The concept of using a to-do list to stay productive and on top of all your current and future tasks is far from new. But what you might not have heard of is the idea of keeping a ‘Done List’. This simple idea can help you raise both your productivity and your mood.
The Done List
Unsurprisingly, a ‘Done List’ is a list you write at the end of your day in which you recap what you achieved rather than what is still left to be done. This doesn’t replace your daily to-do list but it serves a different purpose.
Queuing up a long list of what you still have to do can be helpful but it can also sometimes be overwhelming to have only your unfinished tasks on your mind all the time.
While to-do lists are exactly what you need to know what you have to achieve in a day, they aren't the best at giving back a sense of achievement. Unless you are able to complete most of the items on a list, the end of the day will just have you staring down at a list of unchecked boxes and items yet to be crossed out. And this can be a very disheartening way to both start and end your day.
On some days, for example, you might have been very productive working through task after task, only a handful of which were written on your to-do list in the first place. There are days where I can get through my list unimpeded but others where tasks arrive, left, right and center, and it’s only natural to go "off-list".
This means that you could have had a tremendously productive day, getting through the mountains of work that have suddenly appeared, but you’re still left with that list of small empty boxes and notes waiting to be struck through.
So, at the end of the day, just before you leave your desk or go over your to-do list for the next day (if this is something you do), write down a few things that you accomplished that day.
This can be a very short list, just three, four or five things that highlight the biggest or most important things that you got done. It could be writing a blog post, sending an important email, having a call with a prospective client, or fixing a bug in some code.
What’s Done is Done but can be Done again
It’s important to remember that part of the reason for writing this list is to give you a sense of accomplishment and confidence. Even if one of the list items is something that might appear to someone else to be very small and inconsequential, it can feel big to you.
So if you’ve finally achieved something that you’ve been putting off because of worry or anxiety, then this is definitely something that should go on your list. Even something as ‘small’ as responding to one particularly stressful email that you’ve been procrastinating over or getting an outline written for that next blog post can be a serious accomplishment for you.
If you use your Done List in this way, it not only acts as a way of recording what you’ve achieved and boosting your productivity but it can also be a way of reminding your own subconscious of what you’re capable.
Even if you don’t feel very confident or capable when faced with an ever-growing to-do list and an equal number of daily challenges, you will be reminded that you have achieved difficult tasks and that you will be able to again.
A Week’s Worth of Dones
By the end of a week of writing down your Dones, you’ll have accumulated a really decent number of completed tasks – between fifteen and twenty-five if you stick to three to five list items a day.
When you do this for your first week, you might not have a very long list or even have one for each day. But building up a new habit takes time and every little change you make will soon accumulate.
Even if you end up with a list made up of smaller and perhaps less crucial tasks, you’ll have a very decent number of accomplished tasks to help your next week begin in style.
Of course, if you then compare this list to your list of to-dos, you might not feel quite as positive, but remember that knowing you’ve actually achieved things can make you more productive in the long run.
If you’re struggling to get even three things for your list, start small. The more you achieve, the more you’ll feel able to achieve and you’ll soon find yourself creating a snowballing list of completed tasks.
And if you find yourself having a bad week where your number of ‘dones’ isn’t as high as it was the weeks before, take it as a positive that you’ve been growing the number of to-dos ticked off your list over time. Also, remember that you are able to be productive when you get into the right mood. (And then the question is just trying to find the right mood, which is no small challenge!)
Making the list
The simplest way to do this is to use a notebook or diary. Keeping it by your work space means that you’ll automatically be reminded to fill in your ‘daily dones’. If you think you’re likely to forget, you can always set yourself an alarm or a Calendar event to ping at the same time each day.
If you have wall space, then a whiteboard is the perfect place to put your Done List. You can keep a week’s worth of lists up without taking up too much space and, because it’ll always be easy to see, you’ll have an instant view of what you’ve managed to achieve that week.
If you’re more of a fan of technology than pen and paper, or you feel you might need a gentle nudge to remind you to update your daily ‘Done’ list, then there are techy ways to do it.
You can use something as simple as Google Calendar – this won’t be the easiest way to review your done list but if you set it up as a daily event, it will be a gentle reminder to think up your list and you can add it to your event description.
Google Keep is a great online notebook and is the perfect way to keep things stored across devices, as is Evernote. Just make sure that whatever digital notebook you decide to use, it’s something that won’t get in the way of you actually writing down your list. Even a text file on your computer can get the job done.
If you want it to be as smooth a process as possible, you can sign up to services like iDoneThis, which will send you a daily email that you just reply to with your list and the next day, iDoneThis will remind you of your last update. It's free for an individual to use so it's perfect if you want to keep on top of your own Done List.
The Buffer team uses iDoneThis as a way to share both their personal and work-related Dones for the day across the world. This is beneficial in both keeping everyone up to date and encouraging the positive feedback and support that can often be lacking in teams that work remotely. Belle Beth Cooper, one of Buffer's Content Creators, highlights the personal improvement side of the Done list benefits too and writes that it's "a really great way we’ve found to keep us accountable to our goals and to share support and suggestions around our improvements."
The benefits of Done
Using a list like this is also great for a team that is split up across different locations. Even when everyone’s working in the same office, it’s difficult to get a sense of how everyone’s doing but it can be even more difficult for remote teams.
A Done List can help your whole team feel more like they are in tune with what everyone else is accomplishing, as well as helping each person feel more productive themselves.
The more you get into the habit of writing these notes down for yourself, the more you’ll find yourself checking them in the morning as a way to remind yourself of what you did the day before and to boost your mood for the day to come.
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By Amy Wallace