Okay, disclaimer: It might not be for everyone, but there is something liberating about having your life externally managed by a spreadsheet. Last year, I wrote about one: the habit points tracker (idea courtesy of Chris Bailey). The tracker has helped build habits and improve my consistency. What started as one spreadsheet has now grown into five, all working together as my second brain.
The second spreadsheet to take its place next to my habit points tracker blossomed out of something I found on an Evernote blog post (I have no idea how I ended up on that site since I don’t even have an Evernote account). Anyway, long story short, I learnt about the idea of a Done List, which is a log of the tasks you’ve already completed. The opposite of a To-Do List. While a To-Do List helps organise your workload and offers a sense of accomplishment when you tick off a task, the Done List is a visual reminder of all your accomplishments in one place, which can fuel your intrinsic motivation to do more.
Now, the post was talking about the list in terms of work-related tasks, but the core principle remains true for other things as well. Towards the end of 2022, after a really long day of wondering how on earth it was already December and wasn’t it June just yesterday, my partner and I were looking back on our year and wondering if we had wasted a lot of it doing nothing. We could remember the big things – holidays, moving flats, reuniting with family. But they felt too few and far between. Scrolling through our photo albums jogged our memories a bit, and we began to remember more things we’d done, places we’d seen, and people we’d met. It helped a little, though a cloud of doubt still hung over us. Reading about the Done List, I resolved to keep one for my life.
The time we discovered an amazing pasta place by accident, the day we first explored the park by our flat with a perfect sunset gleaming behind us, the cosy pub we went to just because we felt like a beer and then decided to make a tradition of, the hair cut I finally forced myself to get after being terrified of stepping into a salon for six months, the time I binge-read eighteen volumes of a manga in a fever haze in the span of a few hours – all of it goes on the Done List.
Every morning, I look back on the previous day, pick three highlights, and note them down. At the end of a week, I have 21 things I did. I pick three from them to make a weekly highlights list (which is unnecessary, but in the long run, it might be easier to look back on 3 x 52 as opposed to 3 x 365 items at the end of the year).
So far, this system has worked out great. It makes me think about each day carefully instead of just writing it off as an unproductive day. This spreadsheet has also forced me to acknowledge that my memory is terrible, since I was quite surprised by all that had happened in January despite it feeling like a boring month. Though, to be honest, on some days, the three things ‘I did’ were just getting out of bed despite not wanting to, drinking a coffee my partner made for me, and taking a shower. Those days are bad, granted. But all the things I did on the days before and after those bad days are reminders that things change. It will get better. And that’s been an unexpected but welcome side-effect of the Done List.
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