The Do Less Revolution - The Have-Done List.


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My memories from the days of raising infants are a bit on the fuzzy side. I didn’t really hit my stride until the toddler era. But there is one memory that stands out loud and clear: 

Paul comes home from work and asks me how my day was. I start crying and say: “I just didn’t get anything done.” Then he asks me what I did that day, blow by blow. I begin a long list. “Well, I made breakfast for Eden. Then I grabbed a quick shower. Then I had to nurse Cate. Then I managed to get to the grocery store for milk. Then I fed the kids again and when I finally got them all down for a nap I opened my thesis file and re-read the last few paragraphs I had writte, but then Eden woke up. Then I cleaned out the dryer trap, but the baby started crying before I could load the washer. Then…then…then…”

The end result of this scene, replayed many many times is that I realized how much I really had done in a day.

Fast forward ten years later and that “I didn’t get anything done” routine? Yep. Still doing it. Only now my angst isn’t brought on by babies, but by a lack of work-time due to chronic pain. Up until recently I would sit on my sofa with my head wrapped in ice and make lists of all the things I needed to do when I “got better.” My to-do list literally filled 1-2 notebook pages every day. I would have a good day, or even a good couple of hours, and I’d work like mad to get that list done. But I’d barely get anything crossed off before I was in pain again, when I would return to the ice and the sofa and write a whole new To-Do List with even more items.

Then life coach Jena Strong gave me a solution:  The Have-Done List.

In my experience, it’s hard to give yourself permission to Do Less unless you realize how MUCH you are already doing. The Have-Done List helps with that.  Here’s what mine looked like for this morning:

Wake up. Morning cuddle with the kids. Talk Eden out of panicking over volleyball tournament today. Kiss Pooh Bear for Cate so “he doesn’t feel left out”. Make breakfast (scrambled, eggs toast). Make lunches (bagel sandwiches, fruit, mix up some trail mix). Talk about after-work plans with Paul, kiss him goodbye. Make sure Cate remembers to say her little goodbye phrase to him, which is a ritual for her every morning. Make another round of toast for the kids. Turn on the kettle, forget to make tea. Check Facebook. Email teen mentoree back. Hear the one hour snooze on my alarm clock go off; holler out that it’s time for socks and shoes. Throw on sweats. Walk kids to school. Negotiate argument over who is faster, Eden on her bike or Cate on her scooter. Say hello to the neighbor family, wracking my pre-caffeine brain to use all five sentences of known Danish. Make quick arrangements on the corner with a classmate for an after school play date. Kiss children goodbye. Walk the lakes home while listening to This American Life. Battle Gremlins who tell me that even though I am exercising every day, it is not enough. Come home. Give the dogs the leftover scrambled eggs. Delight in happy puppy. Clean up the breakfast flotsam and jetsam. Check email. …

Okay, that was two hours – TWO HOURS – of my day.  Every weekday I’ve made two meals –TWO MEALS — in the first hour I was awake. I mean, come on! Plus, check out the brain-activity level and emotional energy that went into those action-packed hours. Child psychology 101, a little bit of priestess work, Gremlin wrangling, and teen angst before the caffeine. Damn. That’s pretty much a full day’s work, in my humble opinion.

I’m guessing your day isn’t much different from mine. We need to start giving ourselves credit for that, yes? We need to stop lying to ourselves about how much we do, and how much more we “should” get done.

Try it. Right now. Grab a piece of paper and start. Write down everything you do – and don’t forget the brain and emotional projects as well.

Now, hold up a minute dearies, that thing you are doing right there — where you are trying to think of some perfect notebook, or a super-creative system for keeping your list straight — stop doing that right now. Any writing surface will do. You can even write some of it in your journal, and some of in on the receipts in your pocket, and some of it on the notepad by the phone. That’s fine, really it is. You can always pull ’em all together later and feel super bad ass about your nice big stack. And the beauty thing about this is, even if you don’t do it consistently, even if you skip large portions of your day – it will still be massively impressive.

This is step one:  Notice how much you are doing. Don’t analyze it. Don’t make any changes. Just notice. Notice your very productive, very busy life. There’s time for step two another day.

Now, I would love to set up a Flickr group and have y’all send in photos of your Have-Done list, because I think it would be fun. But it’s one more thing for you to do, and it’s one more thing for me to do. It’s not that essential so we’ll skip that bit. But I do hope you’ll drop a comment below sometime this week and let us know how it’s going. That will help me customize the DO LESS Revolution for you, my lovelies, and it will contribute to the giant pool wisdom  that we all need so much.

Have fun watching your amazing, productive, colorful life unfold on the page before you!  See you next week here at the DO LESS revolution.


The Do Less Revolution is an on-going, start-any-time project of Magpie Girl. Click here to join or find all the Do Less posts here. Recieve an update on new Do Less items by following us on Twitter. Thanks for being here!

Tess May 15, 2009 at 9:09 am

You caught me by surprise with the “hold up… perfect notebook” thing because that is PRECISELY where my mind was going. Well done for spotting that!

You’re right, of course, when we do keep a have done list, it put things into perspective. My only issue with this is that I then start getting judgemental about whether what I’ve done was useful or not…

Margretha May 15, 2009 at 9:20 am

Feeling like you called me on this one ;-) I tend to leave out the “child psychology 101”, “gremlin wrangling” and the general almost-two-&-4½-year-old-kid-maintainance from my list of everyday accomplishments.

Thank you+additional prayers for your head.

Rachelle May 15, 2009 at 10:24 am


I know, the judgemental thing is tricky. It might be helpful to remind yourself that you are just observing. I often think of the book title “Anthropologist on Mars.” We are being anthropologists, observing our own lives without judgement or presupposition — just as a scientist would when approaching an unknown culture.

Also, I like the mantra “Nothing is Wasted” for moments like these.

Does that help at all?

tinkerbell the bipolar faerie May 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Makes sense. About judgement ~ making one does not alter what is. It just diminishes the worth of all the things we did accomplish. Acceptance of the now seems to give rise to balance, somehow.

rowena May 15, 2009 at 2:34 pm

YAY! This is my Did Done list. I love this list. I don’t do it anymore, but I did while I was in the midst of infants and two under two. It helped me to realize that I wasn’t “doing nothing.” It always helps me when I am in a funk. Maybe I should pick it up again. It’s a good way to slowly get yourself out of depression and overwhelm, too. Actually acknowledging what you do, and who you are, for that matter. Not who you should be, but you, each day and the little things that make up your living.

Tori May 15, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Wow. I don’t think I can write down everything I do in a regular week day. I do so much at school. Keeping myself busy and multi-tasking are just part of my life. Yes, you’re right that even after doing so much I can come home and still feel like I’ve done nothing all day! So I’ll try writing down what I can remember doing, because I probably need to…

Rachelle May 16, 2009 at 9:58 am


That would be great…just do as much as you think of. It doesn’t have to be the complete list. But once in awhile, when you are uber-multitasking, take a second to write down which three (or 4, or 5) things you are doing all at once. We’ll work on mutlitasking later. (Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to give it up completely.) Cheers, R

Alenka May 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Thank you so much for your words. This is exactly what I have been feeling these past months. I even started a “have-done” list and I was amazed how many hours I did “real” work without even realizing it. But of course, what I entirely forgot were those things you do every single day like cooking three meals for a family of 4, doing the laundry, ironing, cleaning, arranging, looking after two small children, supporting school etc,etc, etc….. At the end of the day I am often wondering why I was so tired as I have done nothing at all !! I look forward to reading more about this issue.

melody May 17, 2009 at 1:13 am

Thought of you this morning as I made my *gasp* to do list. Now working on “have-done list*.

I definitely needed this revolution to remind me that my time is not truly wasted.

Kara aka Mother Henna May 17, 2009 at 10:15 am
Sara May 18, 2009 at 12:50 am

I just wrote out my have done list for the day. I am amazed at everything on it. Like… truly amazed! Thank you for this wonderful idea.

Jena May 19, 2009 at 3:12 am

Rowena’s “Did Done” reminds me of something a cousin of mine said when he was little: “No Not.” Did Done, Have Done, No Not, Yes And. You rock. Thanks for reminding me to walk my talk.

la la May 20, 2009 at 6:33 pm

This is good for me to remember, not so much for myself, but for my husband as my little head goes crazy with all the things still to be done by him. Look at all the things he DID accomplish yesterday! He made dinner and did dishes and took a final. He was kind to me. He packed my lunch for work today.

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