Friday, July 3, 2020

Feeling Unproductive? Try a Done List.

At the end of a busy day, do you sometimes have the feeling that you accomplished nothing useful

But usually, barring an all-day Netflix binge, you most likely did. 

You just can't remember. 

Failure to remember is due in part by the Zeigarnik effect, named for the finding in 1927 by Bluma Zeigarik that uncompleted tasks are more easily remembered than completed ones. 

Not remembering can have negative consequences.

Instead of being more motivated to "do better" the next day, you may actually feel demotivated.  It turns out we are usually more motivated by success than failure. 

A better approach is to look at your day in a balanced way.   What did you accomplish? Did you fail to complete one or more tasks you had planned? What could you do to make tomorrow better? 

I use a simple technique that provides data for that balanced look:  the "done list."

The method is simple: I designate a spot (usually a random piece of paper) as the Done List for the day.

When I complete a task or a planned session of work, I add it to the list.   Do this in real-time, because you won't remember at the end of the day!

That's it.

You can make this list in whatever "tool" you like - but I recommend starting with a piece of paper.  

You can save the list or not.  I don't.

You can do this every day, or not.  I'm an intermittent user.

If you will be an intermittent user:  
A Done List is especially helpful on a day with largish blocks of unscheduled time.   

This is how it helps me with those days.   

Without a Done List, I often find myself getting off track. or spending too much time on one task.

As I record completed work, I feel motivated to do even more. This comports with Newton's Law, "a body in motion stays in motion."  ("Comports" is a fun word I rarely get to use....)

I sometimes do one more thing: highlight the good things.

At the end of the workday, I review the list and highlight (yellow, for me) completions I am happy about.  [This is a photo of an actual list from a few years ago. You can see that neatness is not necessary for the list to work!]

"Happy," otherwise undefined, is my guideline.  I go with my gut.   

Here are some ideas to get you started on your own definition of "good:" completed tasks you had planned for that day, that moved a project forward or allowed you to meet a deadline, or that were overdue. 

How to get started:
  1. Find a piece of paper. 
  2. When you complete something, add it to the list.
  3. At the end of the day, read through the list.
  4. If you want, highlight the "good things." 
  5. Take a moment to feel your successes.
Do it again another day!