How saying a single word will bring more balance to your work and life

I’m the master of to-do lists.

Just like you, I have been known to write something on my to-do list that I forgot to put on there, just to have the opportunity to check it off.

Very early in my career at fast-paced ad agencies, managing to-do lists properly meant the difference between ascending up the agency ladder and landing face-first out on the street. As a production specialist (yes, there are actual people at agencies that are paid to ensure work gets done) once taught me, you never write down a big task such as “blog”. You break large tasks down into multiple steps, such as “draft initial blog post”, “edit blog post”, “make blog post live”, and “share blog post on social media.”

Lengthy to-do lists are not only expected. They’re welcomed.

What I didn’t know until now is that the mere act of checking off an item and marking it done shifts the brain into a relaxed mode.

Now, my addiction to to-do lists makes more sense. I’ve realized I don’t just crave the act of checking things off. I crave the act of feeling more relaxed.

As this recent Fast Company article suggests, if you’ve gone without creating a to-do list for your work and life so far, the mere act of stating, “done” when you’ve completed a task causes the same reaction as physically checking off an item with a pen.

“Telling ourselves that we’re done creates not only an emotional reaction, but a physiological response, as well,” states Leslie Sherlin, a psychologist and neuroperformance specialist.

And to further quote the article, “a neurochemical shift in the brain occurs simultaneously. Serotonin–known as the body’s ‘feel-good-chemical’–is released, creating a sense of calmness and satisfaction.

“The more often you complete a task, the more confidence you build to achieve the next item on your to-do list, allowing you to take on even more challenging tasks.”

Perhaps that wise soul I met early in my career was a serotonin dealer, creating addicts at every agency where he ever worked.

While I’m addicted to written lists, I hadn’t ever thought to try vocalizing my doneness. I decided to test this theory out with menial household tasks. I did the dishes and muttered to myself, “done” as I folded the dishtowel and hung it to dry on the oven handle.

I took the trash out and huffed, “done” as I trekked back up our long driveway.

I folded a heap of clothes that had been taunting me for over two days and breathed, “done” as I closed the very last drawer.

And what I quickly found was that the satisfaction of getting to say done became addictive. I didn’t look forward to the task. Who does? But I did look forward to saying done. Probably for the same reasons I enjoy checking off a task on a to-do list, as the article explained.

When you’re inundated with a constant feeling of falling behind, you need to compensate for the strain of work and life with sensations of relaxation to keep you going. Balance the hustle of growth with the nurture you need.

Scholars and lifestyle thought leaders have abolished the concept of achieving work-life balance, stating the mere thought of reaching such a milestone puts even more strain on an already stressed individual. However, “production management” of both life and work can help you manage everything you need to do using this new knowledge of tiny relaxation rewards for your brain in between tasks.

To read the entire Fast Company article, click here.


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  1. says

    I cannot tell you how helpful your blogs are. I’m zipping through my emails deleting one after another thinking, that looks interesting but I’m not going to read it, too busy. Then I come across yours and the brakes go on and I click and read and I’m always glad I did. Thank you!

  2. says

    Angela, wise words! Wonderful topic. Makes total sense know why breaking up larger tasks (climbing a mountain, doing tasks, editing a wedding) into smaller tasks seems less overwhelming. Its the small little steps that make productivity seem more fun. Then when a little newborn comes its way, the littlest of accomplishments (putting baby down to nap: DONE!) means I can reward myself by reading your post. Keep up the great work, Angela, and if you ever find yourself in Minneapolis, please let me know and I’d love to roll out the red carpet for you!

  3. says

    I absolutely love how simple yet powerful the application of one word will be in my day! I started this yesterday and am already noticing positive results with using ‘done’, especially with the chores I really don’t enjoy at all. Thank you, Angela, for highlighting this amazing word.

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