Self Improvement

Ditch Your To-Dos: How To Use A “Done” List To Achieve Your Resolutions

Mihir Patkar 21-12-2014

Resolutions for the new year stem from a need for self-improvement. Whether your goal is to lose weight, quit smoking or finally write that book, it comes from a part of yourself where you feel lacking. Instead of a to-do list, try a “Done List” for a positive mindset to achieve your targets.


What Is A Done List And Why Is It Better?

One of the best tactics to stick to your resolutions 3 Tactics To Really Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick New Years Resolutions are generally well intentioned attempts to kickstart ourselves into learning something new, losing weight, or saving money. Realistically though, they’re exceptional if they aren’t forgotten by February. But seriously now, let’s make... Read More is to create actionable tasks, rather than vague goals. For example, your resolution might be to “lose weight” but the actual tasks are “exercise daily” and “cut down sugar intake”. Seeing those items on your to-do list every day can be overwhelming. And if you miss them, it feels even worse — almost like it’s mocking you.

A good alternative to the traditional to-do list 3 Types of Lists That Actually Help You Be More Productive To-do lists are the ultimate productivity weapon. These to-do lists could give you all the power you need to get things done. Read More is the Done List. Essentially, this is a list that tracks your achievements, without keeping a record of the things you had to do and skipped. Inherently, it’s a more positive and happier way to look at your tasks than a list of unaccomplished items.


The Done List can be used to track even the wrongdoings — say, if you ate sugar when you weren’t supposed to, because technically, it’s still something you did. But as someone who has used Done Lists on multiple occasions to boost productivity, I would advise against that. Focus on the good, forget the bad. The Done List’s biggest selling point is its ability to motivate you, to show you how efficient you can be. It’s a picture of what you can do, not what you can’t do.

Where your to-do list is intimidating, your Done List is inspiring. You feel good when you look at all the things you have achieved. In fact, as 99u writes, you should chart every small win.

  • Skipped a doughnut when you felt like having it? Write it down.
  • Pushed yourself to do one more set of push-ups? Write it down.
  • Saved money by walking instead of driving? Write it down.

The Done List not only motivates you positively, it also shows you which tasks you do most often for your desired result. The achievements you do most often are usually worth repeating. For example, you might not be meeting your dietary requirements, but you might be going to the gym regularly. This pattern tells you that exercise is a more achievable way for you to lose weight because it’s a process you enjoy.

Behavioural scientists at Chicago Booth university found that resolution achievers focus on finding an enjoyable process to their goal:

So the advice for the person who would like to get back in shape is to realize that what makes you follow through is the experience, not the goal. We don’t do things that don’t feel good, so it’s a good idea to plan some exercise that could be enjoyable, some diet that has food that you like to eat. And beyond this planning, as you do it, focus on the experience itself. When you exercise, try to enjoy the exercise; don’t think about “I’m losing weight, I’m getting in shape.”

One other trick I use for my Done List is to quantify each achievement with numbers. Numbers help in measuring output, whether it’s in the form of weight lost, money earned, time saved, or anything else. For example, my productivity column for yesterday looked like this:

  • Wrote article on Wikipedia
  • Wrote article on passwords
  • Wrote web content for client X
  • Sourced a phone for review
  • Checked out Workflow for iOS
  • Earned $150

Money is a motivator for me when it comes to my work, so it helps to spur me on when I see a measurable number that I have achieved. When I wasn’t freelancing, I calculated my hourly wage rate to measure how much I earned every day. It’s the small things, but like we already know, you need to count the small wins.



To sum up, remember these five points to make a successful Done List:

  • Write down only achievements, not misses
  • Track every small win
  • Find your patterns and enjoy those processes
  • Quantify your achievements
  • Approach it with a positive mindset

The Best Apps And Tools For A Done List

Microsoft Excel/Google Sheets (Web, Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)


You don’t always need a fancy app. I prefer to use Google Sheets for my daily Done List because it’s accessible anywhere, easy to update, and can be tweaked to use charts and figures. Of course, you can also replicate that with Microsoft Excel. In fact, Ryan has written a detailed guide on how to use Excel to create a goals management system Use Excel & Google Tasks to Create the Best Goals Management Tool Ever Lately, I've started to realize that I'm working very hard, but if someone asked me whether or not I feel that I'm working toward a larger purpose, I'd have to say that I really don't... Read More , and you can use most of his tips for it.


iDoneThis (Web)


iDoneThis makes it easy for you to update your Done List, and is one of those motivational apps to spur you into action 4 Simple Motivational Web Apps That Can Spur You Into Action in Seconds How to motivate yourself isn’t taught in schools. It is something each of us must learn to do on one’s own…or take the help of the web for some pointers. One of the pointers that... Read More . Every evening, it will mail you to find out what you did today; just hit reply, write down your list, and you’re done. In the morning, you’ll get a daily digest from other iDoneThis users to show you what they achieved — a dose of inspiration to kick off the day. Finally, your friends can also like and comment on your achievements, giving you a boost when needed.

Diaro (Web, Android, iOS)

Diaro is a cross-platform journaling app. While its purpose is more encompassing than a Done List, you can still use it as one. Each day, just write down what you achieved and keep our five points in mind. The mobile apps for Android (read our Diaro review Keep A Beautiful, Orderly, and Private Journal Of Your Thoughts and Days With Diaro For Android Keeping a personal journal can often help us make sense of the difficult times in our lives, or better remember the good times. If you're carrying around a smartphone, you already have a powerful and... Read More ) and iOS make daily updates an easy, delightful experience. When you want to review your list to find patterns, I’d recommend using the web app since you can use the extra real estate of your big monitor to check out the monthly list view.

Simple Text File / SimpleNote (Web, Android, iOS, Mac)



There is nothing stopping you from using good old Microsoft Notepad or Mac’s Notes, or a cross-platform note-taking app like SimpleNote Simplenote for Android is a Free, Fast and Fantastic Notepad Good apps like to show off their many features. Great apps get out of the way and let you do what you came to do. Read More . After all, you only need a blank space to write the date and follow it with what you have done. A notepad does that perfectly well. Of course, you won’t get the bells and whistles of a daily email or charts and graphs, but you can’t beat this for simplicity.

Debate: To-Do List vs. Done List

Which system is more productive and actually helps accomplish goals and tasks? It’s time to debate in the comments!

Image Credits: geralt, parylo00, yarranz

Related topics: GTD, To-Do List.

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  1. Pascal Laliberté
    June 1, 2017 at 3:45 am

    It's true that tracking small wins is encouraging. Thanks for the article.

    If this can help: I've implemented a way to visualize the end of the day using the same language of a done-list. In essence: imagine you're at the end of the day, or at the end of that meeting, or at the end of the important event you're planning, and you're imagining it went incredibly well. Why did it go so well? It's because you have... (and this is where you start writing statements that look like done-list items, only you imagine them before they happen, with the statement starting with a past participle e.g. Finished, Advanced on, Obtained, Started).

    I call that objective-writing technique "have-done lists". Coupled with a few more questions to thoroughly prioritize and re-write those statements (in essence, re-program the brain for success), I've replaced to-do lists completely with this technique. What I liked most about the trick is that it works on very small timelines, as well as very big timelines. It's a single set of questions that can be applied to today, or to the week, or to the year, or before the next big deadline, or before that meeting with your boss. It's all the same and it's pretty powerful.

    I happen to use TaskPaper to use these lists, but anything that lets you indent easily will do.

    Plus, at the end of the day, you have your done-list all written out, because that's what was done that day.

    Hope that helps. Here's an article to learn more:

    How I Use TaskPaper: Objectives, not To-Dos

    And here's another article I called "What To-Dos Can't Do":

  2. Arun Kumar
    December 29, 2014 at 9:29 am

    My to-do lists are usually done list, your article has put a good spot light that there is possibility of someone getting trapped in to a doing list, you should call it doing list versus done list and not to-do list versus done list (you are giving to-do list a bad name).
    For example - Driving - will get listed under doing list and Driving to beach will get listed in done list. If I get stuck in doing activity I usually come to know in my 5 minute small break after pomodoro (25 min) or in worst case, I come to know when I do my daily review activity.

    Do not confuse Resolutions with Goals. Resolution is feeble wish.
    Resolutions are mind assertions for which you need will power and discipling, habits can hep build good structure on sticking to resolutions.

    Goal are totally different they are not resolutions, they are well thought, made up of stack of done or to-do list, it is not necessary you have all the blocks or stacks and that they are in right sequence.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 29, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      doing list vs done list is a great point, Arun! Readers, listen to the man.

      About resolutions vs goals, I think you're getting too caught up in semantics there. While what you're saying makes sense, I don't think there is any need to be so literal in defining the two separately.

  3. @hectorarturo
    December 25, 2014 at 3:48 am

    I was doing this list before reading this post and other one with the same idea. I use Google keep because I can use it offline and have no total storage limits (every note have a limit of 99999 characters). Evernote is a good option but require more clicks (one additional click to edit notes). Additionally, Evernote has not total storage limits but, more important, has not the 99999 characters limit.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 25, 2014 at 4:47 am

      I'm curious about the character limit. Do you really need 99999 characters for your Done list?

  4. David G
    December 23, 2014 at 4:09 am

    Is an interesting way to see Tasks.. BUT what If you forget things easy, or you do a lot of things (have 3 jobs/businesses) and need to know what you have to do? I mean, how can you write a Done list, if you didn't know what you had to do?

    Imo Done lists apply more for very passive people, or who have very specific routines.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 23, 2014 at 4:37 am

      I actually don't have a specific routine, but my mental to-do list has never gotten so big that I forget the tasks I need to do. But I do agree with you that those who have too many tasks need a to-do list.

      I think Dann's point above about maintaining both a to-do list and a done list is worth emulating for such people!

  5. ratha
    December 23, 2014 at 1:52 am

    Exiting article, simple article with bunch of motivation.

    I do practice whatever happens try to find the positive part ot it, i think its a strength.

    Thank you for point out the 'enjoy the process' i recalled my ways of working.

    It tells us how the solutions are very simple and I got a precious point from makeuseof, yes this is first in my todays done list.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 23, 2014 at 4:36 am

      Thanks ratha! Glad you found this article useful :)

      If you could expand on how you started to "enjoy the process", that would be great. Sharing personal experiences can help others who are struggling with the concept!

  6. Dann Albright
    December 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I've been making done lists pretty regularly for a month or two now, and I absolutely love it. I hadn't thought of writing down achievements like this, though—instances of exercising willpower, for example. I only wrote down tasks that I did. I really like this idea!

    • Dann Albright
      December 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Oh, and the noting of specific amounts that you've earned. That's a fantastic idea.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 22, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Yeah, the quantification has been my biggest motivator. I guess it helps if you're someone driven by data, as opposed to someone driven by emotions. It's all about finding what motivates you and going with that. If I was someone who worked more when I saw I was feeling good, I think I'd track more of my emotions than my measurable output.

  7. Elizabeth
    December 21, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I like this idea. At work I started doing this a couple months ago to help me remember what I did when. It helps me when I feel a bit overwhelmed and don't feel like I have accomplished much. When I write down on my calendar (as a private note) I realize that I actually accomplished more than initially thought. It is actually a great boost after an exhausting work day.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 21, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Totally agree. You know, a lot of productivity is about momentum, and that's what this gives. When you see what you've done, you realise you're on a roll, and you keep going :)

  8. Millie
    December 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Nice job , here's my list, if it's public the chances are I'll stick to it
    - Find a job
    -Keep a job
    -Stick to my diet (loaded gun diet)
    -Stay healthy

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 21, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      So you're a to-do list guy over a done list guy, I presume? :)

  9. BOB
    December 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Hey, when we should write things on done list at night or anytime possible after each successful win. Great thing I'm gonna starting from New Year or next day.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 21, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      Any time, Bob. I used to write it after each achievement because of the idea of tracking each small win. After having used this system for over a year, I now do it once a day. It's really up to you. Choose whichever routine you are going to stick to, there's no right or wrong as long as you keep doing it :)

    • Dann Albright
      December 22, 2014 at 8:49 am

      I usually update mine throughout the day—just like a to-do list. I keep them on opposite pages of a notebook, and that's actually really useful in helping me see how many things I do beyond just the ones that I wrote down in my to-do list. They end up mirroring each other quite a bit, but seeing that I did a lot of things other than the ones that got checked off helps me realize just how much I get done in a day.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      Dann, this might be the smartest idea I've heard yet. "Why choose between a to-do list and a done list? Combine!" Using two sides of a notebook just makes so much sense.

      Do you also use time estimation and time tracking, just to compare the two factors as well?