Turning the Task List into the Accomplishment List

Some time back, I explored using a list to help me stop procrastinating at home and work. It worked decently at work (although it lost its effectiveness over time) and didn’t work at all at home.

List Goals Alongside Tasks

LifeHacker has a theory for why lists fail: we forget why we put a task on our list, so we lose the motivation to complete it.

The answer? When you make a list, also include why you need to complete the task. (This isn’t going to be applicable if you make a daily to-do at work, like “check voice mail;” it’s really for longer/more complicated tasks that require more motivation.) So, my task list at home might look like this:

  1. Rip out the carpet tacks in the spare bathroom so I can lay some tile.
  2. Buy and lay some tile in the bathroom so it’s easier to clean up and keep clean.
  3. Clean up the bathroom because it’s starting to look like an episode of Hoarders in there and it’s driving me crazy. What if we had company???
  4. Invite company to the house so I will be forced to do 1-3.

(This is actually an old list. I had to redo all of the tile I laid because it wouldn’t stay stuck–and I still have a few tiles I need to re-glue–but at least it’s decent for company now.)

List Accomplishments Instead of Tasks

Something that I’ve been doing lately to motivate myself is the opposite of the task list. Rather than writing a bunch of stuff down and then marking it off (it’s very easy to overload your plate and it’s depressing if you fail), I’ve been making a list of the things I accomplish. Amazingly, I get 2-3 times more stuff done this way. And a long list of accomplishments is actually more encouraging (for me, at least) than a shorter list of things marked off.

Time Me!

In conjunction with the accomplishment list, I work 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. Scott H. Young has a blog post about the need to work in short bursts. If you stay on one task too long, your mind will start to wander and you actually accomplish less than if you took a short break and then got back on task refreshed. Studies have actually found that people who take periodic breaks from work to surf the web are more productive than people who keep their nose to the grindstone all day.

So, whether you’re a student studying; a writer trying to grind out a word count, edits, blog or social media posts, or marketing; or just someone who is staring at a large, unpleasant task at work that you’ve been avoiding (filing, anyone?), try 15 minutes on/15 minutes off.

Download a desktop clock from CNet or use an online version (in case you can’t d/l at work). If you’re away from your computer, use an egg timer or the timer on your stove or microwave. (And then there are those people living in the 21st century who have a timer app on their phone.)

Spend 15 minutes working hard; don’t let yourself be distracted. Then, when your timer goes off, do whatever you want–surf the internet, Facebook, Angry Birds, make a phone call, etc.–for 15 minutes. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 15-minute chunks and how less unpleasant the task becomes.

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3 comments on “Turning the Task List into the Accomplishment List

  1. Wallace says:

    From a FB post:

    1. Start a list.
    2. You’ve done the fist thing, so check it off.
    3. Realize you’ve now done two things on your list.
    4. Check off the third thing as well.
    5. Make that four things checked off…

    And so on. Some lists are easier than others.

    I’ve never found that it is better to take breaks, it ruins my concentration. I’ve always done much better if I start something and get fixated on it and keep working till I get it finished. At work, I was usually limited by my work hours, but at home it was no problem to start working on a problem or a project and keep working straight thru until it was either done or I was just too tired to continue.

    This meant that, sometimes, I might work ten or even twenty hours straight on something, often continuously thru the night till the next day. Now that I’m retired, a project might take a day or two of continuous effort, only taking an occasional bathroom break or to eat. Not the healthiest way to do something, but I find it much harder to get restarted on a project after I have stopped and slept than if I just worked straight thru.

    The problem is, once I’ve stopped and slept, lots of other things might pop into my mind that are more important, or at least easier to finish in the short term. It’s easier to just divert my attention and do that quick easy project than to go back and spend more hours on an unfinished project that has lost my interest.

    Needless to say, that does leave a lot of long term projects sitting around unfinished, but it also means that a lot more short term projects get finished. If the long term project is something that has to get done, I do go back and work on it in fits and starts, but, unless it has an unmovable deadline, it usually takes a long time to finally finish it.

    I do make lists, but only for grocery shopping, or a long checklist of stages in a very long term project. I have a list of things I need to buy at the grocery store that I constantly add to and then mark off at the store, but I never buy everything on the list, mostly because I run out of room in the cart or the item is a sooner or later buy and not something I need right now.

    I also have a long list of things I need to do to rehabilitate my house in C’ville. The list runs to several pages and will take months or even years to do them all, but I add them to the list so that I’ll remember to eventually do them and not forget altogether.

    As to day to day life, I really don’t need a list. I wake up when I feel like it, do what I want, and only feel compelled to do the minimum, such as pay the bills, buy food and drinks, pay the taxes, etc. On the rare occasions when I have some social commitment to attend, it’s usually so rare that it never slips my mind about the day or time.

    One other thing that I do write down more or less constantly is not a list at all, but plots or dialog or excerpts from stories I’m writing or would like to write. I have piles of little pieces of paper stacked here and there, each one a gem of an idea that just needs incorporating into a story. Some I’ve used, others I’m still thinking about, but every one gets written down if I can because, no matter how good the idea may be, if I don’t write it down, I’ll likely forget about it. And that is one thing I’d recommend to every aspiring writer. Whether or not you ever make lists, always write down your story ideas.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      If I’m motivated to do something (that whole thing about striking while the iron is hot), then no, I don’t take breaks either. I go until I run out of steam. Hard as it is to believe, I’ve spent 14 hours cleaning up the garage before with nothing but a short break for lunch.

      I use the timer when I need to MAKE myself work on something. It helps me accomplish stuff when I’m procrastinating or feeling overwhelmed by a really big project.

  2. I’m getting old, Keri. I find I have to make lists before I go to the store or run errands; otherwise, I’ll come home and realize I forgot to do or buy something. I definitely make lists when it comes to bills and things that must be done based on payday.

    We used to clean the house in 45 minutes runs. We’d set a timer, and all three of us would take off and do as much as we could in 45 minutes. Not in the bedrooms, but in the rooms company could see. When the timer went off, it was “good enough.” Thanks for the suggestion of an online timer. The clock on our stove was recently fried due to a power surge, and I need something.

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