Work/Life Balance

How Keeping An Anti-To-Do List Makes Me More Productive

By | Thursday, January 18, 2018

With no real success, I’ve always been on the hunt for productivity “hacks” that will actually work. I click on every article and video hoping that it will change my life and ~*unlock my potential.*~ Sadly, I’ve gone most of my life feeling like I could always be getting more done. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was looking at tasks the wrong way.

I love making lists for everything, so naturally, I’ve had some form of a to-do list since I was a kid. But what happens when you complete a task on that list? You cross it off. And once enough tasks are completed, I throw the list away, eager to make another one. When I cross something off the list, it’s also crossed off in my brain, never to be thought about again. Even when I complete a big task that I’d been dreading, I revel in my accomplishment, and then immediately forget about it.

The problem with this system is that the reward for finishing a task is very short-lived. You do get the initial satisfaction, and then later you don’t have to face the consequence of not doing that task (e.g. missing important deadlines, waiting until the last minute, etc.). But it also makes it difficult to remember all the smaller tasks I did to finish a big project or hit a major goal. What if you could create a list that actually shows you all the amazing things you have been able to do with your precious time? That’s where the opposite of a to-do list — an accomplishment list — comes into play.

You still make a to-do list like normal. But once you finish a task, you transfer it over into an accomplishment list, so you’re accumulating accomplishments as you cross tasks off. I prefer to do this on a Google Sheet so I can update it from any smart device and I can cut and paste instead of re-writing anything. You can also use tools and apps like Evernote or iDoneThis to keep track. Change the text color or highlight exciting accomplishments to make them stand out.

Below is an excerpt from my accomplishment journal from a particularly productive day:


  • Dermatologist appointment (yearly mole check complete)
  • During Lunch Break
    • Returned Amazon Packages
    • Mailed my rent check
    • Submitted an article to TFD
  • Completed a productive work day
  • Calculated my net worth
  • Edited and scheduled a YouTube video for Wednesday
  • Hand-washed that one sweater I can’t put in the washer (it’s cashmere)
  • Took a bubble bath

Often referred to as a “done” list, this list isn’t necessarily meant for routine things you do every day. You can include things you’re dreading (yearly check-ups) or just small tasks you never get around to doing, like returning packages or hand-washing a sweater. You can also include activities that you look forward to but don’t always have the time for, like a luxurious bubble bath.

It gives you something to show for all your hard work, instead of a to-do list full of crossed-off tasks that will end up in the trash. Lists like these are especially helpful for work reviews, because they serve as a tangible representation of what you’ve accomplished (and showcase how much you deserve that raise you’re going to ask for!). They are also beneficial for those of us who suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s harder to feel like a fraud if you have something in front of you listing all the wonderful things you’ve accomplished.

This alternative to the to-do list has done wonders for my productivity. There is a positive reinforcement associated with adding something instead of taking something away. It makes me want to grow my list for the day and inspires me to complete difficult tasks that take a long time to complete (I highlight those in purple). It also allows me to easily track milestones, whether they are financial (like finally paying off a loan) or about a side hustle (like hitting a certain number of views on a blog). I also like to take those highlighted, big accomplishments and gather them in a second tab, serving as a “highlight reel” of the past week, month or year.

I love sitting down and filling in the list before I go to bed. With how crazy life can get, it’s easy sometimes for the days to melt together. This is an easy exercise that allows me to gather my thoughts at the end of the day and feel like I’ve spent my time wisely. I oftentimes surprise myself with how much I got done. A to-do list has never given me that satisfaction.

A to-do list can turn into a nagging list of what you should get done, but haven’t yet. But an accomplishment list focuses on actual results. Instead of feeling like you have a never-ending mountain of tasks, you can create something that represents how far you’ve already climbed. And the best part is that it’s super easy to get started — and customizing your own version of an accomplishment list can be the first accomplishment you put on it.

Natasha Terensky is a Research Analyst from Pittsburgh. She enjoys eating sushi, making lists and giving people makeovers. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel (Too Much Tash) to learn more about cruelty-free beauty and smart spending.

Image via Unsplash

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