This article was originally published by Forbes.
When I was a teen making to do lists, “Make to do list” was always the last thing I included so that I could immediately mark something off. It was the free space on my to do list bingo card.
I still rely on to do lists to get stuff done, but it’s complemented by a list I like far more – my ta-da list, comprised of all the things I accomplished that day.
How it works
As you complete a task, write it down on a clean piece of paper. (Once you’ve got it started, feel free to use embellishments to give it some personality. I use stickers.) Rather than an unfinished to do list focused on those last few unfinished items, you’ll end the day with a list of the things you’ve accomplished. Plus stickers!
If you’re the type of person who finds yourself wondering, “What the hell did I do all day?” the ta-da list is an invaluable tool to keep perspective.
Why it works
It turns out, even in the best of circumstances, we’re better at remembering unfinished tasks than completed ones. Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychiatrist, discovered this phenomenon in the 1920s. She wrote, “Unfinished items that we’ve left hanging are like cognitive itches.”
That’s why the end of the day can leave us with that nagging feeling that we couldn’t possibly have been productive, given how much still remains to be done.
What it looks like in action
I once mentored a man who was struggling, feeling of overwhelmed and powerless. I quoted Glennon Doyle’s mantra in her memoir Love Warrior: “All I have to do is the next right thing,” and encouraged him to start a ta-da list.
He emailed me later to say that he had immediately launched into action, and he tweeted out a picture of his ta-da list. The simple act of shifting his focus to what he was achieving instead of what he wasn’t helped him get motivated.
Yesterday, I had several conversations with women I love who were going through hard times or experiencing self-doubt. These conversations weren’t on my to do list or part of my agenda, but they were among the most meaningful moments of my day. By making note of them, I celebrated having made those connections and acknowledged the way I’d been able to provide support.
On yesterday’s ta-da list, I also noted that I scheduled and rescheduled a half dozen appointments that required some serious calendar Tetris. Those moments of minutiae can be frustrating time sucks, but noticing how many of them I knocked out via my ta-da list helped me recognize the time spent on those logistics as a win.
For today’s ta-da list, I’m committed to calling my former employer to sort out a frustrating hiccup with my retirement account. Frankly, it’s a task that continues to get pushed to the backburner and cause me to feel overwhelmed. It’s one of those moments where I want to use the “I need an adult” bitmoji.
In calling and untangling this bizarre financial mess, I probably won’t be able to mark “figure out retirement” off of my to do list, but I can add “called about retirement” to my ta-das. I could easily lament that it’s not “finished” since it’s likely going to take a dozen more calls, but taking that one step toward adulting is worthy of celebration (and a sticker).
Whether your ta-das are interpersonal, logistical, or an exercise in adulting, documenting them can be a great motivator and a fun tool. Instead of ending your day focused on the things you didn’t cross off of your to do list, you have a whole other list that celebrates the things you did.
And now that I’ve finished this article, it’s going on the list. Ta-da!