Feeling unproductive? You need a To-Done list 

Photo: Stocksy

A To-Done list is a list of all the things, no matter how small, you’ve achieved that day. It’s an easy way of reminding yourself that you are capable and productive when you’re feeling low

Added on

By Amy Jones on

I live according to lists. I keep lists of books I’ve read, books I want to read, films I want to watch, my home to-do list and my work to-do list (with “Do it now” and “Do it later” subcategories), recipes I want to make, the presents I gave people last year and the presents they gave me, potential future baby and pet names, restaurants to try, clothes I want, goals for the year and probably a few other ones that I’ve forgotten. Maybe I’ll start a list so that I can remember them all.

But the list I cherish most of all is my To-Done list. A To-Done list, as the name suggests, is a list of all the things you’ve done. How lenient I am with the criteria for inclusion depends entirely on how I’m feeling that day – sometimes I only include chores or work tasks; sometimes I’ll include things like “Took an Instagram photo I don’t hate”. Whereas my other lists are to stop me from forgetting things or to track progress on a goal, my To-Done lists are like little lifebuoys that keep me afloat.

I started making them when I first became depressed about four years ago. I was working from home in a job where most of what I did was researching and planning, rather than actually making anything tangible, and I quickly started feeling like I was completely useless, like I couldn’t accomplish anything and like I was wasting my life.

By the end of the day, I could look back on a list of things I had managed to do and feel a flicker of self-esteem

Enter the To-Done list. Initially, I was incredibly gentle on myself – they always started with “Created To-Done list” and included things like “Got out of bed”, “Got dressed” and “Washed my face” – but I was in such a fragile state that it felt like a mammoth task to get out of bed and it really was an achievement worth nothing down. As I went through the day, I’d add anything I did to the list. Literally anything. Sent an email to Jon, had a phonecall with Alice, read a webpage about the evolution of digital video, made an omelette, listened to the news, had a Twitter conversation with someone, anything. It’s amazing how quickly it adds up.

By the end of the day, I could look back on a list of things I had managed to do and feel a flicker of self-esteem. That tiny spark of confidence was enough to let me try new things so that I’d be able to put them on the list – I’d go for a walk, send a message to that woman I thought was cool, teach myself to hula-hoop, eventually even mention how unhappy I was at work to my manager. My To-Done lists weren’t the reason I stopped feeling so depressed, but they definitely helped me realise that I wasn’t at useless and pathetic as I thought I was. I can do things – look, here is the proof in my hand! That proof was all I needed to change how I felt about myself, and it was as easy as picking up a pen and writing on a piece of paper next to my laptop.

Nowadays, depression under control, I still make To-Done lists. I make them on the days when I feel a bit low and need a confidence boost, the times when I feel lost or overwhelmed at work, the weekends where I’m in danger of losing two days to the sofa and my iPhone. I start writing a list of all my tiny achievements and feel confident enough to have a go at some bigger ones, or I’m able to chase off those pervasive little voices that still whisper in my ear about how terrible I am when I haven’t achieved much at work that day. They’re a little reminder to myself that even if I haven’t changed the world, I’ve still supported my friend through an argument with her mother, read three difficult political articles and made an excellent cup of tea – and that those little things are achievements worth celebrating, too.


Sign up

Love this? Sign up to receive our Today in 3 email, delivering the latest stories straight to your inbox every morning, plus all The Pool has to offer. You can manage your email subscription preferences at My Profile at any time

Photo: Stocksy
Tagged in:
Mental Health

Tap below to add to your homescreen