Done list

Why You Should be Using a ‘Done List’


A done list is a short hand way of noting the main things accomplished in a period of time. It can take the form of a literal ‘list’, or simply ticks against a date on a calendar to represent having completed a goal on another consecutive day (such as going to the gym or not smoking).

I first came across the ‘done list’ as a concept when I read ‘Brainhack‘ by Neil Pavitt. I started writing done lists in work around 1 month ago, and it’s already changed the way I approach my work. Here’s why you should re-think the to-do list and consider writing a done list of your own:


Ambitious people – particularly British ambitious people – are particularly terrible at acknowledging when they have achieved something. It’s something to do with modesty, or perhaps being chastised for boastfulness in our early years. The done list forces you to take stock of what you have achieved. It forces you to state clearly what value you have driven within the time period, and it’s actually quite pleasant!


i am very busy

If you’re the kind of person who is running around all day without feeling like you’re getting anything done, it might actually be the case that you aren’t. Taking the time to pull together a done list will help you identify which of those energy-draining activities was a useful allocation of your time and which were simply an illusion of productivity.

In an article by Jessica Stillman for she asks whether what’s on your to-do list and what you actually spend your time doing line up. If they don’t, where is it going wrong?

If you get through the day and you’ve only really served others, however noble that might be it will not help you to meet your own objectives. Take a step back, see what you’ve actually achieved and adjust your focus according to how you feel about that balance.


Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve worked long hours all week only to freeze and fall silent when asked ‘what have you been working on this week?’ in a team meeting? Yup. Same.

The done list is a good way of summarising what you’ve achieved in the week and validating the feeling that you’ve worked hard. Often when I’ve been writing my done list I’ve struggled to recall how I spent my time initially, then it all comes flooding back once pen hits paper.

If I hadn’t taken 10 minutes to regurgitate the list of completed tasks into my journal last week I would have disregarded around 25-50% of the valuable tasks I’d done. I would have left the office on a Friday afternoon with a feeling of failure – after all I still had a huge to-do list. As it happens, the done list  was twice as long as the to-do list, so on reflection it had been a good week. Compiling the done list is what tipped the balance.


To do lists encourage you to attack the easier tasks first, so you can enjoy striking the line through the words. The temptation to strike off ‘submit expenses’ ahead of ‘financial modelling for Easter promo offers’ is so great that despite the relative unimportance of reclaiming a £20 train ticket, you find yourself filling out the form with gusto.


Seeing progress provides motivation. Reflecting on what you have already achieved can make you more productive simply by giving you the extra energy you need to crack on with the next big task.

Joel Gascoigne, Co-Founder/CEO of Buffer, has this to say about done lists:

“Done lists help me sustain my productivity throughout the week. I used to have that ‘where did the day go?’-feeling without being able to remember what I did. Now I look at my list and feel great about all the things I got done. That’s powerful.”

If that doesn’t convice you, Laura Vanderkam, Author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast has this too add: 

“Progress is motivating. Failure is not.”


progress the done list

If you’ve challenged yourself to lose 10lb and have lost 8.5, your to do list would suggest that you haven’t met your goal. The done list would clearly state that you’ve lost 8.5lbs – a cracking achievement – and allows you to give yourself a mental pat on the back.


There are plenty of free and excellent resources online to help with your done list. One interesting option is iDoneThis. Perhaps try downloading and reading their excellent e-book here

Too attached to the to-do list?

Yes, me too. I’m using both. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to switch completely from to-do to done to reep the benefits of the latter. Simply recording your ‘done’ tasks is enough to provide balance when your to-do list grows as fast as mine does!

Go forth, get shit done… and make a note of it.

F x



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