Better than a to-do list

‚ÄĘ ~600 words ‚ÄĘ 2 minute read

Whether you keep them in your head, on a piece of paper, in a fancy piece of software or somewhere else most people have to-do lists. If your like me you might even have several different lists in different ways: a dry-erase board in the kitchen to build a grocery list, a piece of paper in my back pocket to write down simple errands (And, if needed, directions. This is a habit I got into last year traveling around the world when I couldn't rely on my iPhone for things. I really grew to love it.)  and the fancy software to track more complicated work & personal projects with a lot of moving pieces.

However, if you're like me, oftentimes the to-do list ends-up functioning as a trajectory toward accomplishing a thing but some of the details can change along the way. A few extra items make their way into your grocery cart. You recognize you're 10am client meeting is right by the library that has that book on hold. Maybe you open up a client site to restructure the navigation only to find  the remnants of a WordPress hack that's been diverting search results from Bing & Yahoo! so you decided to spend a couple hours cleaning that up, removing the offending plugins and dormant themes and making sure everything else is up-to-date and ship-shape.

That last one in particular is a good example of the sort of thing that was the impetus for keeping what I call my Done-did List. It's the opposite of a to-do list in every sense: you add items to it as you do them. Sometimes you're effectively moving something over from your to-do list but sometimes it captures the unexpected steps and accomplishments that occur between the to-do items. Maybe the item on your list reads get server credentials from client and what that ends up being in reality is several back and forth emails, a little bit of guesswork and finally getting in only to find the WordPress theme (If it sounds like I'm dogging on WordPress it's because... I kind a am.) you're updating has been tinkered with so many times you'll need to study it for a solid hour before you can do what originally seemed like a five-minute job.

There is something deeply unsatisfying about going through all of that only to check-off on measly item from a list, but the Done-did List helps remind me of all the steps that were involved. That simple task to get credentials from the client ends up looking more like:

1. Sent an email to Joe to ask for credentials.
2. Tried the three things he sent but they didn't work. Looked up nameservers and I think he's using hosting company _____. Asked him if it rings a bell.
3. Have access to admin panel but still no (S)FTP credentials or clear way to create/reset. Submitted support ticket on Joe's behalf.
4. Password successfully reset by admins and I now have access.

When I look back at the things I accomplished that day I won't just say "I only did that one little thing!" I'll realize my time was invested in many little steps that all added up.

The traditional to-do list helps get things done but my Done-did List reminds me how my time is spent, which is oddly more satisfying.