Motivation against depression: the ‘to-do’ list

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to make ‘to-do’ lists each day in a bid to motivate myself even in little tasks, be it emptying the crumbs out of my handbag (don’t ask!) or practising my German/knitting (coz you can’t do one with the other!). Mostly it’s been good, but there are times I wind up beating myself up over tasks I haven’t completed, mainly my morning pages and meditation.

I came across this article by Leo Widrich called Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work and Done Lists Do. My first thought was ‘great, I’m already doing it wrong!’ Apparently ‘to-do’ lists make you less productive, as it focuses on small tasks as opposed to open-ended ones and projects.

‘When smaller things are too easy to get done, smaller, less important things are all you will get done.’

Widrich recommends keeping ‘done’ lists. Essentially this is a way of documenting “real results”, with the motivation coming from the fact that you got stuff done. Instead of just planning your day with ‘to-do’ lists, which are subject to change, you can review your day with ‘done’ lists and this allows you to feel a sense of achievement at what you’ve accomplished.

He is not recommending abandoning ‘to-do’ lists altogether. In fact, he suggests that both lists can work in harmony together to help you plan more productively. Using both lists will reveal patterns and determine what tasks are not getting from the ‘to-do’ list to the ‘done’ list.

And there are tools to do it!

At the bottom of the article there is a list of ‘done’ list tools to help you. These include:


This tool emails your every day with a prompt to reply to it with all you’ve done. Your completed tasks are kept in a calendar for your review.

Use what you have

This is something I’ve already started. Put your ‘to-do’ lists and ‘done’ lists together which will make it easier to compare them.

Take notes

OneNote or Evernote are recommended as tools to help you jot down your daily ‘dones’.


Keeping a journal of your ‘dones’ allows reflection around your accomplishments each day. Tools such as RedNotebook and Day One are recommended.

Right now I’m simply writing my lists into a small notebook my fiance’s parents bought me, but I’m a fool for technology so I will definitely be giving the tools a try and see which works for me.

To-do List:

Try ‘done’ list tools!


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