Journaling Week: The Done List

Continuing on with the Journaling Week, today’s post discusses the “Done List”.


The “Done List” is a popular productivity method for those who prefer to track their achievements than make task lists. It’s been featured on many top websites like Lifehacker on several occasions. The Done List as a name obviously comes from the opposing side of a productivity system we all know about – that of the To Do List.

ToDo Lists vs Done Lists

MyDoneFirstly, a matter of clarification.

ToDo’s are often listed at the start of something – first thing in the morning, first morning of the week, first day of the month, and list out in check-box form, the tasks requiring attention.

The Done List is typically created at the end of the work session – end of day, end of week etc. As such, the Done List operates as a review list of things achieved.

There are examples of people using the “Done” name on top of what is, in essence, a to-do list. There are notepads with this label “Done” available. These are actually To Do Lists, with empty checkbox spaces or lines for listing down the things you aim to do that day. If you don’t check them off, then they aren’t done, so the name above the list becomes a misnomer.

For the sake of this post, the Done List is not a simple task management list. It is a review journaling technique, done at the end of (normally) a day. To get the full benefits of the Done List, you can’t simply extend out a checked (or unchecked) task list.

There are many posts on the problems – for some people and businesses – on using To Do lists. Lifehack , 99ULifehacker, Inc.com and many others have discussed some of these issues –

  • tasks often generate other tasks during the work process
  • lists written first thing in the morning can alter drastically over the course of the day.
  • people juggling large work projects can often feel anxious on viewing huge lists of items which should be done.
  • productivity systems like GTD often surround task management lists with other nuances which complicate things.

Many people – like me – don’t get on with to-do lists for various reasons. The Done List offers a much better fit for analysis and progression.

And – it’s not just for lists of project tasks:

For instance, that time this morning that  I spent sitting out in the sunshine, watching the birds would never have gotten onto a todo list. The time spent was a break from other tasks which may have been on such a list (like the writing of this post). BUT, the fact that during that garden time my mind finally popped in a resolution to a problem I was having with one particular plotline in my WIP – that’s incredibly valuable effort for me,and one certainly worth celebrating and noting down as progress, in a Done List. You can’t task manage and schedule fictional problem resolutions in as a plan – these can be documented as Dones, though.

Another item you may want to list as Done are things like lunch breaks, or gym sessions. Typically not put onto work-focussed to-do lists, the working professional nowadays realises that taking regular breaks and exercise adds much needed value and energy to their work, and often need to be celebrated.

Finally, Done lists aren’t necessarily created at the end of day by some people. A few note down tasks and things done over the day. This may be relevant to particularly busy days, where valuable accomplishments may be forgotten by the end. Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, Ning and other startups, is credited [and here] with something he called “The Anti-ToDo List” which documents accomplishments (or dones) over a day. Of course, Marc is quoted as suggesting (of his anti-todo list) – “Then tear it up and throw it away.

If you’re using a journal system – digital solution, or notebook – for Done Lists, then it’s not beneficial to throw it away. Looking back on entries will allow you to spot patterns, and also provide a diary-like entry for finding milestone dates.

The Done List Journal Entry

A natural place to accomplish the Done List is in a journal – something like the Daily Logbook (posted yesterday), or a simple listing journal – watch for one comparable type in tomorrow’s post also. A natural positive progression of the Done List is to include Gratitude journaling within the Done List. (Gratitude Journals were discussed Tuesday).

Benefits of the Done List Journal

1. Seeing the Progression

It’s easy for an artist or physical product worker to see the end result of their labour at the end of a work session – sculptures or paintings change over time.

Writers should be able to see a lot of their work – if it involves actual words to page – but much of a writer’s or information worker’s normal tasks aren’t as easily evidenced. For instance – time spent on marketing or social media work is often not quantifiable, although the task may be achieved and successful in the long-run.

The Done List journal entry qualifies tasks which can’t easily be “seen” as having been achieved.

2. Motivating Further Creativity

Checking off progress like this, is also a key element to maintaining creativity and motivation – creative progression. This was discussed in Tuesday’s post on the Benefits of Journaling.

Keeping a daily Done List also provides small win celebrations – rather than waiting to celebrate the big task end, journaling all the milestones and smaller tasks “done” helps the mind and body relate to, and want more of that again, thanks. Such small success celebrations are a key element to setting new positive habits.

3. Review Progression to stop the Ostrich Problem

“It seems counter-intuitive to spend extra time to do one more thing–but taking stock of what you’ve accomplished provides critical fuel. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer, authors of the incisive The Progress Principle, pored over 12,000 daily work diary entries and were surprised to find out that making progress–even small wins–on meaningful work is the most powerful motivator,” Via The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List (free ebook – see below).

Keeping a hold of progress is something that many failed project workers wish they had done in hindsight, having fallen foul of the “Ostrich Problem” (via 99U). In this article, we learn that people can fail to learn from their work done, because they prefer to work blind for fear of receiving negative feedback.

By keeping a regular list of tasks achieved (Done) you can provide yourself with feedback, some of which may be disappointing – if it appears you wasted a lot of time or energy for little result. But as a regular journal exercise, you will give yourself the chance to adjust your course and progress. Keeping such progress in a quick journal entry also allows you to find patterns of both good or easy tasks, but also areas of procrastination.

Both the studies discussed above come out of our understandings being formed within behavioural science – motivation to achieve more is rooted in the success of prior achievements.

4. Bite-size Journaling and Analysis

To Do Lists are often just a whole heap of prioritised checkbox lists. These can become problematic – see above. Done Lists offer a free-er form of documentation. You can choose to simply create a list of things done, but within the journal you might like to also jot down some thoughts or analysis on those achievements. Many people include moods, time spent and other metadata alongside the list of things done.

By jotting down thoughts or ideas as you trigger them when writing up your Done List, you are able to notice patterns in time spent,where you are most energetic, what things you did that may not have been on a to do list, and also document much of your day.

As such, a natural fit for the Done List is within something like the Daily Logbook discussed in yesterday’s post, but the format is up to you.

Free ebook

Done List1

iDoneThis_book_cover_promotionaliDoneThis offers a free ebook download – “The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List”. Signup your email to get this immediate download. The 40 page PDF is very good in explaining the benefits of the Done List – offering an end page done list, and a hashtag #idonethis to share your done items with friends.

Note: iDoneThis is a webservice and app product for providing an environment to document and share your Dones on. It offers email prompts to you each night for you to fill out, and integration through Chrome apps, an iPhone app, Alfred, Mac, Zapier and for writers – from the app Draft.

A personal membership is free, gold plans offer more features, and businesses may like the sharing approach through team plans.

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