Let me tell you a secret: I started reading this book, and then I stopped. And then it took me forever to finish it, and an even longer eternity to sit down and write this review.
Any other time, I would have berated myself for being lazy, scatterbrained, and irresponsible. How dare I leave this item on my to-do list unchecked for so long? I’m a failure of a reviewer.
But instead, I hope I’ve made Madeleine Dore proud. (And in any case, I promise this review has plenty of good things to say!) After all, that’s what her book is about.
Guess what? Not everybody does the thing
Dore’s debut book, I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt, is based on a 2014 project called Extraordinary Routines. For five years, Dore interviewed artists, experts, and academics, searching for the Holy Grail of getting one’s life together.
Instead, she learned the most important secret of successful, productive people: that there are days they’re just as lazy, scatterbrained, and irresponsible as the rest of us. And that’s…actually fine.
No one has it together all day, all the time. In fact, the most important secret of fulfilled, happy people is that they have learned to value the days they didn’t get to do the thing as much as they did the days that were filled with accomplishments.
You can not do the thing too
In a capitalist world where from childhood, we’ve been taught to equate results with our self-worth, we constantly carry what Dore calls “productivity guilt”.
We start the day out with a mountain of tasks on our to-do list, and then we get dismayed with ourselves when the sun sets and we’ve barely made it halfway through. Then today’s mountain carries over into tomorrow, creating taller and taller mountains of unfinished tasks as the days go by. Soon, we’re buried in an avalanche of guilt, anxiety and perpetual disappointment with ourselves.
Rather than suggesting we optimise our routines, schedules, and mindsets to attain maximum productivity, Dore poses a radical challenge: What if we DIDN’T do that thing today, and what if we smiled unapologetically and said that’s okay?
What if we honoured the natural flow of creativity and productivity vs. rest and renewal in our lives?
What if we sat down and examined our daily mountains, and honestly admitted to ourselves that we are expecting so much more than we can realistically achieve in 24 hours?
What if we forgave ourselves for that?
I mean, is this really what you want to do?
One of the most striking passages was when Dore outlined an example of a perfectly productive day. She told herself she would get up at sunrise, journal, exercise while listening to a podcast, read a poem over coffee, do a full morning of work punctuated by stretches, prep a healthy meal, go on a walk after lunch, do a full afternoon of work, have dinner with friends, carry out a nightly skincare regimen, read a book before bed, and set her alarm for sunrise the next day to do it all again.
Two things immediately became apparent. One was that it was completely and laughably unrealistic to expect every single day to play out this way! Seriously, whose idea was it to prescribe this ridiculously optimised version of life, and were they human?
And two—less laughably—if life did actually turn out this way, every single day, it would be frighteningly sterile and unnatural. Presented this way, I realised I didn’t want that rote, robotic existence after all. It wasn’t feasible, and it wasn’t fair of me to think I was a failure for being unable to live that way.
It’ll take a while not to do the thing
Dore invites us to embrace the chaos of life, the natural ebbs and flows of our energy, and our humanity. I Didn’t Do the Thing Today is rich with antidotes, gentle wake-up calls, and journal prompts that attempt to loosen the grip productivity guilt has on us.
The writing can get a little repetitive at times, and the chapters are a bit slow, but that’s forgivable. Perhaps it’s necessary to take this step by step, because the process of allowing yourself to not do the thing today is similarly painstaking.
After all, it’s this humble 300-page book against years of internalised hustle culture. It’s going to take several rereads and deep reflection to walk back all we’ve been taught to believe about our worth being tied to our work.
Don’t do the thing. Seriously.
So here’s where I’m at, as I write this very late review: I went on holiday and didn’t check in at the office once. I updated my 2022 email signature to say “Please give me a couple of days to respond to your message with the thought and care it deserves.” And I resolved to pare down my commitments starting now, in an effort to have less things to expect myself to do in a day.
Pick up I Didn’t Do the Thing Today—but no pressure to finish it tomorrow. Or this week. Or within the next six months. We are all “day artists”, and we get to decide which items on the agenda will enrich the canvas of today and which can grace the masterpiece of tomorrow.
And like any good designer, this book reminds us to embrace the empty but necessary spaces to let today (and every day) breathe.
Reina is a professional content writer for lifestyle, health, and most things geek. When not at work, she reads everything from YA dystopia, to history books, to tarot cards. Support her lifelong love affair with words over at reinabambao.com!
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]