The Wonders of a ‘To-Done List’

A smattering of musings on mental health, and how to escape from a spiralling mindset.

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We’ve all had experiences in life where we have piles upon piles of tasks expected of us. If you’re like me, you would have written them all down in a to-do list. Maybe you like to colour code and prioritise, or perhaps neat bullet points are more your style. One thing is for certain, at one point that lovely little to-do list you so lovingly created will seem to get steadily longer and longer as you complete one thing, and two more appear. The to-do list is like a hydra. You just lose more and more energy as you chop and hack and slice away at the tasks before you, never truly finishing the beast. Over-organisation can so easily become your own worst enemy.

This is where I present to you the so-called hero of our tale, the to-done list, and convince you why it is the friend you never knew you had.

It is fundamentally quite simple. At the end of the day, whether that be before you go to sleep or when you have finished work, you write a list of all the things you have achieved. All the things that you have done. That can range from important tasks like ‘I handed in my report’ to less critical, but still meaningful, activities like ‘I made my graph red’ or even ‘today I washed my hair’ or ‘I sent a message to that friend I’ve been meaning to talk to for a while’. These things, both large and little, have been achievements. Heck, some days I’ve written down brushing my teeth and eating lunch as my achievements because on those days I needed to see that I had at least done something.

It’s also a good reflection activity, as I’m sure most reading this will not remember every little detail of the day they’ve had before they go to bed. A to-done list picks out the good bits and shows you that you are worthwhile. Look at all the things you’ve done today! Sometimes it may not feel like it, but every single day you are alive you have victories, and it’s important to remember that.

So, I say replace those to-do lists with to-done lists. It’s still practical as it keeps a track of our journey. If you need to send an email and it’s really important, and you shouldn’t forget it, then of course writing a reminder can be useful. However, getting into the mindset of enjoying writing your lists and knowing you’ve achieved means that most of the time, you don’t forget. There have been times when I’ve actively done more tasks so that I can write them on my list. I couldn’t wait to write those emails, or clean my room, or message those friends. Instead of listing things you haven’t done yet, which at low points can just feel like your list of failures so far, it is purely a list of your successes. In this hell-world of Impostor Syndrome, seeing our achievements on paper, on a daily basis, can really help out.

Annie Layhe

Student Researcher, University of St Andrews

I am a fifth-year studying Theoretical Physics at the University of St Andrews. My research is about quantum thermodynamics, more specifically on how a two-level quantum dot behaves in a dissipative environment with memory. I am also the President of the Physics Society, where we aim to foster a strong community and host academic and careers focused events that help the students learn and network. I can usually be found knitting a scarf or two whilst enjoying a good cup of tea.

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