to imitate silk— also reg plating system
Vacuous Ore milling Large Machine
Magnetic Separator Large
Locking material for Iron sand
Artificial Silk
Artificial filiments [sic]
New [illeg.]
Uninflammable Insulating Material
Good wax for phonograph
Phonographic Clock
Large Phonograph for Novels, etc.
Pig Iron Expmts with Electricity + Magnetism
Malleablizing Cast now in Vacuo
Drawing fine wire
Joy phonograph for Dolls
Cable Motograph
Very Loud Motograph telephone with 1/3 siz phonogh motor.
Magneto telephone with actual contact end magnet compression of an adjustable rubber press as in new phones
Snow Compressor
Glass plate water ore repeator
Tinned faced [illeg.] for Stove Castings
Refining Copper Electrically
Quad neutral relay
Cheap low induct Cop Insulating material for Lead Cable people
Constant moved for nonfoundry
200 volt 20 cp lamp
Cheap [illeg.] Indicator
Recording Valt Indicator
Box balancing System
Alternating Machine + Transformer
Sifua Surface Switches
Vulcanizing [illeg.] African Rubber adullement
Platinum wire [illeg.] cutting Machine
Silver wire wood cutting system
Silvering or Coppering bathing cloth in Vac for durability
S Mater attend own with new devices for c speed
Expansion mirror plat… wire in vacuo
Photoghy by camping heat after central points
Boron fil.
Hg [mercury] out of Lamp
Phonaplex Repeater
Squirting glass sheet tube etc. Nickel [illeg.]
Artificial Mother Pearl
Red Lead pencils equal to graphite
India Ink
Tracing Cloth
Ink for blind
Fluffy Incandescent Burner for gas
Regenerative Kerosene Burner
Centralized arc in arc Lamp
Cai–[illeg.] Tesla arc lamp test
Strengthening alternating cli by sternt Dynamo
ERR Cont [illeg.] reducers
Electroplating Machines for Schenectady
Condenser Transformer
Sqr ft difraction gratings in silver by 5000 [illeg.] tool special [illeg.] lathe for ornamental purposes
Photo Scant–[illeg.]
Cheap plan produce Mimeograph surfaces
Miners battery + lamp
Sorting Coal from Slate Machine
Butter direct from Milk
Burning asphalt Candles by high chimney
Magnets RR signals
Soften [illeg.] of books transfer to Cop plate + plate to [illeg.] matrix
Telephone Repeater
Substitute for Hard rubber
Artificial Ivory
Soften Vegetable Ivory to press in sheets
Various batteries on [illeg.] Type
Revolving Thermo
Caller Indicator for Jump Telegh
Marine Telegraphy
Long distance speaking tube filled H20 2 dia pressure
Lend plate battery for modifying attending Current
Two revolving bands in battery Lead faced press in liquid close together + out into separate chambers to [illeg.]reduce by gas the other
Siren phonogh
Perm mag like an electromag of [illeg.] hand steel high polish separately magnetized + forced together powerfully[illeg.]
Telephone working more [illeg.]
Eartubes formed crescent [illeg.] wire
Long strip 50 cp carbon under stress [illeg.] for
Cheap Voltmeter
Chalk Battery
Dynamo or motor long tube in long magnetic field top + bottom contacts forcing water through generator current by – passage.
Thermo battery slick Copper oxidized then plated over surface oxide nailed to make good contact [illeg.]
Disk Phonogh

Pick your jaw up from the floor, please. It’s getting messy 😉

If you’re now blown away from this… I don’t know what will. That’s a list of a man on a mission. No wonder Mr. Edison go much done in his life. In fact, he’s the epitome of productivity and people should definitely take a cue from his work and this to do list. Note that the list may seem vague but then he didn’t expect people like you and me will be reviewing, studying and analyzing this list more than a century later!

Here’s what I learned from this list:

  • It’s valuable to get everything out of your head and on paper (or an app, if that’s your thing). David Allen said it the best, “your head is for having ideas not holding them.”
  • Your ideas don’t matter unless you execute them! And Mr. Edison did exactly that! He didn’t just put his ideas down on paper but acted on them and the rest is history.

Reflect on these and see how can you apply in your life. As for me, I’m deeply humbled and inspired.

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