How to Finally Make Peace With Your To-Do List


How to Make Peace With Your To-Do List

The person who’s going to complete all the tasks on your list is not you. It’s some superhuman version of you, who gets all the things done without breaking a sweat. Perhaps the biggest problem and allure of the to-do list is how aspirational it is.

In the early days of iDoneThis, there used to be a to-do task feature. While we decided to focus on helping people harness the benefits of keeping and sharing a done list, we gained some fascinating insight into what really happens when it comes to your to-do list along the way.

Two of the most interesting discoveries we made were how 41% of to-­do items were never finished, while a whopping 85% of dones were unplanned tasks that never started out as to-do’s.

There’s a huge gap between what we hope to get done and what we actually accomplish — and that might just be part of the human condition. The problem is when we let our to-do lists dishearten and demoralize us because we feel we’ve somehow failed. The way to conquer those negative feelings is to look backwards.

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How to Perform 20% Better By Doing Less Work

"We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience." —John Dewey

The power of self-reflection is simple but mighty. It’s how you recognize and celebrate progress, gain nourishing motivation, and detach from the workday. Successful people like David Heinemeier Hansson and Marc Andreessen use this tactic to keep their momentum going while managing the pressure of always having more work to do.

But like most activities that aren’t yet a daily habit, even taking out five to fifteen minutes a day just to think and write about your day feels like a drag. That’s because a deliberate practice of reflection, like regular exercise, isn’t always easy or fun. It requires energy, discipline, and some time. Philosopher and psychologist John Dewey explained in his 1910 book, How We Think, why the beneficial act of reflection can feel like, well, such a chore:

Reflective thinking is always more or less troublesome because it involves overcoming the inertia that inclines one to accept suggestions at their face value; it involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance.

So self-reflection can be tough, but it produces more value than whatever you would’ve spent those minutes on anyway. When you’re constantly chasing that feeling of being productive by conquering more items on your to-do list or cranking out those extra emails, you’d be better off stopping your work to think a little.

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Why You Will Gain Freedom with a Set Creativity Schedule

Create an oasis of quiet by creating boundaries of space and time.

Ira Glass not only hosts the popular public radio show, This American Life, but also writes, edits, performs, produces, and manages. There’s plenty of work to keep him busy, which is why he confessed to Lifehacker that his worst habit is that he procrastinates … by working.

He explains:

Ira GlassIn addition to being an editor and writer on my radio show, I’m also the boss, and deal with budgets, personnel stuff, revenue and spending questions, and business decisions… [W]hen I should be writing something for this week’s show, I’ll procrastinate by looking over some contract or making some business phone call or doing something else that actually isn’t as important as writing.

When you’re wearing lots of hats, the temptation to procrastinate by working is high, and it’s usually creative priorities and projects that wind up getting the short end of the stick. The double whammy is that not only do you feel guilty and demotivated for not getting to priorities, you also feel worse and burned out from working so much anyway.

In order to reliably get to your creative priorities, the solution is to carve out a deliberate creativity schedule. Without it, the work you put off will be creative work as other tasks seem easier to get through and justifiable, to boot, as part of your job.

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Google Snippets

Title image for The Definitive Guide to Google Snippets

The Definitive Guide to Google Snippets

I knew nothing about Google Snippets before I moved to Silicon Valley. But when I was out there, I kept hearing that successful company after company — like Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Buzzfeed and more — used the snippets system to power a flat and decentralized management structure, enabling autonomy, transparency, and happiness in the company.

This guide tells everything you need to know about Google snippets, from its inception at Google to how it’s used at top tech companies today. You’ll learn why snippets is so useful and how to get snippets going in your own company.

If you’re interested in using iDoneThis for snippets, just go to idonethis.com. We’d love to hear what you think about snippets and our guide at @idonethis.

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Are You an Unwitting Audience to Productivity Theater?

Before Curtain at the Theater

A productive office is supposed to be a buzzing hive of activity, right?

But as a manager, a workplace that’s always humming with constant activity is not what you want to see — because it’s a sign that something has gone awry. It means that people are putting on a show to look busy all the time.

You know the trick: when someone walks by, you quickly switch tabs to bring up the spreadsheet or report you’re supposed to be working on, or engage in theatrics like looking very annoyed or walking briskly like you’re a very important person who can’t be bothered.

Welcome to Productivity Theater. Even though it’s impossible for human beings to be working nonstop, that’s what’s expected at the workplace. Looking busy becomes how you get recognized for doing a good job. The result is a show put on for the managers — and proceeds largely according to their expectations, scripts, and direction.

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The Secret to Finding the Elusive Balance Between Busy and Happy

collage of balance

Let’s face it. We have a love-hate relationship with being busy. We want more free time but are quick to jam-pack our calendars and flaunt the bling of our busy status.

While busyness has become a badge of honor to be admired and applauded, at the heart of it, busyness seems a human way to assert that you exist, to prove you matter. I do, therefore I am — which can quickly morph into, I do more, therefore I am better.

University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson studies how people use their time for a living. He’s even called “Father Time” by his colleagues, and he discovered that the happiest people actually balance busy schedules by not feeling rushed. Only about a tenth of Americans attain this elusive balance, and that might be because we’re inclined to trick ourselves into enjoying busyness for more than it’s worth.

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Why You Should Hire People Who’ve Rebounded from Failure, Not Those Handcuffed by Success

Fish Jumping Out of Bowl Hire Innovators

When it came time for Jeff Bezos to install a team to lead Amazon’s new subsidiary, the grocery delivery service AmazonFresh, he made a startling move. Instead of selecting experts from the supermarket or delivery industries or snapping up executives from his competitors, he chose people who had failed exactly where he wanted to succeed.

This maneuver would have never happened in the early days of Amazon. In the first few years of the company, Bezos was incredibly demanding about who he would hire. He only wanted the best — which were people who had “been successful in everything they had done.”

Bezos’s thinking on hiring did an about-face as he continued to build Amazon. To hire innovators, you must move beyond conventional ideas of success, and that’s why Bezos ultimately hired failures to run AmazonFresh.

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Don’t Let Your Huge Goal Distract You from Small Wins

reaching for the sun

Go big or go home. Shoot for the stars. Aim high. These types of platitudes could be holding you back, because they’re distracting you from all the small things.

A kind word or a moment of honest listening can be enough fuel to keep you going. Doing one push-up a day, writing one line a day seems laughably easy and ridiculously unambitious — but that’s how you build a practice.

We think small actions leads to small consequences, and grand motions have the most impact. But that’s just not true. We presume this “consequence-cause matching,” because it helps the world seem more predictable and manageable — but in return for believing this myth, we’re less happy and successful.

Small things might seem silly, but they can have exactly some of the outsize impact we need to reach our big dreams.

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How 3 Entrepreneurs End Their Day Even When They Have More Work To Do

For the most productive people, the work is never done. The problem is that when there’s always more work to do, how can you possibly end your day and go home without feeling stressed out and guilty?

You might think that this is just a personal problem, but it turns out that this is a struggle that even the most successful entrepreneurs have had to grapple with.

Here is the system that three highly effective and seasoned tech executives use to manage their own psychology. It’s not sexy, but it’s incredibly powerful, and it’s a simple process you can start today — tracking and reflecting on your day’s accomplishments.

David Heinemeier Hansson (37signals) quote on daily reflection

“One pattern to help yourself fight the mad dash for the mirage of being done is to think of a good day’s work. Look at the progress of the day towards the end and ask yourself: ‘Have I done a good day’s work?’”

David Heinemeier Hansson, 37signals

Taking time for daily reflection on the question “Have I done a good day’s work” is “liberating” because if the answer is yes, “you can leave your desk feeling like you accomplished something important, if not entirely ‘done.’”

If the answer is no, you’re empowered to delve more deeply into why that happened and how you can fix it.

For the people who think they’re too busy to take time out for what sounds like just another task, here’s the twist — “it feels good to be productive,” and feeling productive requires that you take time out to recognize your accomplishments.

When you do, you’ll get on a roll and you’ll want to keep the momentum going. “And if you can keep the roll, everything else will probably take care of itself.”

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Forget About the Lone Creative Genius

emily dickinson social creativity

At the design firm IDEO, you have to be cooperative or you won’t survive.

Engineer and designer Jimmy Chion, for example, spent his first few months at IDEO going from designing “futuristic interactions inside a car to working at a handbag manufacturer to make a purse for London Fashion Week.”

Who you work with changes all the time as well. While teams generally exist for a few months, you could be together for as little as two weeks or as long as a year, depending on the project. To add to the flux, as Jimmy told me, “every team basically starts from scratch every single time,” collectively deciding what tools and processes to use.

Creativity is a quality mostly equated with individuality. Yet IDEO has to constantly corral extremely creative people into shifting configurations to deal with different clients and projects. “Everyone here is really versatile in the way they work. You have to be — you’re not on any same project twice,” explains Jimmy. Everyone at IDEO can work with everybody else at IDEO, which is the cool part.”

Understandably, that means they’re not looking for lone creative geniuses at IDEO. Instead, what one of the most creative companies in the world hires for is the ability to collaborate.

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