The celebratory power of the TA DA! list

I’m a chronic list-maker. I come by it honestly–my childhood memories are sprinkled with my mother’s legal pads covered in notes–but I fell out of the habit after the baby. Now that I’m back at the desk, though, to-do lists are again mandatory, lest I waste my one precious work day each week.

Here’s an example of my weekly to-do list, which combines business stuff on the left, life stuff on the right, and a tracker on the bottom for daily tasks (please ignore that I wrote 5 instead of 6 for the month in that date; I blame the baby):

example to-do list

It’s easy to see how that can get overwhelming, isn’t it? That’s a lot to cram into about 15 hours.

Now, I get possibly impure satisfaction from crossing things off my to-do list, but I will admit that the thing is kind of stressful to look at when it’s fresh. Which is weird because the whole point of a to-do list is to remove stress – it’s supposed to keep you organized so you get things done more effectively and efficiently.

But when the end of the week hits and stuff’s still standing there all naked and un-crossed-off? Hoo-boy. Angst City, Population: Me.

That’s because making a to-do list creates a sense of expectation. Its message isn’t “do this if you want” or “if you can” or even “you should”–it demands that you must. It’s on the list, so you have to do it, right? If you don’t, you’re a failure or you’re lazy and you should definitely be ashamed.

Don’t get me wrong: to-do lists aren’t inherently bad. They’re actually super useful, and I love them, but when all you focus on is what didn’t get done, they can quickly turn into poison.

Fortunately, there’s a remedy.

TA DA! lists are the opposite of a to-do list: everything you did do rather than what’s left to do.

This is a sneaky way to subvert and repurpose the achievement programming that makes the to-do list so stressful. Instead of freaking out because you’re not doing enough, you get to celebrate every single thing you did. Same principle, different purpose.

Here’s my TA DA! list from my one work day of the above to-do week:

Put on grownup clothes, got to daycare on time, finished the July short story draft, posted about Mack’s first day, had a real lunch while reading a book, did my workout/stretches, wrote a long blog post about my Wonder Woman feels, returned a very overdue email, made dinner for the family, put the baby to bed, watched Brooklyn 99 with Lino, did my ablutions, read my devotional, went to bed on time

Look at all that!

Reading over this list makes me super happy. Sure, I crossed some stuff off my weekly to-do list, but I also did a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t on it, which deepens my sense of satisfaction with how I spent my day. Celebrating what I did do instead of obsessing over what I didn’t overrides that nasty voice telling me I’m lazy, unproductive, and worthless. (This is extra true and important on non-work days when it’s just me and the baby trying to stay entertained between sleeps.)

Taking a couple of minutes to write out your TA DA! list–even if all you did was put on pants and watch a whole season of The Great British Bake-Off–will give you a whole new perspective on your day. You’ll be amazed at all the things you usually dismiss because they’re “too easy” or “routine” or “not on the to-do list”. You may be more accomplished than you think.

Make the TA DA! list part of your daily practice, either on your own or by joining our Facebook community, where we celebrate our accomplishments every weekday.


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