Why To-Do Lists Don't Work and Done Lists Do
If you’re only using a to-do list, there’s a good chance you’re making yourself less productive. It’s something that took me quite a while to understand. There’s a simple but breathtakingly powerful fix to your to-do list — keep a done list.
By changing from listing the things that you are going to do, to writing down the things that you have done, my life has become a lot easier. Done lists give perspective to your to-dos and it motivates you to keep making progress, every day, until it’s Done.
How come to-do lists don’t work?
The checklist format doesn’t work for projects and tasks that are open-ended. Plus, items and tasks can evolve or become obsolete by the time you hit lunchtime, and by the end of the day, your to-do list can look a totally foreign being compared to what actually needs to get done.
It’s too easy to get that smaller thing crossed off first. There are no commitment devices to firmly turn your resolve to the most important tasks rather than the simple ones. When smaller things are too easy to get done, smaller, less important things are all you will get done.
To-do lists also lead you away from motivation and control. The very pressure that can have such a positive impact in keeping you from the deep-end of lost time can just as much feel like nagging, leading to feelings of guilt and frustration rather than motivation and inspiration. Sometimes it feels like the list controls you, you don’t control the list.
Get to done with a done list
The answer isn’t to get rid of to-do lists altogether but to remember that a to-do list is the beginning of the journey through Doing to Done. How do you get to done? Use a Done List, the yang to the yin of the to-do list.
The to-do list can motivate you by directing you to just put one foot in front of the other. The done list motivates you to keep walking in the first place because you’ve got all that “how-feet-work” business down. The done list’s surprisingly strong motivational powers come from the simple fact that you got stuff done. These aren’t intangible goals or wishful thinking but real results, results that bring all sorts of positive feelings and energy because you’ve achieved something and you want to keep going.
The done list also gives you the gift of perspective, something that is much more difficult and unrealistic at the to-do stage. It allows you to review your day, gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments, and helps you plan more effectively.
While the to-do list is about the plan and the possibility of any day, the done list is about execution and evaluation. Together, they provide a balanced meal of productivity planning. With a routine of to-do and done, you’ll also be able to notice patterns and puzzle out what sorts of tasks aren’t making the journey from to-do to done and why. The done list’s balancing effect helps connect the dots between your expectations and your results, and to make better to-do lists to start your next day.
5 Great Done List Tools
The beauty of the done list is that there’s more freedom and individuality around the process. It’s not beholden to check-boxes or simple itemization. It comes down to whatever works best for you. Here are four methods for you to try out.
Use what you have: Fold in your new done list along with your to-do list method if it is flexible enough. That way it’ll be easy to compare your to-do list items with your dones. At the end of the day, flip over your to-do list and write down everything you got done.
Journals: Incorporating your dones into a journaling gives you room for reflection around your days and accomplishments. Even if you’re keeping a relatively short-format practice, journaling programs are a handy way to keep track of your dones. They provide a calendar-based system, syncing options, and enough of a blank slate so that you’re not bound up in the list format of many task management applications. Give RedNotebook or the Day One app a whirl and see how this works for you.
Have you ever tried swapping over to a “done” list? I hope there are some interesting ideas in here to give your productivity a natural boost. Let me know your thoughts on what helps you get the most work done.
(Photo credit: To do list via Shutterstock)
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