List And Found

This isn't going to be anything you haven't heard before, but I am a compulsive list maker. I know, I know; you probably are too, right? There are tons of us, I've discovered, who wrest control from an otherwise insurmountable project—whether it's planning a wedding or just getting through the day—by breaking it down into bite-size musts that we can cross off methodically once they're done. There's a reason lists have bullets, I think; so we can kill off the things that have been worrying us. 

But I've started doing a new thing. Instead of making to-do lists, I've been making lists of things I've already done. 

Bear with me here, but fifteen years ago, I clearly remember standing in a classroom at school with my friend Caroline, both of us aghast that it was already March. "It's March," I remember her saying. "And I haven't done anything."

I think of this, without fail, every single March.  "It's March," I think. "And I haven't done anything." So this year, I decided that I would have done something by March. On January 1st, I stuck a post-it note in my planner and I started writing down all the things I did that month. Some were big—gave a presentation at a conference, traded in my car—and some were just things that felt doubly sweet because I'd been meaning to do them for ages. (Sure, buying a new trashcan for the kitchen may not be an achievement to you, but when you've been complaining about the old one for the last year and a half, you take what you can get.)

In February, I did the same thing, and what do you know, when we got to March that year, I could—for the first time in fifteen years—silence that little voice in my head that said I hadn't done anything all year. After all, I had two post-it notes worth of accomplishments to back it up. 

Look, I'm not saying you have to save orphaned baby goats every month or anything, but you'd be surprised at how satisfying it is to look back on what you actually got done. I write down work projects I've finished, things we've done around the house, and a restaurant we finally tried after talking about trying it since we moved here five years ago. When I'm feeling particularly sluggish and stagnant, looking back over my post-its for each month helps me realize that I'm not. Hell, I took those old clothes to Goodwill! I hosted a Presidents' Day Brunch! I got that annoying guy to stop parking in front of our driveway! I met Evan Dando!

Last week, I added another set of lists to my arsenal (don't worry, I have different colored post-it notes for each.) These lists are daily, and on them, I jot down good things that happened that day. That's it: just good things.

Sometimes I have a banner day—I saw an armored car on the way to work, a meeting went well, someone complimented my shoes—and sometimes I have to struggle to come up with more than just "didn't crash into the car in front of us when we stopped suddenly on the freeway." Often, they're just lists of delicious food. But there's always something, and finding it, plucking it out, and writing it down makes the day just that bit more fulfilling. There's good everywhere, and most of the time you hardly even have to look. You just have to pin it to the page.

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Apr 23, 2012

Guess what?! Science says keeping a "done list" will make you happier!
I like the idea of a "good things" list - might have to try that one.

Apr 23, 2012

I like this, looking for happiness in the small everyday things.

Will definitely give it a go, starting today!

Apr 23, 2012

That's such a neat idea!
(And now I am imagining your planner bursting from a rainbow colored array of post-it notes.)
Ever since I read your book list of 2011 post I have been keeping track of the books I have read so far - and that's feels very good. Like you said: accomplished.
I might try the monthly list too.

There is a website for the daily good things which sends you an email each day asking you "What are you grateful for today?". Your messages are stored online. It's called HappyRambles (a little awkward no?!).
Just a thought in case you want to give up your post its...

(I have been a long term reader, mostly lurker and rarely commenter to your blog, just in case you're wondering who that stranger is, giving you gratitude journal advice.)

Apr 23, 2012

You got a guy to stop parking in front of your driveway? DO TELL.

Apr 23, 2012

I actually keep my old planners for much the same purpose--everything's got checks or scratch-outs, and it's interesting to see, "Man, I pulled out two tests, a paper, and three interviews that week. And I went to a party. Hm. I was in the mood to party after all that? Of course."

Apr 23, 2012

You know what? This is exactly what I needed to read on a dreary Monday morning. I'll be adding this new list to my, well, all my other lists!

(Also, I too am interested in how you got that annoying guy to stop parking in front of your driveway.)

Venita Michelle
Apr 23, 2012

We started the Just Good Things/Blessings/Things To Be Thankful For tradition with our kids, but I don't think they quite have the hang of it yet. Last month's list included legs, video games, a brother to hit, and farting. So yeah. We have some work to do.

Anna Louisa
Apr 23, 2012

I love this. I need a feel-good list to counteract the stress from my to-do list!

Apr 23, 2012

What a postively great thing, a list to remind us of the things we have done instead of beating ourselves up for nothing.

Apr 23, 2012

I do something similar - at the end of each month on the back of the little desk letterpress calendar I have, I write a list of highs/lows for the month. Usually the highs far outweigh the lows and I also like to include our favorite restaurant and menu item that month, etc. I plan to store them in a photo box and viola - a journal of my year without really having to write everyday.

Alison Presley
Apr 23, 2012

I really think this is genius.

Btw, I never was a list maker and then I became one when I discovered an online list-making site. Do you use one of those? I LOVE mine!

I think my crappy handwriting was holding me back before.

Apr 23, 2012

You know, this is a really good idea. Besides wanting to feel more accomplished, I have a terrible memory, so if I don't write it down or take a picture it's like it never happened. One thing I've been using (although less lately and I really need to pick it back up) is They send you an email every day that asks how your day was, you respond with whatever you want and it stores all your responses for you. Plus I can do it from my phone, which makes it even easier.

Apr 23, 2012

I'm a list-maker, too, so you can imagine the glee with which I reacted to the news that there was yet another list I could make! Thought I had them all covered.

This is a great idea and I'm going to borrow it.

Along these lines, my husband and I have a calendar we keep on the refrigerator where we mark the fun things we've done - camping trips, restaurants we've gone to, people who've visited and so on. It's fun to look back and funny how often we say, "That was back in MAY?!" and "I had forgotten all about that!"

Apr 23, 2012

This, right here, is why my partner and I love our iPhones: the Reminders. You make the to-do list, you can have your phone remind you when you get home, "Oh, hey, do that thing" or remind you at a certain time, and there is a satisfying little box to check. Then, if you're ever feeling like you haven't done anything, you can go back and see just what you have accomplished, by week or by month, because it saves all the done things!
We're brand new to the whole smart phone thing - just traded in our flip dumb phones last month. Just that one feature has helped my teacher partner 'quit' sticky notes. Good thing - those things could have been wallpaper at our house.


That is a GREAT idea! I think I'm stealing it. I've been feeling "in the doldrums" lately about myself and my life, and it's not actually founded on reality. I think this list will make a tremendous difference.

(Also, the multi-colored sticky notes? They make me love you more.)

Apr 23, 2012

My list making is so pathetic compared to yours. When I have a list and I do something that was not on the list - I write it down just so I can get the satisfaction of scratching through it. Go ahead and mock me. My mother does. :)

Apr 23, 2012

I love this!! Happy to know that others feel this way and use simple and thoughtful techniques about this life we've been given. Thanks for posting!

Apr 24, 2012

what a great idea! all my life, i've done to-do lists and get terribly depressed if less than a third of those items get ticked off (guess who had a things to do by the age of 30 list and had only 1 item ticked off??).
well, i've now been reformed by your post. and starting today, i'm going to have a list of things that i HAVE accomplished! ta-da!

Apr 24, 2012

Great idea !

Apr 24, 2012

Love this idea!!!

Pretzel Thief
Apr 24, 2012

I really, really, REALLY like this idea, Holly, especially for those days when things seem lame and scheisse and meh; when you think that it's all craptastic.

But you're right, there's always SOMETHING, even if it's just one little thing, that gives us hope, joy and the delicious warm fuzzies.

::Homer Simpson voice:: Mmmm, fuzzies.

Apr 24, 2012

Hello! This is completely off topic but I was pursuing Pinterest today and I have noticed, as I'm sure a lot of people on Pinterest have, that there is a big trend right now with "dipped" wooden kitchen items. Wooden spoons, spatulas, etc, with their handles dipped in paint! Could this be the solution to your wooden spoon problem?

Apr 24, 2012

I'm a listmaker too, and mine always begin 1. Write to-do list for the day. I always but little boxes next to the items on the list so I can tick them -- I much prefer the tick to striking through with a line, which might suggest the item has been removed from the list, not achieved. I agree that little things deserve their place on lists as much as big ones, because its the little ones that shit me to tears when they aren't done.

Apr 25, 2012

A list maker at heart, I'm having a hard time integrating my digital calendar (synced to phone) with my paper planner, post-it loving, colored pen self. For this reason, I am curious what type of planner you are using? This admittedly, the lamest question ever. I've recently tried some different approaches to keeping daily reflections on a calendar, and it isn't working well, mostly due to the calendars I am using... I miss colored post-its. I need more of them in my life.

Nothing But Bonfires
Apr 25, 2012

Aerin: I love that this made you think of me! I will have to look into these dipped wooden spoons (or it seems like you could pretty easily make your own?) Genius idea! It may solve the problem forever.

Erica: Not a lame question at all; I love talking about nerdy paper stuff. I use a Moleskine yearly planner, the kind that has a day per page. It gives me enough room to make a list on every single day of the year, plus it has a pretty hefty notes section at the back for long-term lists (places I want to go, projects I want to do, future baby names etc!)

Apr 25, 2012

I use for my lists, and one of the things I love is that you can see click to see a list of everything you completed and when. It gives me sweet, sweet, satisfaction.

Jul 03, 2012

What a postively great thing, a list to remind us of the things we have done instead of beating ourselves up for nothing.

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