Leaving Work Behind

How to Trick Yourself Into Being Productive With an Anti To-Do List

Written by Anne Dorko on October 18, 2016. 8 Comments

A hand with a to-do list written on the palm.Leaving work behind often means we’re in charge of our own schedule. Unfortunately, we’re not all naturally adept at managing our own workload. Left to our own devices, this often leads to terrible time management.

I think it’s safe to say everyone struggles with procrastination to some degree, but finding a structured system that fits your personality and way of thinking can do wonders for your productivity. Usually, it involves tricking ourselves into action. In my case, this system is the ‘anti to-do’ list.

No solution is perfect, but finding one that’s suitable (as well as practicing it) is important. In this post, I’ll explain what an anti to-do list is, then teach you how to set up your own.

Let’s get started!

What is an Anti To-Do List?

I’ve always been a big dreamer – I started my first business venture when I was only six years old. However, in spite of my go-getter drive, I’ve always been overwhelmed by to-do lists. In addition, somewhere around fifteen I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and mild depression.

It’s been a challenge to deal with these alongside normal procrastination tendencies. Motivating myself takes much more than an inspirational quote over a mountaintop. In fact, it’s quite the process:

All of this is a compulsive process I must repeat several times a day, often for even the smallest of tasks. Simply put, looking at a giant list of responsibilities triggers every paranoid fear I have of the future, and highlights my chances of total failure.

For years I had been searching for a way to keep track of my goals, without also feeling like I’m staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. I experimented with different productivity hacks, but none quite did the trick for me. That is, until earlier this year when I found the anti to-do list.

Boiled down to its key element, an anti to-do list is essentially a ‘done’ list. The idea is to highlight what you’ve already accomplished, instead of what you have left to do. Here’s how it works:

  1. Skip creating an official daily to-do list.
  2. Whenever you finish a task, add it to your anti to-do list.

At the end of the day, you get a clear picture of how you spent your time. The next day, start again fresh and re-evaluate how each new task you’re working on contributes to your overall goals.

Here’s why I love this:

It’s also useful tool for me because I’m a bit like Dory from Finding Nemo, in that I quickly forget whatever it is I’ve just done. Having this list at the end of the day is a great confirmation of exactly what I accomplished.

How to Set Up Your Anti To-Do List

I manage my anti to-do list with Trello. As great as an anti to-do list sounds in theory, you’ll probably still need to have your assignments and tasks organized somewhere. This keeps your eyes on the prize, and helps you prioritize what tasks you decide to do.

Since I work on several projects at a time, I use several columns to organize tasks on a weekly basis without assigning them to any particular day:

  1. A Done column (the anti to-do list).
  2. A General To Do column, which I review every week and leave empty if possible, or limit to 3–5 central tasks at most.
  3. A number of other columns, based on my regular meets during the week, tracking what needs to be completed beforehand.

An anti to-do list set up on Trello.

This system helps me track my weekly goals, without creating overwhelming daily task lists.

At the beginning of every day, I archive the cards in the Done column. This primes my brain for a successful day by remembering how productive I was the day before. Then, I usually try to knock off a few easy wins before moving on to one or two more pressing things.

If you're not careful, you will accidentally click "Archive This List", which is very annoying.

If you’re not careful, you’ll accidentally click Archive This List, which is very annoying!

Once I finish a task, no matter how small, it goes into the Done column. If I completed something that was sitting in another column, I can drag and drop the card from there. That way, I can actually see my weekly tasks disappearing.

How to Pair Your Anti To-Do List With the Pomodoro Technique

Unfortunately, anxiety still often prevents me from getting work done, even with my anti to-do list. For me, the best way to deal with anxiety is to get ahead of it. I didn’t realize how to do that until I noticed another bad habit of mine – working for hours without stopping, leading to fast burnout. For this, I turned to the Pomodoro technique.

Pacing myself and making tasks ultra-manageable helps reduce my anxiety for big projects. Instead of worrying about something big, I focus on one small, time-based segment at a time. I pair this strategy up with my anti to-do list for bigger tasks.

I like to use a Pomodoro timer when I’ve got a lot going on. The technique itself works a little like this:

This is really simple to combine with the anti to-do list. Simply mark down whatever you accomplish during each 25 minute session. With this system, the breaks are every bit as important as the working sessions!


Being productive and making good use of your time is hard when you work alone. Whether you struggle with severe anxiety or not, it’s incredibly easy to stand in your own way of success. A technique such as the anti to-do list can make all the difference.

Everyone is different, so my system may not be perfect for you, but it’s still worthy of your consideration. For maximum results:

  1. Keep a daily Done list, tracking any and every task you complete.
  2. Keep a list of your top 3–5 weekly tasks, so you can make sure not to forget them over time.
  3. Combine an anti to-do list with the Pomodoro technique to help you stay focused.

Do you have any questions about setting up and using an anti to-do list? Ask away in the comments section below!

Image credit: bohed.

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8 Responses to “How to Trick Yourself Into Being Productive With an Anti To-Do List”

  1. Marjorie Dadhich
    October 18, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Having quickly perused this, I must say two things: 1) I can totally relate! And 2) thank you for this post, Anne!

    It’s one I will definitely read more thoroughly when able to later today and one I can see myself referring back to multiple times!

    All the best,

    • Anne Dorko
      October 18, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      Hi Marjorie, thanks for perusing 🙂 I am really happy that you find this useful! Let me know if you have any questions when you drop back through to apply it later.

  2. Heather
    October 22, 2016 at 1:16 am

    Great post! thank you so much

  3. Leigh McClurg
    October 26, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    Wow! Really appreciate this and so thankful I found this site. I started freelance to get more time and due to lack of laser focus I seem to have less. I’ve thought about some of this before but this post has given me the impetus to put it into action.

    Thank you!

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