Scene. Evening, around 8 pm. Family dinner.
“How was your day?
“I was very busy, I had sooooo much work.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I told you, I was busy. You?”
“Same. Sooo busy”.
Does this sound familiar? We hustle and hustle all day and at the end of it our brains are so overloaded that we can’t even remember what we did. Were we efficient? Are we satisfied with what we've accomplished during the day? Did we work on the goals and ideas that matter, or we got distracted? Let’s be real, if at dinner we can’t seem to recollect the day, what will we remember in three or six months ?
The unfortunate dinner table conversation above screams for rescue. And this rescue is called - a DONE list. Someone might say: But I already have a daily To-do list. Isn’t it easier to just cross over the completed items and spare me the trouble of writing another list?
It would have been a good idea to use the cross-over To-do list, if our days depended entirely on us, if we didn’t all the time communicate with other people, if other people did not rely on us to get their jobs done, if colleagues, clients, friends did not call us to ask for favours, did not write us emails..
Have you had your whole day planned out, and then all unforeseen calls, meetings, tasks just eat up your plan? This is why experts recommend to leave at least 1/3 or your day unplanned, so you can deal with all the unanticipated calls, meetings and distractions. I suspect in real life it’s more than 1/3 of the day. But we cannot know that for sure, unless we are willing to analyse it with hard data. The Done list can help with that.
How to do you a Done list?
As any new habit, in order to be useful, we need to make it simple and easy to do. I keep my Done list in the top right corner of my bullet journal daily log. No mater if I finish something from the to-do list for the day, or I completed something that other people asked, a “Done” goes there.
Very important: write the “Done”-s as you complete them, so you don’t have to think about them for the rest of your day. It is much easier to write along as the day goes, rather than to try to recall the day at the end of it. This way the Done list becomes mechanical and not another thing you need to do during the day.
A Done list could be also digital in any note-taking app on your phone or laptop.
Having an open paper notebook at all times seems a bit easier to me than clicking to re-open a phone app all day long to record a new "done". Also the phone has a bigger chance to distract you - instead of writing your Done bullet, you might be tempted to open the adjacent social media icon. Less distraction - this is why my daily "Done" is on paper.
Why keep a "Done" list?
A compass for reflection of the trajectory
If your days fly by and you have no idea how the time has passed so quickly, the simple done list is a good recollection of what went well… or not so well. This can help you in analysing with a more sound evidence whether you are efficient, what are the pain points of your day. Another interesting thing you may find is whether you worked mostly on your plan, or you got distracted by other people and their plans. It is great to help colleagues. But we need to make sure our own responsibilities, the work that only we could do, does not get neglected too. In that sense if you look at your done list during the day and you see that you only dealt with other people’s problems, this might be the wake-up call to try to save the day and concentrate on the things that matter to your area of responsibility. We can also reflect whether what we did during the day and week contributed to our bigger tasks and projects, the so called "elephant tasks". For instance if you want to write a book, complete a PhD, or change a company culture, you can't do it overnight. It requires consistent effort on for a long time.
Sense of motivation
People usually perceive motivation as something that you need to have in order to complete a task or a project. It is as if motivation is the switch to a lightbulb - we need it to switch on the electricity so the lightbulb, our project, can shine. Several studies emerged in recent years that the real switch is the Action itself, and it is the Action that leads to Motivation, and not the other way around. After all, in order to switch the light, you need to go to the switch, lift a hand, and press “On”. Having a “Done” list is a reminder of the actions you took. And it feeds the motivation to continue working on your big idea the next day.
If your work and in your life you need to do three things: Say what you are going to do, do it, then say what you have done. This is one of the best advices I have received by a highly successful top executive. Being able to plan and deliver on the plan, sharing transparently the progress with a coalition of partners - your peers, your manager, your team - is a valuable worth ethic quality. A "Done" list helps you record what was accomplished and you may use these notes to contribute to your monthly, quarterly or an annual report. One mistake to avoid: the number of bullets do not necessarily correlate positively with the quality of work. More is not necessarily better. Concentrate on "Done"-s that really matter and add value to the common company purpose and goals.
When to start?
Any day is a good day to start. How about today? Give it a try for a week, for a month. It takes less than 10 seconds to write each of your daily key accomplishments in a “Done” list. But you might just have found a good tool to serve you for the rest of your life.
Victory Corners 2021, by Viktoriya V. Blazheva
P.S. Scene. Early morning. Smell of fine coffee and winter fill the room. Author writes in her Done list: "Published an article about the benefits of the Done list".