Why a “Wins” List is Better Than a To-Do List

A good to-do list is my rock. To-do lists help me make sense of the world, get organized, and feel like I have control over the whirlwind of activities I maintain every day, week, month, and year.

Like many people, I derive a lot of satisfaction from checking something off my to-do list. Sometimes, however, the to-do list takes on a life of its own, spreading like kudzu. Checking off one or two things in a day stops feeling like progress when your to-do list stretches to 20 tasks (or more!).

Writing especially takes a lot of brainpower, energy, and time. Accomplishing a writing task is an enormous achievement. However, when your only celebration is a check-off mark on a to-do list, I find it diminishes that achievement. You stop wanting to tackle your to-do list altogether. It can even contribute to burnout.

That’s why I started a daily “wins” list.

If your to-do list is bringing you down, try an empowering "wins" list that celebrates your daily achievements, big and small.
If your to-do list is bringing you down, try an empowering “wins” list that celebrates your daily achievements, big and small.

Bonus: Positive Affirmations for Writing (When You Don’t Feel Like Writing)

What Is a “Wins” List, and Why Is It Important?

To be clear, I didn’t completely throw my daily to-do lists in the garbage. Like I said: They’re my rock!

But they are no longer my ONLY rock. They were helping me feel organized, but not accomplished. So I added a supplementary list that features my daily wins.

A daily list of your wins and achievements is important because it allows you to celebrate all of your victories. Anything can go on this list, from important project milestones to walking the dog.

ALL wins count and should be recorded. This is the beauty of a wins list. A to-do list often only captures high-level, work-related or “must do” tasks. It can miss out on a lot of daily, personal tasks that we accomplish, sometimes without even thinking about them. A to-do list conveys a sense of obligation and looks to the future, which can create anxiety.

On the other hand, a wins list makes you feel like you’ve just run a marathon and come in first place. It allows for reflection and a greater sense of accomplishment. This feels very similar to making a gratitude list in that it focuses on the positive.

What’s more, once you get started, your “wins” list can grow very quickly. It can even outpace your to-do list! It’s an amazing feeling to look at your list of wins and realize how much you have accomplished, even before noon!

This kind of list creates a virtuous cycle, giving you a jolt of energy that inspires you to accomplish more, so you can add it to the list. If you have a smartwatch that tracks your fitness, it’s a lot like seeing that you’re halfway to reaching your step goal for the day, and you want to walk more so you can get that “Congratulations!” notification.

And when I say that you should put every win on your list, I mean EVERY win. It’s important to recognize daily, personal achievements. Many things we don’t normally count as wins, often because they are so deeply ingrained in our lives and routines. Or they’re the “adult” thing to do, and so we discount them. If you go get your oil changed, call to make a dentist appointment, or fix a broken shoelace, write it down. Don’t be afraid to mix work and personal wins in the list. You’ll be amazed at the end of the day to see how many wins you’ve jotted down.

How Does a To-Do List and “Wins” List Work Together?

I used to keep one long, running to-do list that covered an entire sheet of paper. Not everything was due on one particular day, but having that list laughing at me day in and day out was a huge strain on my nerves. I would cross one item off the list, and three more would take its place. This was hugely demoralizing. I could never seem to get off the hamster wheel.

Now, I still have this list, but I refer to it as my “master list,” and it’s for work only. I try to plot out my daily to-dos over the course of an entire week, working on them when it’s most relevant to do so. An online calendar helps massively with this planning, so you can fit tasks around meetings and appointments. It can also be done on a sheet of paper, if that’s what you prefer.

I try to keep daily work tasks between three and five tasks per day. Then I add relevant personal to-do items as well for after work. Five or six total tasks a day is not nearly as daunting as a sheet crammed full of tasks.

Then, as I accomplish tasks — even those wins that are not strictly on my to-do list — I add them to my “wins” list. It’s amazing how adding something that seems mundane, like sweeping the porch, can revitalize your energy levels. I find it motivates me to then tackle a work goal, like making a phone call I’ve put off for two weeks. You can use smaller, personal achievements as a launchpad to psyche you up for work tasks.

Items You Might See on My Daily “Wins” List

Here are some examples of what I might include on a daily wins list (in no particular order):

  • Wrote an email
  • Cooked a meal from scratch
  • Did a load of laundry
  • Read a chapter of a book
  • Went to the grocery store
  • Led a project meeting
  • Ordered a present for a family member’s birthday
  • Scheduled time off next month
  • Worked for two hours on an important project
  • Completed a 15-minute workout
  • Gave my cat flea medicine

See how it adds up? And see how there’s a mix of work and personal?

Giving my cat flea medicine isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t help me reach any of my work goals, but it’s definitely still a #win, because it’s something important that I do routinely and that helps my furry friend. There are weekends when I celebrate getting out of bed before 10 a.m. as a huge win (who doesn’t love to sleep in on the weekend?!). It’s something positive that I’m doing for myself, and it sets the rest of my day up for success.

Your wins list is YOUR list. Treat it like a journal or diary — nobody has to see it but you. It’s all about celebrating YOU and what YOU have accomplished, and everyone’s list is going to look different. Some days you’ll have a lot of work wins, some days you’ll have a lot of personal wins. On some days, you’ll have both. What matters is that you celebrate and honor yourself and the hard work that you do every day.

So start a “wins” list today, and then add it as an accomplishment to the top of your first list!

Author: Elise Murrell

After years of slaying all kinds of writing projects and coaching my friends, family members, and coworkers through the writing process, I’m sharing my tried-and-true methods to help you achieve your best writing, ever.

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