To Do or Have Done

Our Study Tips series provides me with a lot of guilt-free navel-gazing opportunities.

Here's my latest self-examination: 

Am I more motivated by creating a list of all the tasks I have to do, or by seeing a growing list of things I have done?

In other words, which is better, a "To-do List" or a "Done List?"

The most successful experience I've ever had with a To-Do list came during my last term in college. I honestly wasn't sure I was going to make it. I had an impossibly colossal number of tasks I had to complete before graduating, in a span of just ten weeks (Caltech is on the quarter system, which is both a blessing and a curse). Every time I tried to wrap my mind around it, I felt like I was drowning.

In an attempt to take some control of the situation, I started a list on a yellow legal pad, and wrote down absolutely everything, one task per line, 30 lines per sheet: every problem set, every reading assignment, every meeting, every presentation, every exam. By the time I was finished, I had 8 full pages. It was, indeed, a mammoth To-do list, but not as insurmountable as it felt when it was just swirling around in my mind.

I put my head down and got on with it. One by one, I crossed off every item on that list.

At graduation, they played the "Hallelujah Chorus," and I felt it in my bones.

I can say, honestly, that that was the very last time when a To-do list was exactly the right tool for me. Since then, it's gotten a lot more complicated. Reaching a goal is seldom so cut-and-dried as an 8-page list of pre-defined tasks. That's why lately I've been adding on tasks as I complete them, a "Done list," almost as a "for the record, this is what it actually took to get the job done."

We've tried a lot of work-tracking methods here at Socratica, including spreadsheets, kanban boards, Tsheets (an electronic timecard, now part of QuickBooks), and good-old-fashioned paper and pen. Lately we're combining a lot of these methods using, which allows us to create a task list, share it, track the time spent,  add notes, archive jobs, create reports, identify bottlenecks, etc. etc.

Still, there's something missing.

My ideal tool would help me identify not only the list of tasks required to reach a goal, but also help me prioritize. The giant elephant in the room is that no method I've tried can recognize when I'm spending too much time on one minor subtask at the expense of all the other things that need to get done. Is there a productivity tool out there that helps you become more efficient in this way?

Or is that what a manager would do? 

A real-live, honest-to-goodness GOOD manager?

Oh, gods, is that what I need?

After a lifetime of quitting bad managers, have I come full circle back to the point where I need a manager?

I'm going to ignore this troubling insight for now, and make a list of possible productivity/ study tips videos to add to my queue:

To-do lists vs Done lists
Kanban Boards
Bullet journals
The four-day workweek

Have I left anything out?


My first book HOW TO BE A GREAT STUDENT is available for purchase as an e-book, a paperback, or if you sign up for Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.

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