I have never been great at to-do lists. To me, they are an exercise in torture: writing a list of all the things I will inevitably not get done; a document of imminent failure. In a gameshow host voice: “Here’s what you could have done!”
However, for many people, ticking items off a to-do list is the definition of a quotidian pleasure; mini mood-boosts, micro injections of achievement. It could be argued that getting smaller tasks done supplies the motivation for the more expansive changes one needs to make in life. (Though sometimes this is wishful thinking: remember buying a stationery set before the new school year – despite already owning all of the items; as though new pencils would augur a change in attitude from “class clown” to diligent student?)
I sigh at chores and errands. I hide from returning emails. I am not superb, basically, at life’s admin. But I have developed a trick: to-done lists. Or at least that is what I am calling them, ungrammatical as it is.
The to-done list is the art of writing down all the things I have done. I get the same boost others do when completing something on their to-do list; it is just that, in adding something to a blank page, I am not reminded of all the things I have yet to do, uncrossed out.
In a move that perhaps is taking it that little bit too far, I have begun to keep my to-done lists in a giant Google doc. A cumulative record of what, if anything, I managed to accomplish that day. No contribution is too small. To give you a glimpse into the glamorous life I lead, previous entries have included such Gatsby-esque pleasures as “Cancelled direct debit” and, a personal favourite, “Gave away coathangers on Freecycle”. But, in general, these lists mean I can keep tabs on when my productivity is spiralling, and feel smug when looking back at an efficient week.
If the list is bulky, I end the day more settled, and I suppose it is an act of that overused and sometimes queasy term “self-care”. It is a way of feeling proud of oneself in bitesize. (Or gulps, if the list includes such things as “Gave birth to twins” or “Finished the definitive novel of our era”.) So if you are in the market for a way to de-stress, to enjoy the little wins – and who isn’t? – I suggest the to-done list. This weekend’s column? Done. I will be adding it to the list.