The biggest challenge for a young CEO is learning how to manage your own psychology.  Starting a company is a rollercoaster ride and because the buck stops with the CEO, she feels the highs and lows more than anyone else at the company. People who accept the role of CEO are passionate and driven, the type who’s hardest on herself and demands excellence, day in and day out. CEOs can be their own harshest critics.

Paradoxically, that personality trait is both a CEO’s source of strength and among the biggest of his liabilities. Because ambitious people measure themselves by progress toward achieving huge, daunting aspirations, they often can’t appreciate a single day’s worth of small advancements.

In fact, I’ve noticed that the more driven and productive the CEO, the more likely she is to be down on herself and think at the end of the day, “I don’t think that I really got anything done today.”  When those negative feelings build up, it’s easy to despair, lose psychological momentum, and contemplate quitting.

Marc Andreessen’s Tool for Managing Psychology

Having founded Netscape, Opsware, Ning, and Andreessen Horowitz, Marc Andreessen knows a thing or two about making aspirations reality through managing his own psychology. To protect himself from being undermined by his driven, demanding personality, Marc came up with a system: the Anti-Todo List. It’s his way of keeping his positive emotional levels high by recognizing all of the little achievements he makes on a daily basis.

What you do is this: every time you do something — anything — useful during the day, write it down in your Anti-Todo List on the card.

Each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet.

And then at the end of the day, … take a look at today’s card and its Anti-Todo list and marvel at all the things you actually got done that day.

(via The Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity)

The Anti-Todo List works in tandem with a to-do list, but it’s a separate tool, providing different value than the satisfaction that comes from simply crossing off tasks. Marc’s to-do list tracks a smaller field of tasks — things that he thinks are important, that must absolutely get done, that he remembers to put on a list in the first place. On his Anti-Todo List though, he can capture far more. He can acknowledge everything he has done, not just what’s on his to-do List. That’s absolutely key to recognizing progress on those days when you’re putting out fires, dealing with new developments, and getting a ton done, but you haven’t had the time to get to your actual to-do list.

Keeping a separate list of accomplishments means that when Marc is taking stock of what he has achieved, he gets a pure, unadulterated endorphin rush — free from the nagging and guilt from what’s still left on his to-do list. It turns out that “being able to put more notches on my accomplishment belt, so to speak, by writing down things on my Anti-Todo list as I accomplish them throughout the day makes me feel marvelously productive and efficient, [f]ar more so than if I just did those things and didn’t write them down.”

Make Your Own Anti-Todo List at Daily Habit

Don’t wait for a major milestone to celebrate an achievement. It’s absolutely critical to managing your psychology and keeping your spirits high that you recognize the tiny, wonderful triumphs that happen every single day.

Make a daily habit of keeping your own Anti-Todo list to rejuvenate, inspire, and motivate after a hard-day’s work. You’ll add a crucial ingredient to your day of maintaining the positive emotional balance necessary to accomplish great things and then accomplish greater ones.

It’s an arduous journey to reach magnificent achievements and lofty goals. Making your first million and building an enduring company doesn’t come easy, and if you’re too exhausted every day to take stock of your successes, you’ll lose heart. Follow Marc Andreessen’s path:

[Y]ou know those days when you’re running around all day and doing stuff and talking to people and making calls and responding to emails and filling out paperwork and you get home and you’re completely exhausted and you say to yourself, “What the hell did I actually get done today?”

Your Anti-Todo list has the answer.

Walter Chen is the CEO and founder of iDoneThis, an easy way to track and celebrate what you get done at work, every day.  He blogs about business productivity and management on the iDoneThis Blog and he’s on Twitter at @smalter.

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