A Week of Anti To-do List

Can you believe it? Neither can I…

Screenshot of my desktop with the ‘done’ list .txt files

It’s been a week since I consistently been using an alternative to-do list that was proposed by Coach Tony.

There are other names to it:

While I did read quite a lot about done list and simmering up a way to execute it — it was Coach Tony who made me to boil and finally do it.

Anti-thesis to To-do List

Internet is littered with productivity articles. And it’s favourite weapon of choice is ‘To-do list’. It’s a pretty neat idea. But like you, I intuitively felt a fundamental flaw to the system. (That’s why you are reading this article, ain’t ya?)

Unable to quite articulate, I sometimes felt successful using and otherwise terrible not being able to do what is on the list.

The serious contender to the to-do list is the ‘scheduling’. Proponents of this are , , and many others. The war is never-ending. It went on to the level that that to-do lists are useless.

But in the chaos of all this, there has been quite an alternative system, proclaimed to be based on science (it’s called ) that has been brewing alongside.

When stalwarts like Marc Andreesen, James Altucher, Josh Spector and many others started proposing it, the humble ‘done list’ gained popularity and momentum.

But I must say, I find that momentum gained is being lost as there is lack of practitioners sharing their insights on using a done list and how it served them well.

It almost felt like the remedy for woos of the to-do list syndrome was discovered, but failed to capture the imagination of the productivity nerds and wider audiences across.

Rediscovering the ‘done’ list

For me personally, I rediscovered the done list only after reading Coach Tony. I guess it must be one of my most repeatedly read articles. In fact, I saved the article as a pdf file in my laptop for easy reference any time. I rarely do that.

Actually, Tony wrote 2 articles which build upon his experience of NOT using a to-do list and instead try tracking tasks.

What excited me

I will let you wander around and read the above 2 articles. My recommendation is to re-read those articles, as many times as you can. I personally got different insights and perspectives each time I read.

There were 3 specific insights though that compelled me to embrace it. Believe me, when I say that doing it for a week i.e., 7 days is a monumental achievement. Consistency never was my strength.

So back to the 3 insights:

  1. I belong to a very nerdy species of knowledge workers — who need to write to think. Peter Drucker cites that there are 3 types of people who use 3 different ways to learn. Learn by reading, speaking or writing. I belong to the third type. It almost felt intuitive to track my tasks, as akin to capturing my thoughts/ ideas.
  2. I got fed up with using apps, of any types, however great they might be. I have always used plain.txt sporadically to capture quotes, highlights, random thoughts and ideas. So Alt+TAB wasn’t a difficult task.
  3. Third and this is the most important one — I started procrastinating, despite moving to more relaxed, work-from-home enterpreneurial career path. This scared me — for I developed resistance, in spite of the freedom, luxury and lack of pressure, thereof to do a task/ project.

The done list for me solved the #3 problem and the #1 & #2 reasons made me more comfortable in pursuing it.

What benefitted me

While it has been almost a month since I left using a notebook (read ‘Bullet Journal’ or ‘Franklin Planner’), or an app and started using a task tracking mode, the last 7 days has been a moment of pride for me.

Yes, I did on one my best days, but it also had other benefits.

  • I increasingly became calmer and more contained. Writing, by default, is a conscious rational endeavor. So the unwitting breaks to track a task, slowed my reactive mind and kept me on track.
  • Instead of channeling my energy into planning, I had more time and energy for actually doing stuff. Yes, I did occasionally step back to the ‘plan’ mode — but I did more to get a sense of big picture and direction. And I wasn’t doing it every other day or every 4th minute of the day. Yup! I was a planning freak, and done list relieved me of that pain.
  • My response time to my team, clients and others increased. It did fastpace the entire project at hand, it also created a sense of urgency among my team and projects to move towards completion/ closure.
  • Inevitably, the gap between thinking and execution reduced. I wasn’t thinking and analysing too much of what needs to be done. I was actually doing it. For instance, I already wrote 2 articles in the last 1 week and this is my third article.
  • It reduced my resistance for the work. As I was engaging with the work at hand, rather than just contemplating about it — which only increased my resistance to do it.
  • I recently added time-breaks (hourly basis) within my task tracking system. This helped me quickly see the volume of tasks I accomplished over a particular hour.

And the results…

hour-wise task tracking helped me visualize my accomplishments

I am proud of that list.

I added few extra fittings like separating the tracker hourwise, adding a few long form (relatively) tracking of a task completed.

Now it’s your turn. I don’t suggest, you immediately let go of your to-do list. But I suggest have a done list tracker on your side. Slowly you will loose dependency on your to-do list, because you already know what you are supposed to be working on. Importantly, at the end of the day, looking at your list of tasks completed, will definitely make you one proud soul.

All the best!

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Sathya @SathyaHQ

Work-from-home dad! Writer, Solopreneur. On a journey of personal growth & sustainable living. Subscribe to my newsletter —