How To Track Your Success with To-Do Lists

Some of us thrive with paper planners, while others use digital means to keep track of to-do lists and goals to achieve. No matter what method of organization you use, you can benefit from both having a to-do list and a completed or “to-done” list that helps inspire you to keep accomplishing each and every day.

Today we’re taking a look at how classic and detailed to-do lists can reduce anxiety and help us stay productive. It’s no wonder that specific lists can even help you feel less overwhelmed!

We’ll also explore “success listing” and how keeping track of smaller things that we’ve completed can keep us confident in our ability to tackle larger projects moving forward.

The Classic To-Do List to Get Things Done

However, when adding things to your to-do list, try to make them as specific. They don’t have to be extremely specific unless that’s how you prefer them, but having a few specific steps can be helpful.

According to E.J. Masicampo, associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, writing down tasks or goals, and then not completing them, can cause anxiety and worry.

But these worries can be easily alleviated not just by completing all your tasks (which can sometimes be impossible) but also by simply creating a plan to tackle your task-at-hand. This means that having a daily or weekly goal to “learn how to edit a resume,” may be more effective long-term than only wording your goal vaguely as “get a job.”

Of course, bigger life-changing goals will require smaller steps to accomplish. But sometimes it’s intimidating to even start breaking goals down into smaller ones!

The next time you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed and taking a small break isn’t helping, try to make a specific plan that leads to a bigger goal. Even a rough outline may help you be able to relax and tackle the rest of the day or night.

Breaking Down Tasks and Goals into Manageable Steps

Some tasks are easy to break down into smaller, more bite-sized steps. However, the amount of detail that goes into each step you list will vary from person to person. Here are some examples of listing steps toward attaining a job.

Helpful, Simple To-Do List for Job Searching

  1. Send a text/email to friends and acquaintances, telling them I’m looking for a new position
  2. Update resume
  3. Apply to 2-5 jobs a day
  4. Attend interviews
  5. Repeat 2-4 until I get a job

Detailed To-Do List for Job Searching

  1. Send a text/email to friends and acquaintances, telling them I’m looking for a new position
  2. Look over my current resume for imperfections
  3. Quantify recent job successes
  4. Add recent successes to my resume
  5. Ask a friend to review my resume
  6. Identify 2-3 job boards to look at daily
  7. Write a cover letter template that would  be applicable to most jobs I’m applying for
  8. Apply to 2-5 jobs a day
  9. Respond to interview requests
  10. Attend interviews
  11. Send interview thank-you emails
  12. Repeat 8-11 until I get an initial job offer


While both to-do lists have the same end result of helping you get a job, the second list is longer and explicitly explains how to update your resume and conduct yourself in interviews. Some people perform better with explicit plans from day one, while others prefer the flexibility of shorter and more concise planning.

The best thing about to-do lists is that you can customize them to fit you! So feel free to start with a less specific list and make it more specific if you find that adding steps makes your life feel less overwhelming.

No matter the format of planning that works for you, the important step here is to plan at all. This will help relieve the anxiety of getting started on a task and make progress easier in the long run.

The Success “To-Done” List

So you’re ready to tackle a productive week with your to-do lists. But what about a “to-done,” list? This version of a list is also known as an accomplishments list of sorts and lists tasks that have already been completed.

Tracking tasks that you’ve completed can be a wonderful way to start a day if you don’t know where to start on a to-do list. It’s also a great way to track big milestones and fix a bad mood if you’re feeling down in the dumps about your productivity.

Finally, a “success list” of completed tasks can be a wonderful way to end a day if you felt like the day was unproductive. After all, we all get sidetracked at times! But that doesn’t mean that you did nothing in the day- you probably simply got distracted by other important, but different, tasks.

By making a note of what you wanted to get done and listing what you did get done instead, you can also start to track your distraction tendencies. This can help you prioritize tasks in a different way to pursue efficiency later on.

Here are some common inclusions for a to-done success list:

  • Instead of starting on my research project, I made a home-cooked meal
  • I started my passion art project!
  • I went to the store and bought groceries for the week!
  • I called my phone company to confirm my plan rates!
  • I forgot to schedule my doctor’s appointment, but I did take my medicine!

When tackling your success “to-done,” list, remember that nothing is too small to include. Tracking something as seemingly simple as making your bed or taking a shower can be a great way to snowball into multi-step projects.

The to-Do List Is Your Friend

It’s easy to make a to-do list with a heavy heart. It is, after all, a visual representation of work to get done! Short deadlines and “adulting” can be hard. But with careful planning and awareness of your own habits, to-do lists and success “to-done” lists can become happy moments of planning.

Still struggling to get started on your to-do list? Check out our article on The Most Important ‘To-Do’ List You Need in Your Life today for guidance on how to trim your to-do list to only the most important things each and every day.

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