The other day, a newsletter arrived in my inbox with a list that made me instantly relax. Some reasonable reasons you didn’t do the thing today came from Madeleine Dore, author of Extraordinary Routines, which explores “how we navigate the pendulum swings of our days”. That is, what are ways to live with meaning and creativity and illumination and unleash our productivity?

Some reasonable reasons you didn’t do the thing today

Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because priorities shifted
 
Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because of unrealistic expectations

Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because the thing isn’t ready yet

Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because you’re exhausted, unwell, overwhelmed
 
Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because you needed to be there for someone you love

Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because you simply didn’t want or need to

Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because of the state of the world 
 
Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because life—with all its twists and turns—had other plans
 
Maybe you didn’t do the thing today because you’re a fallible human—and maybe simply being alive to the day, and all its variances, is enough.

In this still-dark and difficult time, so MANY people I’ve talked to have complained of feeling unproductive and are mighty hard on themselves about it, myself included.  The list of “reasonable reasons” feels like a balm.  Dore explains why:

When I look closely at these reasonable reasons, what I see is a collection of things that have value beyond what we might see on a to do list — our emotions, our connection to people, our energy, our minds, our bodies are just as important as the things we do.   

What we need most, I think, is a reminder that our productivity isn’t the sole measure of our worth…

That our productivity isn’t the sole measure of our worth is the subject of Dore’s new book, I Didn’t Do the Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt. It grew out of her years-long quest to learn the key to productivity by interviewing artists, writers and other creative people-of-note, as well as her own experiences and experiments. Her big discovery: There ISN’T a secret to productivity. But there are ways to live more fully, deeply and harmoniously with the unpredictability and messiness of life.

Sometimes she draws on the words of great teachers to point the way, like this from Maya Angelou:

Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure. We leave our homes for work, acting and even believing that we will reach our destinations with no unusual event startling us out of our set expectations. The truth is we know nothing, not where our cars will fail or when our buses will stall, whether our places of employment will be there when we arrive, or whether, in fact, we ourselves will arrive whole and alive at the end of our journeys.

Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realise that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.

The very apt clock faces are from Louise Bourgeois’ Hours of the Day, 2006 © The Easton Foundation / 2022, ProLitteris, Zurich. (The animation was made by Hauser & Wirth Gallery for their instagram @hauserwirth. )

Bourgeois created the suite of of twelve embroidered clocks on fabric as a meditation on temporality during the last decade of her life. They echo a note from her diary decades earlier in the 1960s and shift our notion of the hours we have:

Distance and patience and benevolence toward the hours of the day — Respect the hours and help them to succeed each other harmoniously — the heavy hours of the afternoon and the busy hours of the evening — the silent hours of the night.

Explore Extraordinary Routines here.

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2 replies on “Reasons for Not Doing the Thing Today (Madeleine Dore, Maya Angelou, Louise Bourgeois)

  1. I want to thank you for this post. Wish I knew how to find you more regularly, as this is first I’ve seen. If I was not on a fixed very limited income I would love to contribute… but alas, it’s not yo be.

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