I Gave Up My To-Do List for a Week + Here’s What Happened
A full-time small business owner, part-time freelance writer and fitness instructor, I’m *constantly* re-arranging a lengthy to-do list for GSD. My Google calendar serves as a fool-proof backup, with its color-coded blocks to ensure that I’m constantly moving along according to a self-set game plan. But despite the work that I’ve put into over the last couple of years developing a system that incorporates expert to-do list tips, there are still times when keeping up is exhausting and feels downright depressing. Since I like to try helpful hacks that promise increased efficiency, I was super intrigued when I came across Silicon Valley entrepreneur, engineer and investor Mark Andreesen’s Anti-To-Do List concept — instead of crossing off pre-planned tasks, you record all of the things you achieved in the day, after the fact. I was blown away when Mark spoke to my hardworking and tight-knit team about startups and productivity at my last job (and I’ve read many of his blog posts since), so I was extra excited to test out one of his ideas for a week. Here’s what I learned.
Changing things up can feel seriously scary
My first couple of days without my regular to-do list gave me what felt like minor panic attacks. It didn’t take me long to realize how seriously accustomed I am to deleting/moving/editing the items on my list, all of which are broken down by day, priority and type of work. Because the Anti-To-Do List calls for completely ditching a written roster of to-dos, I was forced to call on calendar alerts, memory and my inbox to keep track of what I needed to do. Within the first 20 minutes of giving up my list, I was already at a loss for where to start.
Because my typical day includes calls, screen sharing sessions, places I need to be and specific chunks of time dedicated to different types of work, I continued to feel seriously off-kilter without my categorized cheat sheet. It got a little bit easier by the end of the week (admittedly, I started relying on my calendar even more), but the feeling of missing/relying on my documented list truly never went away.
My daily to-do lists are pretty unrealistic
My to-do list is a pretty wild dump of literally everything on my radar, from personal stuff that can be done whenever to project work or assignments with hard deadlines. Like most people, I try really hard to get through as many tasks as I can, which means that each day has a pretty long list of items that need attention. To-do list lines I can’t address by the time I wrap a work day get pushed further down the list — usually with feelings of disappointment, even after putting in more hours than I originally intended to.
I was forced to write down what I actually got through after each full day (while working efficiently and at full capacity). I realized that I have a tendency to overload my daily list with a totally unrealistic number of tasks. I could pinpoint that my stress stems from where I start my mornings, as my too-high expectations were unreasonable from the start and set me up for feelings of failure. This was a really valuable lesson to learn!
Noting progress can serve as major motivation
“Celebrating wins” is something that people talk about a lot when it comes to progress. Though I wholeheartedly believe that it’s important for a person to mark milestones when it comes to working toward a goal, I realized that I’ve 100-percent failed at putting this into practice for myself. Holy smokes.
When it comes to creating an Anti-To-Do List, Mark says, “What you do is this: Every time you do something — anything — useful during the day, write it down in your Anti-To-Do List on the card. And then at the end of the day, take a look at today’s card and its Anti-To-Do List and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.”
Once I did this, it wasn’t hard at all to see how many things I should’ve felt good about! I was forced to come to grips with the fact that I *never* stop to pat myself on the back for the number of important tasks and projects I’m able to get through during a work day, mostly because all I see at the end of each is the tasks that remain on my list. I think this might be part of the reason that I often feel stressed even after my laptop is closed for the night — it’s as if my work is never done, even after I’ve had a truly productive day. Pausing to let the good stuff sink in can be a major motivator and is just as important as setting sights on what’s next!
I can’t quit my standard to-do list
I REALLY wanted to like this Anti-To-Do List experiment. In fact, I really hoped I’d uncover a new way of outlining and accomplishing my tasks that felt more freeing. But since I’m being honest, I totally have to admit that running my day without written lines of what I need to do isn’t for me.
I can’t ignore the fact that I work better when I can scan and edit my task list throughout the day, which erases any fear that I might be missing something. Going without it gave me real feelings of anxiety that sucked up energy I’d rather use on my actual work. I also like having my list available to document anything urgent that pops up during the day —something I’m sure I won’t change about the way I work.
Despite the fact that I’m set on keeping a written roster of stuff to get done, I do plan to incorporate a few key lessons learned into my workflow. This means being more realistic when outlining what I can do during a normal work day, hopefully leading to a better work-life balance and fewer feelings of disappointment. I also want to work on consciously stopping to note my progress, milestones and wins. To make it easier to see them, I’ve switched from using notepad to Asana, a slick (and pretty!) tool that makes it easy to see everything that’s been checked off in a day, week or month. I think the mix of both lists will give me a really good holistic view of what I’m doing while helping me move forward!
Would you try the Anti-To-Do List? How do you keep track of everything you’re working on and accomplishing? Tell us all about it @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)