The Anti-To Do List

What if, instead of a To Do list, you made an “already done” list and celebrated everything you achieved today? The concept is simple. Instead of writing down everything that needs done in a week or a day, you write down the things you did and end your day with a list of accomplishments.

If your hardworking self thinks this sounds like a fluffy, overly optimistic Pinterest project, think again. It’s an innovative approach to time management that many say is not only more positive than the To Do list, but also more effective.

The founder of the concept, Marc Andreessen, is also the founder of Netscape, Opsware, Ning, and Andreessen Horowitz. He calls it the Anti-ToDo list and he recommends keeping it on the back of a 3x5 index card that contains (on the other side) 3 big picture things you’d like to see done during the day. He promises you will make headway on those big projects simply by noting the productivity of each day on the opposite side.

Andreessen says, “I love this technique -- being able to put more notches on my accomplishment belt, so to speak, by writing down things on my Anti-ToDo list as I accomplish them 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.

Plus, you 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? Your Anti-ToDo list has the answer.”

The traditional to do list pays off emotionally as well, supposedly making you feel better when you get to cross things off the list. Of course the problem occurs when things remain, often day-after-day, undone. This, along with other issues, have placed ToDo lists under a fair amount of scientific scrutiny. They are blamed with making people feel overwhelmed, ineffective and just generally causing undue stress. Others don’t blame the list itself, but try and hone the way in which the list is done, such as making it shorter than 7 items, breaking larger tasks into smaller action items and adding a priority hierarchy.

But ditching the To Do list, for those die hard list makers, can seem absurd if not impossible. What about the details?  Won’t they get lost? Won’t essential pieces of the productivity puzzle be forgotten?

Marc’s blog actually addresses all those concerns, and not with platitudes about self trust or embracing change, but actual tactics that different people, with different styles of work (and different jobs), can do to rock out time management in better ways than the traditional To Do.

The reality is that there is no one way to maximize productivity, but a lot of people are learning that positively acknowledging productivity is as motivating and effective as tracking and marking deficits.

For example, Jerry Seinfeld has his own way of using an Anti- To Do tool for motivation and management.  To consistently get his writing projects accomplished, Jerry creates a productivity chain by Xing off days on his one page, yearly calendar when he writes. His motto, “Don’t break the chain.”  He gains satisfaction from the Xs running on in perpetuity.

So if a To Do list has never quite worked for you, or even if it has, consider shifting toward the more positive anti-ToDo list.  Why not see if it works?  You’ve got little to lose beyond those negative feelings of noting all the things undone…  today and next week and the week after and after and after.  Perhaps there is a better way.

Rocky Lewis
Rocky Lewis