Ok, hear me out! I know the to-do list is a favorite among PhD researchers. It can provide a much needed structure and sense of accomplishment, both of which can be scarce in our lone pursuit of our degree.

And I’ll admit that it took me until mid-way through 2nd year to even start using them. God only knows why avoided it for so long. Probably something to do with marching to the beat of my own drum. Whilst I found them very useful, they always sort of sit in the back of my mind. Haunting me until I check off that very last box.

I think, especially during COVID homeworking, it might also be beneficial to make a Ta-Da list.  Making a Ta-Da list is easy! As you complete a task, no matter how small, like doing your daily email admin, write it down. Then by the end of the day, you’ll have a inventory of all the things you achieved in a day.

I find the Ta-Da list really helpful, and apparently I am not the only one. Psychology recognises that unfortunately us humans are more likely to remember the tasks we didn’t complete than the ones that we did. This tends to have a negative impact on our perception of work/life balance. At the end of the day, I find myself trying to sleep but still having that nagging feeling that I had an unproductive workday. Which ironically means that I am stressed out and tired for my next day of work, and so the shame spiral begins.

Instead, the Ta-Da lists essentially works as a gentle cheerleader. Or functions as your best work pal, reminding you of all your day’s accomplishments when you are having a moan about not feeling productive.

You did it! You updated your Gantt chart!

So, rather than completely throwing out the To-Do list completely and never using it again, I recommend switching it up a bit. Doing a daily Ta-Da list, I am not a slave to my unchecked boxes, even though they are definitely still there. It is an objective way to honor all the work I have done in the day, even if my inner-perfectionist is stressed that I haven’t done enough. Rather than a traditional productivity tip, I view the Ta-Da list as a self-care practice. It also just happens to boost my outputs in a roundabout mental health way. Well screw it; I’ll take what I can get!

Throwing out the To-Do List