Even super-productive people often fall into the trap of feeling like they didn’t accomplish much that day. Here’s how to fix this productivity problem.
Many productive people fall into a funny mental trap: we often overlook our own productivity.
Sometimes the more productive you are, the more likely you are to beat yourself up at the end of the day, even thinking, “I wasn’t very productive today.” The fuller your day is with activity, the harder it seems to pinpoint what exactly it is that you did at all.
Entrepreneurs and other enterprising people are no exception, especially with the anxiety and pressure of high standards and visions of amazing growth. Ambitious people measure themselves by their progress towards achieving audacious goals, so they often can’t appreciate a single day’s worth of tiny, incremental advancements that they’ve made.
How to Avoid the Mental Trap
Between starting Netscape, Opsware, Ning, and Andreessen Horowitz, Marc Andreessen has already done monumental work in his career. Yet he still seemed particularly at risk of falling into this familiar-sounding trap:
“[Y]ou know those days when you’re running around all day and doing stuff and talking to people and making calls and responding to emails and filling out paperwork and you get home and you’re completely exhausted and you say to yourself, “What the hell did I actually get done today?”
To arm himself against the daunting quest of making meaningful progress toward his big objectives, Marc came up with a system: the done list (which he called his “anti-todo list”, a tongue-in-cheek contrast to the much more popular to-do list).
Every time he did something useful during the day, he wrote it down on his done list, which he kept on index cards. He explains:
Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet.
And then at the end of the day… take a look at today’s card and its Anti-Todo list and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.
Keeping a separate list of accomplishments means that when Marc takes stock of what he has achieved, he gets an unadulterated rush, free from the nagging and guilt of what’s still left on his to-do list.
Find Your Small Wins
There’s value in the act of slowing down to document your accomplishments. Capturing what you get done ensures that you don’t lose that value. As Marc notes, “being able to put more notches on my accomplishment belt … throughout the day makes me feel marvelously productive and efficient. Far more so than if I just did those things and didn’t write them down.”
Chris Savage, CEO of the video-marketing startup Wistia, writes about how magnifying your perspective on progress to count what happens day-to-day is key to generating the momentum and joy to accomplish big things. He explains this lesson concisely in two graphs:
There’s a hard road to travel to get to big-time achievements (Click here to tweet this thought) and reaching heady dreams, whether it’s making your first million, mastering the piano, running a marathon, or building a successful company — and if you’re too exhausted every day to take stock of your successes, you’ll lose heart.
Rather than waiting for major milestones to celebrate achievements, recognize that tiny, wonderful triumphs happen every single day. Turn that into a daily process of rejuvenation and inspiration after a hard-day’s work. Your done list will energize you and serve as a crucial method of maintaining the positive emotional balance necessary to accomplishing great things.
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis. Keep reading about how to keep a done list and the science behind they help you work smarter in a free eBook, The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List. Say hi on Twitter @lethargarian or on Google+.