The Unhappiness Antidote: the Anti-ToDo List

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by Janet Choi

To do bannerThere’s nothing more discouraging than when you’re on the verge of burning out while you feel like your to-do list is like a trick birthday candle that will never go out. Maybe you feel like you've been running around, taking names and taking care of business but have gotten so little done. Why should you spend physical and emotional energy, feeling down and dissatisfied instead of on top of the world regarding your achievements?

The antidote to the productivity blues is the Anti-Todo List. If you find that a bit of a mouthful, think of it as a Ta-da! List, or a Done List. Here’s how it works:

1. When you do anything you consider useful, however small a step it may be, write it down on your Anti-Todo list.

2. At the end of the day, look at your list. Reflect on and celebrate all the things you got done!

This super-simple practice is more than a mere self-pat on the back and more than just crossing items off your to-do list. Taking a moment to stop and see the roses of your efforts offers powerful encouragement. Without these pauses, you lose opportunities to gain continual boosts of motivation.
Then, seeing the full list at the end of day gives you a chance to fully appreciate what you got done that day. Your Anti-Todo List gives you credit for the full day, capturing everything that came up during the day that might not have been on your task list. Plus, it’s pretty satisfying to sit back and see your growing list of accomplishments rather than focusing on a to-do list getting heavier with tasks.

More importantly, using your Anti-Todo List to reflect back on your day and what you got done can yield great insight and perspective on where you stand. Are you spending time on things that aren’t on your to-do list? Do you get more writing done after dinner? You can learn about yourself and where you’re expending your energy, improve your planning, and feel happier about what you got and will get done.

People often measure their efforts and themselves against some great, big goals — like completing a project or getting a promotion or learning a new skill — which makes it difficult to appreciate the small advancements. Oh, that’s nothing, you might say, dismissing all the little things while they keep you so busy. When you have large goals or lots of goals, every day can feel like you’re slogging through a swamp until that far-off moment when you reach what you consider those major milestones.

Even superstar entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen is familiar with feeling busy while never measuring up, and uses an Anti-Todo list to acknowledge what he got done:

[Y]ou know those days when you’re running around all day and doing stuff and talking to people and making calls and responding to emails and filling out paperwork and you get home and you’re completely exhausted and you say to yourself, “What the hell did I actually get done today?

Your Anti-Todo list has the answer.

What the Anti-Todo list helps you do is view your progress through a time-frame magnifying lens, enabling you to see the tiny triumphs that are valuable and integral in the long run. Pay attention to those small wins instead of focusing too much on what’s left on your plate.That plate is going to be full most of the time anyway. So it’s more useful for you to accept that, and learn from your progress to fill your plate in a happier, healthier, richer way.

The Anti-Todo list turns daily progress check-ins into a rejuvenating, inspiring moment during and after a busy day. Taking stock helps you stay positive, through exhaustion, frenzy, and discouragement. Building up daily progress generates momentum and joy, propels you into the following day to continue getting stuff done, and ultimately fuels you to accomplish those big, wonderful things.

About Janet

picJanet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest team-building and progress management tool around that tracks, shares, and celebrates your accomplishments. She writes about productivity, creativity, fulfillment, and the way people work. She has had former gigs as an opera magazine editor, lawyer, and gelato scooper. Follow her on Twitter @lethargarian.

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