Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Time Management Tuesday: "Done" Lists

Sometime this past year I read a suggestion that workers forget about "to-do" lists for managing time and focus their attention on "done" lists.  Since I spend time each December doing something similar for my whole year, this seems like a good opportunity to consider this time management option.

If I've written about "done" lists before, I can't find it now. Nor can I find the original article that included this material. Getting a handle on that sort of thing seems as if it would be good for time management, doesn't it? Another post.

Why Keeping Track Of What You've Done Could Work

The theory behind preferring "done lists" to "to-do" lists is that much that goes onto "to-do" lists is never done and will often just be dropped. In fact, I can also recall reading decades ago about prioritizing "to-do" lists into A, B, and C categories, planning to eventually drop the Cs altogether at some point, if they lingered on the list too long. Which kind of raises the question, What's the point?

"Done" lists, on the other hand, can become motivators, particularly if you create real lists and you're the kind of person who gets a kick out of some kind of visual reward.

A Couple Of Examples From The Life Of Gail

Exercise "Done" List
First off, let's look at an easy application from my personal life. I have no trouble exercising each day. I'm a bit of a plodder, but I'm happy to walk, sit on a stationary bike with a book, use an aerobics DVD, do some resistance training while watching TV, some yoga, go biking. What is more difficult for me is to organize exercise around specific goals--maintaining strength, improving flexibility, or any of the other functional fitness things we're supposed to be doing. I'm a bit of a binge exerciser. I've tried planning to do X number of minutes of some activity Y times a week, but I doubt I've ever made it through seven days with that kind of thinking. I always went back to running with whatever felt good at the moment. Except not running, of course. I've never been a runner.

Soon after I read about "done" lists, though, I came up with the idea of keeping track of what I've done for types of exercise instead of planning what I had to do. Yes, there are four types of exercise I should be doing each week, and I should be doing each one of them a certain number of times. But instead of assigning days, I jot down what I did with a number, the number designating that it is the 1st, 2nd, or whatever time I've done something in a week-long period. I'm getting a lot more success with this system, in large part because I see that I've done something once, and I'm motivated to do it again so I can see that I've done it twice.

Having done something, motivates me to do more. I've been doing this with exercise for two or three months now. That's far longer than I've ever made it with planning out what and when I'm going to do ahead of time.

Submission Boards "Done" List
A second, more professional example involves what I'm calling my Submission Boards, which you'll see to your right.Technically, this is a very poor way of keeping track of manuscript submissions. What you should do...well, I won't go into that, because, though I've kept track of submissions a variety of ways over the years, in all likelihood none of them were "what you should do."

But the Submissions Boards...the Submissions Boards are another example of how having done something provides motivation to do more. When I could see on the first board that I'd only made a few submissions this year, I definitely wanted to submit more. And when I got close to thirty submissions, I wanted to hit the big 3 0. Yesterday I hit the big 3 3 for the year. That's what bicyclists call a third of a century. (Really, they call 33 and a third miles a third of a century, but I haven't figured out how to do a third of a submission.)

National Novel Writing Month might also be described as a "done" list. If you're doing well, having written for fourteen days in a row is a big motivator to write for the fifteenth day. And if you've been not only writing every day but meeting your word goal, you're going to feel good about continuing to work. 

The Opposite Of The What-the-Hell Effect

Remember the What the Hell Effect? It describes how we often give up on a goal when our self-esteem is low because we feel we've failed at doing something we wanted to do, so what the hell? We might as well drop the whole thing. "Done" lists are the opposite of that. We see we've done something, and we're so encouraged that we keep working.

"Done" lists are also a pretty powerful example (at least in my experience) of an external support for willpower. Workers are ""offloading" some of their mental work/working memory to their environment."

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