Why a "Done" List is as Important
as a To-Do List
Are you a list maker? Do you enjoy crossing things off your to-do list and get frustrated if you don't get to do it enough?
You're not alone. And you're also an excellent motivator--at least of yourself. If you can transfer that motivation to your staff, you can effect big changes in small steps.
You see, about 30 years ago, organizational theorist Karl Weick published a paper entitled Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems. He pointed out that when people perceive challenges as being too large, they tend to get overwhelmed and freeze up-- disabling "the very resources of thought and action needed to change them." In other words, focusing on the big picture instead of the smaller, daily details will derail progress.
Weick claimed that major social movements, such as feminism and environmentalism, showed that pursuing small victories is a better plan. Instead of focusing only on the desired results, which were major, they focused on taking smaller steps--which delivered quick motivation boosts, which then had a snowball effect.
As a manager, one of the best motivational tools you can implement is the good old To-Do List--for your whole team. Research since Weick has proved that a sense of incremental progress is vastly more important to employee happiness and satisfaction than either the long-term conclusion of a grand mission or financial incentives--and most bosses don't realize it. According to Theresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, small wins "had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly strong negative one."
Breaking big challenges down into smaller chunks isn't original advice, of course. But Amabile and Kramer discovered how disproportionate the relationship is between the size of an achievement and the satisfaction it engenders. A breakthrough accomplishment that's a thousand times bigger than a "small win" won't make you feel a thousand times better, or happier for a thousand times longer. It also won't eclipse the effects of setbacks you'll encounter en route.
So to keep your employees motivated and happy, create that To-Do List. Lay out the tasks that need to be accomplished on the way to arriving at the ultimate goal. And make it visual: just like you like to cross goals off your lists, if you show employees exactly what they've gotten done, they'll be motivated to achieve more. In other words, keep a to-do list--and a "done" list.
Want a more high-tech way to produce and monitor your to-do and done lists? Sure, you can use an easel pad and a Sharpie--or you can check out
this list of websites that will keep you and your team on track.