Burrow into Leonardo Da Vinci’s brain for a moment…

Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do list looked somewhat different to mine. And yours, I’d wager.

Cartoon of a woman holding a long to do list

Learn from Leonardo Da Vinci, level up your to do list!

Much cooler, for a start. 

We do have one thing in common, though, Leonardo and I: we both carry around a notebook in which we write or draw anything that interests us, fascinates us, excites us…

“It is useful,” Leonardo wrote, “to constantly observe, note, and consider.”

Very true. It is very useful.

Within one of Da Vinci’s notebooks, a curious person unearthed one of his to-do lists – written around 1490 – then translated it. Here it is:

  • [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.

I mean, “draw Milan”? I love it.

He lived in an age when so much of what we now know or suspect about our world was still to be discovered, and his endless fascination with everything is plain to see in this simple list.

I think I need to level up my to-do list…

Here’s a suggestion for yours, though:



Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.

PS The other day I asked you in which country it’s traditional to eat the deep-fried caterpillar of the emperor moth… it’s South Africa.

Today’s Christmas quiz question is: in which country (after a triumph of marketing) has it become traditional for families to go for a KFC on Christmas Eve?

PPS You can find out more about Da Vinci’s to do lists in a book called Da Vinci’s Ghost by Toby Lester.

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