A Better List to Boost Productivity

The Original List

I’m someone who likes to compile ‘To-Do’ lists to remember exactly what I need to achieve. However, after writing them, I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of uncompleted tasks. It feels like pushing a huge rock up a never-ending slope – an impossible mission that discourages me from even starting.

In fact, data shows the inefficacy of such lists, because:

- Almost half of to-do list items never get done, and

- Only 15% of completed tasks ever make it on our to-do lists

Furthermore, psychologists have found a basis for our feelings of overwhelm, discovering that “the anxiety that results from having too many conflicting goals [on to-do lists] causes our productivity… to suffer” – quite the opposite of my intention.

Maybe you are in the same boat as me. If so, I hope to share a recent find – a list that might actually boost productivity.


A Better List

Introducing the ‘Done’ list. It’s a list that only includes the tasks you’ve accomplished. However, no matter how insignificant or unplanned the tasks are, they can all be included.


Such a list empowers productivity in many ways, three of which are explained here.

1. Concrete, Undeniable Evidence of Tasks Accomplished

The list gives you full credit for all efforts, no matter how small, and captures tasks that popped up unexpectedly. So, should an emergency situation arise, you can cut through the “unproductive” narrative by realizing that your time wasn’t wasted.

2. Boosts Self-belief and Motivates

Every time you note down something you’ve done, you get a small rush of endorphins from visualizing the progress you made. This sends the message that you are capable, productive, and can accomplish things. It cultivates not just a sense of inherent worth, but also the confidence to handle whatever comes your way. As you add items to your list, inevitable feelings of happiness and confidence naturally motivate you to continue your efforts.

3. Identifies Trends for Goal-setting

When you only have a hazy idea of what you’ve done in the past, your targets will inevitably be unclear. Looking back at your ‘done’ lists over a period of time helps you see clearly tasks you’ve been doing and identify what you’d like to do more of moving forward, allowing you to set definite, realistic goals. Even for day-to-day productivity, after examining what we achieved (or didn’t), we can recognize trends in our work habits, helping us assess our strengths and weaknesses.


Adapting the ‘Done’ List for Your Life

Understanding the immense impact of a ‘done’ list, you might already be tempted to adopt it in your life. We are all different, so customizing the list to suit your own life will likely generate better results. Here are some suggestions:

1. Choose Log Frequency

Although we can include any task into our lists, if your work is repetitive and voluminous, noting down each distinct task may not be practical. Even an hourly log can feel burdensome. Hence, if you’re a first-timer like me, consider one the following:

- Drawing up your list at the end of the day, noting down most important tasks

- Checking in weekly, highlighting 1-2 most significant projects

- Or, for a start, begin with a monthly or yearly review

2. Review, Reflect, Celebrate

After completing your list, have a good look at it. Reflect on all that you’ve worked to accomplish and, before you plan 3-5 achievable tasks for the next day, celebrate your capacity to persevere and figure things out!

3. Kickstart Your Day

The next morning, get going with a morale boost by scanning the previous day’s ‘done’ list – a reminder of what you have accomplished and can continue to. For a bigger and more constant reminder, continue your list from the day before, so that those checked-off projects can provide a running start.

4. Track Weekly Wins

At the end of each week, when the pace has slowed down, take a few moments to handwrite key accomplishments. You’ll have more time then to figure out how to “turn negatives into progress” the week after. Besides, seeing your wins on paper can help kick off your weekend on a high note.


Personally, since I’m just beginning my ‘done’ list this week, I’m using one of Choi and Chen’s question prompts to track my weekly wins: “What did you do [this week] that you especially want to remember in the future?”

This week, I want to remember again how writing builds clarity – how the process of stringing words together crystallizes each thought to paint a clear mental picture. If you’re hoping to gain greater mental clarity too, a writing programme like the Digital Nomad Writing Club might provide just the kickstart you need.

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