Retrospective To-Do Lists

The other night, having had some trouble getting to sleep, I decided to do a few little jobs I’d been putting off. These included rooting out a number of postcards I’d bought at exhibitions over the years—ranging from the V&A’s Art Deco exhibition to the National Gallery’s Caravaggio: The Final Years—and gluing them into a plain notebook.

I generally keep a little to-do list on a pad of Post-it notes, so after I’d stuck the photos in—something I’d been meaning to do for months but had never got round to—I added the task to the end of the list, and crossed it off.

Anyway, I got to wondering if other people did stuff like this. For me, it’s what I tend to do for tasks that are big or important enough to be on my to-do list (I have a pretty low bar for importance, to be honest), but aren’t for some reason, so I add them after I do them and then cross them off.

Basically it’s a way of increasing the emotional pay-off you get from completing a task; it reinforces the feeling of completion, provides tangible proof that the day hasn’t been a waste, that you’ve got stuff done. Often, because these are tasks you weren’t necessarily expecting to complete, it feels even more satisfying than usual to cross them off.

Last updated 13th Jan 2009

6 responses

Interesting – I’ve never really thought about doing this, though I can see the benefit of the emotional reward for completing a task. The sense of accomplishment is key in getting things done in our daily lives.

I’ve been trying to keep my notes in a small moleskine notebook, and it’s an on-off battle with myself to actually do the list, and then to actually do the items on the list. Maybe if I had a retrospective feeling of accomplishment I would want to get more things on my list done?

Good stuff.

~ motherduce

I’ve found that if I write things down, I never look at the list again. It’s not a very good system for me.

~ eric

I have found that I do that same thing. Not to show it as complete but more as a future refrence that I had completed it in case I nee to refer back.. I stopped using paper though and use Backpack by 37Signals.

~ Dennis

I do that all the time. Even for smaller, more menial tasks – particularly if there isn’t much else on my list that day.

I make a new to-do list every day, and add anything not completed on the last one to it immediately, then add to it throughout the day. If I do something not on it, I add it then cross it off.

It adds to the sense of self achievement at the end of the day if you see more crossings out, for me at least, particularly as someone who is in general, pretty bad at maintaining a decent level of productivity. I tend to procrastinate a lot.

~ Richard

i am big on making lists, but i generally use them as a way to stop worrying about whatever it is that needs doing and then forget i’ve made them. my livejournal is full of half- or unfinished to do lists. i also currently have a slightly complex two page word document of stuff to be done which i started a month ago.
however at work, lists actually get made and ticked off. because i’m easily distracted, it’s a way to make sure everything gets done. it doesn’t always work though.

~ catherine

This is scary, I thought I was the only one who did that. I’m not even sure why, maybe because I get the feeling that I have accomplished something? It just seems to silence that nagging voice in your head a bit if you see a long list of items you have already taken care of.

~ Moe