I’ve never been good at to-do lists. For me, a to-do list is more a theoretical approach than an actual tool. No matter how many times I’ve tried to put a daily to-do list into practice, it never becomes routine.
They’re too easy to ignore. They nag me only just enough to be annoying, not enough to help me to get stuff done. They put me in a grumpy mood.
Simply put, they don’t give me no satisfaction. I can see that there are just more items to get to, but I know that they’re never really going to stop. Life becomes a big monstrous hydra of tasks, where you cut off one head, cross off one item, and two more pop out.
Keep a “Done List”
Instead of a to-do list, I keep a done list. Every day, when I’m winding down my day, I do a quick mental scan of my day and write down what I got done. It may seem counterintuitive, but it helps me plan out my day, and gets me amped to kick butt and get stuff done.
How can things that are done be a productivity tool and why is this more powerful than a to-do list? It comes down to concreteness. All that stuff on your Done List? They’re done!
It’s a record of real results, not intangible goals or wishful thinking. And those results bring all sorts of positive feelings and energy because you’ve achieved something and you want to keep achieving something. You’ll find yourself riding that motivational wave of positivity to get stuff done the next day and the next and the next.
And if you fall off your board? That’s okay, just catch that next wave.
Keeping a done list helps me be more mindful of the journey from to-do to doing to done and beyond. It forces me to stop and recognize that I do get things done, with or without a to-do list.
It kills that feeling that the whole day whizzed past you in a blur. It allows you to take the time to celebrate your accomplishments and help plan better for future ones. Plus, if you are a fan of to-do lists, a done list is a great way to balance that practice to give you perspective, to connect the dots between your expectations and your results, and in the end, to make better, more effective to-do lists.
4 Simple Techniques for Keeping a Done List
It’s simple. Make sure you do 4 easy things.
1. Allow yourself a few minutes to reflect on your day. Jot down things you got done. Review them. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Repeat.
You’ll start to love thinking about what happened that day, and you’ll realize that you got more done than you might’ve otherwise given yourself credit for. A to-do list only gives you credit for stuff you planned on doing – a done list gives you credit for knocking down all the things that life brings your way.
2. Review a bunch of these and get a wider look at how you’ve progressed in days or weeks or months. Remember that a done list gives you the gift of perspective so that you can see where you’re coming from and better plan for where you think you need to go.
3. Don’t let your to-do tasks, whether they’re down on a page or in your head, dictate too narrowly what you write on your done list. Otherwise, you’re just crossing off an item or checking off a box again in another form. The beauty of the done list is their responsiveness to your actual day, so allow it to reflect a richer variety of things than what you thought you had to get done that day.
4. Strike a balance (that works for you) between general and specific. “I ran” is probably too vague and won’t help you in your reviewing phase. ”I ran 2.5 miles” will probably be much more helpful.
“I did the dishes today” may be too routine of a detail and might mean you’re struggling to put something in the done list just for the sake of it. But if you’re the kind of person who never does the dishes and all your roommates find it very annoying, then maybe “I rinsed dishes and emptied dishwasher” should be on your Done list. It all depends!
Motivation comes less from the tasks and crossing something off than from your inner direction and momentum. It feels more like you’re leading you instead of your list of tasks leading you. If you’re like me and to-do lists don’t work their magic for you, you don’t have to feel like an ugly stepsister of productivity trying to fit into a shoe that doesn’t fit: Try making a done list!
Do you have a to-do list? Or would you prefer working with a to-done list? Tell us in the comments.
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