Better than a To-Do List, make a daily Win List

Here's how to feel like a rock star every day
By Suzan Colón  Published on 02/14/2019 at 12:04 PM EDT
Illustration by Suzan Colón

I was having one of my “small victories” days, the kind when I can’t seem to summon the moxie to accomplish anything. The items on my to-do list were large, ongoing projects; I wasn’t going to experience the satisfaction of putting a fat, juicy checkmark next to anything for a while. I was starting to have a distinct loser-ish feeling… Until I started my first Win List.

The to-do list is all the things you need to accomplish today, this week, or however far into the future you dare go. Or you have your Bullet Journal, which I use daily. The part we all look forward to is checking things off. Done! It’s more than just something completed, it’s something achieved. This is especially important to people who work in the digital world, where there may be no tangible thing that represents a task completed. Or by anyone working on long term goals, where that check mark is so very, very far away.

Enter the Win List. This is a separate section of my to-do list where I jot down victories, both small and large. These items wouldn’t ordinarily make it on the list of tasks, partially because they’re unexpected and partially because they’re personal. A prime example: a recent item that reads, “Despite crushing angst and feeling like a loser, put one foot in front of the other and GSD [Got Shit Done].” Not the kind of item to list on Slack, but it definitely deserved a moment of recognition.

That was the start of the Win List, a section I now add to my daily to-do list. It’s a work in progress, meaning it can’t be forecast at the start of the day; it unfolds as the day does. I can’t foresee wins like, “Didn’t go volcanic on customer service rep—not his fault.” Win List victories happen in real time, and when they occur, they get noted.

They can be random: “Wrote a poem today.” I have no aspirations to be a poet, fortunately for everyone, but I was glad I’d taken the time to appreciate and reflect on the feel of the air at dusk in winter. Making an exceptional soup was a win. Meditating was a win. So were some items that had been on the to-do list that were accomplished despite overwhelming odds, such as actually doing Pilates when I would rather have been binge-watching Dogs on Netflix and crocheting granny squares.

Making your own Win List is simple. First, write your to-do list for the day. Leave room on the page and write the heading “Win List.” Then, wait for the wins to roll in. Gave a nice good morning to the coworker you had a tiff with yesterday? Put it on the list. Ate a healthy lunch instead of the heart attack on a plate special? Win, and list it. Got somewhere on time? Win! Add it to the list. Put big fat check marks next to them, not because they’re tasks completed, but because it feels so damn good to check something off. It’s like the gold star you got in little kids’ school. It’s a small pleasure that has zero calories and one hundred percent satisfaction. At the end of the day, review your wins. If you didn’t get to everything on your to-do list, this will make you feel less like self-bashing and more appreciative of the actions of value that you did accomplish. Maybe you didn’t finish that proposal, but if you were kind to someone, you Win.

The small, personal victories on the Win List don’t fit the typical classification of “wins” in the corporate world. Maybe they’re my equivalent of the “Just for Showing Up” trophy. I’m good with that. The Win List has allowed me to give myself a little pat on the back when I need it, experience the satisfaction of checking something off when the big check mark is far away, and feel like I’m GSD (Getting Shit Done). One small win or two gives me the moxie to tackle the bigger, hairier items on my list. And that’s a win.

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