On Being DONE With Your Work: A Guilt-Free Approach to To-Do Lists
April 20, 2021
There's something to be said about being DONE.
I mean, do you ever feel like anything is done? Probably not! We're living in a world where nothing is ever done. How could it be, when everything is an ongoing conversation?
This is why I find it nearly impossible to text people back. Because once I do, I think I've gotten it off my to-do list, but then balls on a stick! THEN THEY TEXT BACK! And then I've got yet another task to perform, on top of the initial task of responding, and then it's five years later and the only thing I've done is typed the words “HAHAHAHAH” over and over and over again.
I realize I sound like a pretty shitty friend. Rest assured, I am. So shitty, in fact, that just last night I dreamed that an old friend from Chile was breaking up with me, next to a pool, because I never called her. And she wouldn't be wrong! I am not a caller! If there's going to be a conversation across oceans, it's going to be via audio message. I'm absolutely an audio message person, and for two reasons:
(a) It's not real-time, so it doesn't completely interrupt your OTHER to-dos in the middle of your day—you know, like actual work. (There's nothing worse than trying to focus on your writing when you've got that damn dinging in your ear. That damn dinging makes me twitchy.)
And (b) It's not as fast-moving as text messages, where you're expected to be responding nearly instantaneously…otherwise it's weird. With audio messages it's never weird! You can respond to one a few days later and it makes total sense! Basically this is my heaven. Even though I don't believe in heaven. IF I believed in heaven, humans would only communicate via audio message. Like, once a week. And then the rest of the time, we'd all be reading. Bliss!
Wow, I really do sound like a curmudgeon. Maybe I should list a few redeeming qualities about myself so you don't think I'm a total monster. I assure you, I have some. For example, I'm the BEST when people die. You got a dead person? I AM THERE. And not just via audio message: I will get on a plane for that shit. And I will show up and stay. And I will bring over armfuls of Door Dash gift cards (you don't want my casseroles), and I will say poetic, meaningful words of sympathy that aren't even a little bit cliché, let you talk and talk and talk for days, and then I'll probably even help pay for the funeral, because that is how committed I am. When death shows up at your doorstep, Ash Ambirge does, too. Got a nice ring to it!
Or how about a client crisis? You got a client who's being a bit of a D? Oh, do I got you there! Let's work together to write a professional, elegant response that sashays down a hallway with her tits in the air, her tiny little shark teeth polished. Hooray, day saved! (Also, did I just come up with new ad copy for myself? All in a day's work!)
Come to think of it, any crisis is my specialty. I am the crisis MASTER. Marriage imploding? Cancer looming? Husband cheating? Just found out you've got crabs? PUT ME IN, COACH. WE GOT THIS.
In other words, I'm a great friend when someone needs a great friend. But a rather mediocre friend when you just want to gossip about Jessica from the 5th grade. That is, with one exception: unless we're in-person. Not that I want to gossip about Jessica then either, but it's when you'll find me in my “A+ friend zone.” When you've got me in-person, I show up f-u-l-l-y. (And maybe even more than normal, if I'm getting my period.) I don't text other people while you're talking. (Then again, not like I do anyway.) Don't scroll through Instagram. Don't coo at dogs while you're mid-story. (Major pet peeve of mine.) You've got my undivided attention when we're together in person. I am the BEST friend of all the friends.
Which honestly made me think to myself, one day: SHEESH! Except it wasn't really “sheesh,” and probably more like, “CHRIST.” And then I thought: I'm really better when focused on ONE THING AT A TIME. I wonder how I might apply this to my work? (Everything gets applied to my work eventually.)
Sure enough, I started experimenting. Together with my dear friend and designer, Jamie, I shit you not we started doing “Design Tuesdays” where we'd batch all of our design work together for Tuesdays. That's ALL Tuesday was for: design. That was our day, and we'd save allllllllllllll the designey stuff for that day—at which point we got to basically binge design for 8 hours.
AND OH MY GOD I LOVED IT.
I loved it so much!
It felt so organized. Clean. Structured. Orderly. I was able to give my full attention to product design for that entire day, which meant that it wasn't taking up headspace during other days. I also didn't have to worry about bothering Jamie at random times, feeling scattered and chaotic, or constantly be giving feedback throughout the week. As for her, she didn't have to worry about ME during other times of the week, and could allow herself to fully focus when she WAS on.
So then I thought: what if I did this across the board? What if I assigned every day of the week its own job? What if I give my undivided attention to just one project per day? No other distractions, no other “guilt” for not also doing X, Y, Z, A, B, C. ONLY that thing, ONLY on that day. Would it work? Or would it end up being unsustainable for its lack of flexibility?
I don't know if you can tell from the way I'm writing this, but…THE SYSTEM WORKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In fact, not only did it work: it's the only way I'll work now. It allows me 100% focus on one thing at a time, lets me get excited to “dive fully in” to a project, allows me to make major visible progress instead of piecemeal progress you can't really feel, prevents me from being scatterbrained from all the task switching (and losing all the time involved with task switching), and, most importantly????
Are you ready for THE MOST IMPORTANT BENEFIT?
The most important benefit from this system is….drum roll…
You finally feel DONE.
By batching all of THIS TYPE OF WORK in one day, you *finally* feel like you have ACCOMPLISHED something! You bang out your to-do list for that day, and then…it's done! Done until next week! And it's gorgeous! Beautiful! Freeing! And so, so satisfying.
So if you're examining your current workflow, I can't recommend assigning each day its own job—or at least each A.M./P.M. of each day, if you've got lots of different things you're working on. Or if you work with clients, perhaps you assign each one their own day. The benefit to them is that they get to “binge you” once a week, and in the meantime? They'll know to hold their requests, their notes, and their feedback until it's “their turn” again (which can make client management a lot easier if you're used to lots of back-and-forth emails that eat up a lot of time and make it hard to focus on the actual deliverable).
It has been bliss.
And you know what else it means?
I actually have more time to do things like ~text people back~ (miracle!!!) because now that my work actually feels done? I can resume my personal life without feeling like I'm falling behind thanks to Jessica from 5th fucking grade.
That is, until the moment someone dies, at which point all of your best-laid plans need to be laid to rest, right alongside Uncle Ron. THANKS A LOT, RON. But it's fine: gives people like me a chance to prove we aren't bad friends, just bad at chatting.
Just bad at staying still.
Just bad at the rules.
Just bad at ordinary.
Just bad at being the kind of person we wish we were, even though the kind of life we want to lead means we can't.