"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Drop in the Bucket: A Look at my Done Journal

I hate to-do lists. There, I said it. For years I thought the only way to be productive was to make to-do lists and then cry silently for all the things left unfinished at the end of the day. I never got the same satisfaction as other people from crossing items off the list, because somehow everything I still had to do blotted out the any short lived feelings of accomplishment. Plus, I'm terrible at prioritizing. Something needed to change.

The idea of a "Done Journal" is not mine. It's been around for a while, and there are even some apps out there for it, the most popular being iDoneThis. (I haven't tried it, only heard of it) The concept itself is basically a retroactive to-do list, where you write down tasks you've completed rather than things you need to do. The thing that attracted me the most about this idea is that you actually have to do something in order to put it on the list. It sounds obvious, but it's actually extremely powerful. A to-do list is something you create for your future self. You don't get any pleasure out of it until you actually finish a task (or two, or three), and even then it is all too easy to get overwhelmed by the items still on your list. A done list, on the other hand, brings immediate satisfaction. You've just completed a task! You get to add that thing to all the other things you've done that day, that week, that year. You're a rock star!

Okay, so maybe it's weird to get excited over something as small as replying to e-mail, or running errands. But keeping a done list (and a done journal) gives you permission to feel good about yourself and your accomplishments, not matter how small they are. This is the main reason I love done lists, and why I now have a journal for them.

About the supplies: The notebook that became my done journal was part of a three pack set from Greenroom. Once I got to college I started using greenroom notebooks almost exclusively because I was so tired of the boring spiral notebooks they'd make us use in elementary and middle school. (I hold my stationary grudges for a long time, folks). Anyway, they are pretty durable, lightweight, and made out of recycled materials. Plus I find they are the perfect size for this purpose.

I began with categories. I wanted my journal to feel deliberate, creative, and thoughtful, rather than just a hap-hazard record of what I've done. If I can color code something, I always do it. By tagging each item with a different color, I can see at a quick glance what parts of my life I'm spending the most time on. Also, I needed an excuse to use my colorful pens.

Despite my gushing above, starting a done journal didn't magically make me a more productive person. There are still days when I feel crappy about not getting enough done, or I look back at my day and realize that I didn't accomplish anything important. I've noticed that I have to write down the date in the morning before I've finished anything or I don't have the motivation to start working until much later. The other thing that has been helpful is writing down my thoughts at the end of the day about what I accomplished, what I wish I'd done, or simply something that happened to me that day. It's a great way to de-stress and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Can your to-do list do that?

Lastly, the done journal does not completely obliterate the need for a to-do list. As much as I hate to admit it, I still use them to keep track of what I need to do. But since starting my done journal, to-do lists have become more of a tool for remembrance than motivation. The stress-free satisfaction that comes from adding an accomplishment to my done journal is what keeps me going day after day.

This post is the beginning of what I am hoping will become a long running series. Keeping a done journal is one of the items on my creative bucket list*, a compilation of all the creative stuff I want to make or learn about over the course of my lifetime. Each time I cross a new item off the list I'll write a post about it, complete with pictures, stories, and insight into what I've learned. Right now my unofficial goal is to complete one bucket list item every month, though some will take longer than others, and some are ongoing, like the done journal. So far my done journaling experience has been a positive one, and I hope this will inspire you to give it a try.

*At this point you're probably wondering how I can hate to-do lists, but have a 74 item bucket list. The reason is this: My bucket list is a pressure-free space. There is no one demanding I do any of the things on the list by a certain date. Thus I can chip away at it and not feel overwhelmed.

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