How to be more productive by focusing on what you've already done

Forget the To-Do list.

Productivity and happiness heavily influence each other.

I spend a lot of time thinking about productivity and happiness. Together or separate, one heavily influences the other. If you're not productive, your happiness may dwindle. And if you're not happy, you may not feel like being productive. In a lot of ways, happiness is derived from your perceived self-worth and sense of purpose, so if you're not producing anything meaningful, you will end up feeling schlumpy or bored.

As someone who works from home for my full-time gig and also is constantly working at other passion projects, whether it's helping clients, practicing lettering, slicing a blog template, or furthering my doodling ventures, I often feel like I'm not doing enough. Which when I think about it, is an insane thought. As a creative, there's a high chance you feel the same way.

The done list: How to be more productive by focusing on what you've already done

The Short To-Do List Hack

Keeping a short handwritten to-do list will help you be focused.

I came across a to do list hack twice in the past couple of weeks. First, I read in Tim Ferriss's book The 4 Hour Workweek that having a short and handwritten to-do list at your desk every morning was going to help you be most productive. If you make this list at the end of each day, you can come to your desk the following morning and know exactly where you need to put your focus.

By limiting yourself to two projects, there's a much higher chance you'll complete your list since there's less choice.

We all know how more choice leads to more procrastination, fidgeting and angst.

So, I'm about a week into practicing this short to do list method and it's got me feeling kind of unfulfilled. My productivity is still high and I'm still working in time chunks to be able to hit different items on my passion project list every day. But I've still felt meh at the end of the day.

The short to-do list productivity hack came up again in listening to one of Sean McCabe's earlier podcasts about productivity and Guilt-Free Free Time. Sean is the type of person who is always working on something awesome and allows himself very little true down time, and I fully relate to that. (“True down time” meaning spending time on something that absolutely does not further you in your interests or as a person in any way.)

I was running this morning and listening to this podcast. Sean mentioned a very intriguing approach to to-do lists. I can't remember what he called it, but I'm going to call it The Done List.

The Done List is exactly what it sounds like: it's a running list of things that you've completed.

Boost your motivation by keeping a Done List.

By keeping a complete list of your accomplishments, you're giving yourself a pat on the back and are keeping a record of the really great things you've done that day. The 3pm-time-for-coffee-or-nap slump can easily be cured by taking a look at your Done List.

Sound familiar? That's because it's really important to recognize positive things in your life, daily.

How to Keep a Done List

Grab a small notebook and a pen. Using actual pen and paper will feel much more cemented than typing a list. Then you can keep this notebook on the corner of your desk.

As you accomplish things throughout the day, write it down. Title each day something awesome, like:

  • Reasons why I kicked butt today:
  • I got all of this stuff done today:
  • I rock because today I:
  • Look at everything I did today:

You get the idea.

I certainly get a rush of adrenaline when I think about everything I've accomplished in a day or a week, rather than focusing on everything I want to accomplish.

Staying Balanced and Productive as a Creative and Ambitious Person

This also lends itself to the “Live in the moment” life philosophy. A list of goals is the future. Short actionable to-do lists are the present. And Done Lists are the past. While you do need all three to be a productive and ambitious person,

the Done List can help you keep a healthy balance of all three by helping you recognize your accomplishments.

If you feel like you're too hard on yourself, give The Done List method a shot and let me know how it goes.