The M Dash

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Ditch Your To-do List, and Try a To-done List

June 30, 2017 | Filed in: Your Brain

Here at MM, we’ve been known to get obsessive about to-do lists. That’s why, when Ask For It‘s Alex Dickinson told us about her “To-done” list, we knew she was onto something. Now excuse us; we need to go write down our accomplishments.

I’m a type-A person, and like to check things off. As a result, I’ve mostly stopped making lists because I get so neurotic about checking everything off that I lose focus on the bigger picture. Now, I write down what I’ve done. I think it motivates me in a more productive way.

Every day, I use Evernote to create a very simple, bulleted list of my accomplishments. I don’t put stuff like “responding to emails” on there. Instead, I put down specific things I’ve completed. It might be, “I followed up on this lead; I had a conversation with this client; I registered for this conference; I gave feedback to my business development person; I followed up with XYZ person on these topics; I updated my accounting system.” They can range from pretty mundane to closing a deal. Every time I do something, I put it on the list. It’s very satisfying: I did this and I’m taking credit for it.

On Fridays, I take two minutes to look back and figure out which accomplishments really made a difference for my business. Then I bold them and move them to the bottom of the list. The next week, I start a new note. If I had a performance review, it would be very easy for me to look back at the bottom of all of my notes; if I was preparing for a performance review, I would look back on the lists and compile the key accomplishments for each month. But I don’t do that because I don’t need to—I work for myself. It’s more of a maintenance habit. I’m in control of my time, and I want to document it in a positive way that allows me to see how I’m making progress.

To remember what I need to do, I keep a roadmap for the next two months next to my desk, and I have a top-five notepad. I’m also an inbox zero person. I know that’s not everyone’s jam, but I am. At the end of the day, the messages I need to deal with the next day are left in red. Sometimes I have to delegate. I have one person who works for me part-time, and maybe that means something doesn’t get done right away or stays on the list for a little while. I manage my calendar closely, and I’m in the weeds of my business, so usually I know what I need to do. I believe in organizing yourself in a way that works for your personality, and this is what works for me. If I didn’t use this system, I think I would get to Friday and be like, “What did I do this week?” And this makes me feel good about it.


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Alex Dickinson is a negotiation coach and the founder of Ask For It, which teaches conflict management skills to individuals, teams, and anyone who wants to ask for more. Read more of Alex's posts.


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