A “Definition of Done” Template

How do you know when to stop?

Published on

Around 3 minutes to read

Some tasks have an implicit definition of done built in. For example, “take out the trash” is straightforward to evaluate without too much of a framework: if the trash is still inside, this task is not complete. Once the trash is outside in the trash can, I can stop thinking about this task and move on to something else.

In knowledge work, however, stopping points aren’t always as apparent. Most times, it’s because we have to choose where to stop; otherwise, they could go on indefinitely.

For example, my task might be to design a new personal website (which I’m about to do soon!). Those of you who have designed a personal website before know that you can design a personal website in a day and you can also design one that takes a few years to complete. (Raise your hand if you’ve been working on a personal website for the last few years 🖐️ 🤣 🙊 )

Because this task could take anywhere from 1 day to several years, many of us resort to a helpful technique to help—force?—us to be done: timeboxing! Instead of waiting for the task to naturally come to an end, we pick a deadline: “by next Friday at 5pm Eastern” or “by midnight on May 1.”

(Timeboxing is a great way to hold yourself or someone else accountable.)

Timeboxing is a great gateway to choosing a definition of done. I’d like to show you a few other variables for making this kind of choice.

(My starting point came from Dan Martell’s book, Buy Back Your Time, one of my favorite books I read last year. I’ve since made a few additions.)

Here are three important factors I suggest identifying in your definition of done: facts, feelings, and future.

With those factors in mind, here’s the template I like to fill in:

Project: {{ PROJECT TITLE }}

Facts:

  • This project should improve {{ BUSINESS METRIC/MEASUREMENT }}
  • The deliverables I expect to see are {{ DELIVERABLE }}
  • This must be completed by {{ TIME }} on {{ DATE }}

Feelings:

  • When this is done, {{ PERSON INVOLVED }} will feel {{ FEELING }}

Future:

  • When this is done, {{ PERSON INVOLVED }} will be able to {{ ACTION ENABLED }}

So, for my personal website redesign project, my definition might look something like this:

Project: Redesign DanMall.com

Facts:

  • This project should improve my ability to earn income as an independent creator.
  • The deliverables I expect to see are a new website built with Webflow, deployed to danmall.com.
  • This must be completed by 5pm Eastern on April 1, 2024.

Feelings:

  • When this is done, I will feel excited to have a new online presence.
  • When this is done, I will feel reinvigorated to work harder and smarter on my business.

Future:

  • When this is done, I will be able to share my thoughts online in new formats.
  • When this is done, I will be able to drive more traffic to my book, courses, and other products
  • When this is done, more people will be able to find more valuable content on my website.

Then I print this on one sheet of paper and have it sitting next to my desk so I can glance at it often and remind myself what I’m working towards.

How do you usually define done? Reply and let me know so I can update my template with other helpful techniques.

Read Next

Talk About Yourself

Join 40,600+ subscribers to the weekly Dan Mall Teaches newsletter. I promise to keep my communication light and valuable!