ometimes, in these digital days, I really mourn the loss of my old, trusty, Franklin Planner. I was lucky enough to get to take a free day-long seminar, way back in 1995 or 1996, where we got to learn exactly how to use these fancy calendars/to-do trackers. I know you think that’s weird that I would love something like that, but as a 20-something just out of college, attending such a professional seminar made me feel like a grown-up businesswoman.
I got the style of Franklin Planner that doubled as a purse, and so everywhere I went, I had only to unzip my leather case and flip to the day, week, or month I was looking for. I had all my new, blank pages for future months stored away in a desk drawer, and next to it, eventually, the previous years’ pages, all saved for posterity.
Each morning when I got to my desk, I’d write down my to-do list next to the little empty squares. Then, as I moved throughout the day, I’d mark them as I was shown in the seminar:
- A dot in the square meant the project was in process.
- A checkmark in the square meant it was completed.
- A forward arrow in the square meant it was forwarded to the next day.
The evergreen importance of a to-do list for productivity and efficiency
But, after I shifted out of a corporate environment, and then as I went on into entrepreneurship, I decided I didn’t want something so fancy anymore, so, outside of post-it notes and the occasional list, I kept my to-do list in my head. Without anyone else to report to, I figured I could easily remember what I needed to do each day.
I suppose for some number of years, this worked okay. But, eventually, projects would get dropped, or deadlines missed. And, I never accounted for the enormous amount of energy this took up, energy that would be instantly freed up if I simply wrote things down instead of juggling them in my mind.
In the book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin, he says:
“The most fundamental principle of the organized mind, the one most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things, is to shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world.”
So, while I thought I was organizing my brain just fine, I was giving it more work to do than necessary. Offloading my list of things to do to something external—an online or paper calendar or even a notebook—takes a load off the mind so it can focus on another project.
To-Do Lists 101
So, the to-do list is back in my life, and I still use the codes I learned in my Franklin Planner seminar. My to-do list helps bring focus and clarity to my schedule. I no longer have to take up time each evening, as I used to, mentally running through what I’m going to do the next day, because it’s already written down.
“When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.”
The Ta-Da list
Enough on to-do lists 101. I’ve recently added something to my calendar that I think has done just as much for my self-esteem and confidence as the to-do list does for my brain.
After an item is completed, in addition to putting a checkmark next to it, I move it to its own list: completed projects for the week. This way, these completed tasks don’t disappear from my view when I turn the page to the next day. And, I keep it right next to my to-do list, so every time I look at all the tasks ahead of me, I also see all the tasks behind me.
I don’t keep this list to just the big accomplishments, either. Returning phone calls, emails, or even better organizing your workspace can all be valid candidates for the Ta-Da list.
For entrepreneurs, creating a Ta-Da list can do several great things for your mindset:
- Help you realize how much you actually get done in a week. I know it seems that days and weeks go by so fast, and we’re not sure if we can get it all done. But, hey, look at what you accomplished last week! Just this little reminder of how productive and efficient you really are can be the motivation you need to start digging into this week’s tasks.
- Prevent you from getting overwhelmed. Focusing on our achievements before diving into work can give us that sense of purpose you need for the tasks ahead.
- Give you a confidence boost. You look back on all the items you accomplished the week before, and you dive into the work of the day feeling good about yourself and your abilities and your successes.
- Improve your mood. Who doesn’t feel good looking at the list of things they’ve accomplished in a week? And hey, maybe even keep a running list for the month, or even the year! Then, any time you need a self-esteem pick-me-up, you can simply page through all of your accomplishments and remember why you love this work so much.
As entrepreneurs who don’t get regular accolades from colleagues at work, performance reviews from bosses, or other such markers of success, a Ta-Da List can give you the pat on the back you need along the way. As I’ve said before, successful entrepreneurship is not about weathering one bad review, or one bad day. It’s about building resiliency to absorb difficult months or years. We have to focus on what can sustain us, not just what can push us. When reward is not a built-in feature of our work, you need to find other ways to keep yourself motivated and feeling good about your successes.
“When you don’t keep a log of your accomplishments, you’re more apt to forget the specifics that speak volumes about your value.”
~Peggy Klaus author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Horn Without Blowing It
Starting your Ta-Da list
Personally, I simply use a bulletin board, as I love to be able to write and erase and move things around. I also use Slack to create pipelines, and once in a while, when I need a respite, I go and hang out in the beauty of my Completed box. For articles I’m writing and pitching, I maintain an Excel spreadsheet, and make sure to highlight the articles that get accepted in bright green. One way I track my acceptance improvement is by scrolling through and seeing how many more green rows I have than in months prior. This keeps me motivated to keep increasing the green.
Then, of course, you could journal your accomplishments, speak them into recorded notes, or some of the other options listed on this site.
So, while I do still miss my Franklin Planner, unless they’ve updated it for a place for a Ta-Da list, I just can’t go back.