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To Do Lists and Done Lists

I swapped my enormous ‘To Do’ lists for a ‘Done List’ each day for a week, and here’s what happened.

Photo by Breakingpic

I am sure somebody before me has had the idea to do away with their ‘To Do’ list in favour of a ‘Done List’ or whatever name they decided to give it, so I won’t claim originality for this experiment.

I should clarify that when I say I did this experiment for one week, I mean a working week: Monday – Friday. Except I started on a Friday, so… you get the idea!

I felt that I never got to the end of my ‘To Do’ lists and ended up abandoning or constantly adding to them rather than achieving the tasks on them. So, I decided that I would do the opposite and list what I had achieved each day instead.

I was hoping to feel more of a sense of achievement about the tasks I had completed and less anxiety about what I still had left to do. Ultimately, my goal was to help myself to feel positive about progress rather than feeling like whatever I achieve is not enough. If this internal monologue sounds familiar, then read on to see if there’s anything you can use from my experiment.

Day One

Photo by from Pexels

I’m self-employed, I work from home and we have a young puppy. So, my day is interspersed with puppy care, puppy training and cramming in bits of housework as well as completing work for my job as a languages tutor, my writing projects and preparing my website for launch.

The first day brought about the realisation that most of my time is spent either caring for our puppy or doing housework whilst trying desperately to find a quiet moment to fit in the mounting tasks I need to do for my business. Something absolutely had to give or day two would be exactly the same.

The puppy’s needs are non-negotiable, so my partner and I worked out some ideas between us to share out the housework more evenly and to give me more puppy-free time to work once he gets home.

Although this hadn’t been a nice realisation I felt like the experiment was already yielding results and changing the shape of my day for the better.

Day Two

I felt like I achieved much more but I did find it difficult to adapt to leaving some of the housework to be done later. I had to keep reminding myself that the puppy would only nap for so long and that that was my window of productivity, whereas previously I would have still been trying to finish a certain amount of housework before allowing myself time to work on my business.

In practice I soon realised that the ‘To Do’ list could not completely leave my life. I had to allow myself to jot down small notes or make tiny ‘To Do’ lists so that I could remember subsequent tasks, plan for deadlines and manage concurrent projects. What I noticed was that my lists had become much smaller and far more manageable.

Day Three

Photo by from Pexels

This day was a bit of an erratic write-off. I woke up at 3:20 AM and could not get back to sleep, the puppy was grizzly all day, we had builders come in to fix stuff in the garden and because of my ridiculously small amount of sleep I found it hard to focus on anything and kept flitting between tasks.

The benefit of having kept a ‘Done List’ though, was that the next day I knew exactly what I had done even if it was only half a job or something I had started. If I had been using a ‘To Do’ list I would have wasted time trying to figure out where I had got to with things because you don’t tick off half-finished jobs. As it was, I had everything I’d completed right there in a list when I began on day four.

Day Four

By now I was getting longer stretches of time to work, I wasn’t trying to fill my work time with housework or writing enormous and counterproductive ‘To Do’ lists that I barely started. On paper it didn’t look like I had done much more than day three, but the tasks I had achieved were time consuming and required deeper concentration than I had been able to muster when I was scrabbling for half an hour here, twenty minutes there.

I also had time to start planning some future projects as well as plan out the tasks I needed to achieve the projects I already had on the go. This meant that I wouldn’t come to the end of my current workload and have a, ‘Well, what now then?’ moment.

It was easier to rotate and work on different aspects of my business because I could look back at my lists, see what I had done, and which areas were due some attention.

Another positive side effect I noticed on day four was that ideas for expanding my business and for fixes to problems I had encountered in my writing projects had begun to flow more readily. I felt less anxious about what I hadn’t done and more motivated to put my ideas into action.

Day Five

Photo by Pixabay

I felt really in the swing of getting things done. Not only did I find time for more planning, but I did some research and a bit of networking on day five as well. I was no longer doing simply the nuts and bolts activities to keep things ticking over, but the more innovative tasks that would help to ensure the success of my business.

I felt as though my day had become more structured and activities had been separated. There was now a distinction between my working time and puppy training, play or care time.

Will I be switching to ‘Done Lists’ for good?

Yes and no. I won’t be giving up ‘To Do’ lists entirely as I’ve realised that they are useful, but not if you list everything you need to do, ever, on them. Short ‘To Do’ lists are the way forward for me. I won’t be writing down everything I’ve done in the day anymore either, just my business-related tasks so that I can keep track of what I’ve achieved; unless I feel like the housework is encroaching on work time again that is!

One of the key aspects that was successful about using a ‘Done List’ was knowing exactly what I had achieved each day, which in turn has helped me to know where to pick up each day, plan what I would do next, to rotate between different aspects of my business, and to allocate time more realistically for tasks.

I’ve also decided to have a separate type of list, an ‘Ideas List.’ I found that too often I was cluttering my ‘To Do’ list with ideas. This contributed to the problem of never completing these ‘tasks,’ as some of them never became anything more than ideas. I already do this for writing projects (I have notebooks dedicated to the cause) and have realised that the rest of my business needs this too.

My work-life balance has improved as I’m not stressing about what I haven’t done during the day in the evening. I feel more satisfied with what I have achieved and keen to get going again the next day. I think this has a lot to do with things feeling less futile now my work time is better organised and there’s more of it.

The house is a bit messier, but no-one has died because of it. So, I’m going to class this experiment as a success and I hope that you might find something useful to help you in here too. Or, you’ve already figured all of this out and laughed at my rookie errors as you read about each day. Either way, I hope you enjoyed reading.

Alicia Brunskill
Alicia Brunskill

Alicia writes about a variety of topics including mental illness, languages, education and cats. She also loves writing poetry and fiction. Alicia lives in Rutland, England with her partner, cat and dog.

Find her on Twitter: @aliciabrunskill

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