If I Can’t Accomplish Anything Else Today, I Can Do These 10 Things.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Ten things I can do every day — even when I can’t do anything else.

We’ve all had days where it seems as though nothing gets done. For those times when I seem to be spinning my wheels, I keep a list of things that I can do every day, even when I have no extra time, money, or energy to spare. I sometimes forget to write in my one-sentence journal and I don’t always make it to the gym, but I do try to make sure I hit all these items.

That way, even if I feel like I had a day when I got nothing accomplished, I can comfort myself, as I climb into my smooth, tidy bed, “Well, at least I went for a walk. I ate an apple. I hugged my daughters.”

Every day, I…

1. Make my bed.

2. Wear sunscreen (well, most days).

3. Wear my seat belt.

4. Jump up and down a few times.

5. Pick up one object that’s in the wrong place and put it away.

6. Go for a ten-minute walk outside.

7. Eat a fruit or vegetable.

8. Put my keys away in the same place.

9. Touch everyone in my apartment with affection.

10. Pause to enjoy a lovely smell.

Bonus: 11. Go to sleep as soon as I’m sleepy, if I possibly can.

How about you? Are there things that you try to do every day, even when it seems impossible to get anything done?

* I spent a lot of time exploring Mumsnet (a British site, in case you couldn’t guess), especially the Books section.

* Have I ever mentioned that The Happiness Project is a #1 New York Times bestseller? Really, I did? Oh, right, maybe so.
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.

  • I open and sort my mail since I can’t bear the sight of the mail accumulating! In addition, I also do #3, #7, #8, & #9.

  • Caroleann74

    I always get the coffee maker all set up to auto-start the next morning.  That way even if one day goes bad or ends with me feeling unproductive, at least the next day will start off on the right foot with a fresh pot of coffee! 🙂

    • CB

      Co-sign!

  • I love this!  I’m putting it on my fridge.

    In the same spirit, my one big task for today is to clean my bathroom sink!

  • Murphy

    I have a pad of “Post-It’s” that say:
    “I will do one thing today” on the top 1/2
    On the bottom it says:
    thing:
    I write my most important task for the day on this note so that I do not get sidetracked by my list of other tasks.

  • I make a point to hug my children and kiss my husband every day. When my day is busy I actually breathe deeply and slow down in order to focus on what needs to be a priority. When I slow down and stop multitasking I can see my day more clearly and get better results. Not easy in when I’m in the thick of it but definitely helps.

    • C Bradstreet

      1. Take pleasure in looking at light falling through trees
      2. Tell Richard I love him
      3. Plan for tomorrow or the future
      4. Track my spending (at least keep reciepts)
      5. Put at least 10 things away
      6. Read something enriching
      7. Find something that will make me laugh
      8. Go for a ten minute walk
      9. Roast chicken leg, jacket potato and peas with gravy is no effort and always makes me feel a little better!
      10. Go to bed early.

  • Shawndra Russell

    I vow to laugh every single day. I once read someone that said that they tried to incorporate fun into their week at least once–I say have fun every single day somehow, someway! Watch a favorite television show, read a comic, tell a joke, laugh at your SO’s joke, retell a funny story–anything that will make you laugh.

    • gretchenrubin

      A great resolution!

      _____

  • “The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.” – Henry Ward Beecher 

  • Nate

    I’m a huge fan of doing just a few conscious breaths.  Even if I’m in the middle of meeting or sitting on a crowded flight, bringing my attention to long slow breaths makes me feel like I’m on vacation.  

  • Kate

    I read this too quickly at first, and thought for a moment you were advocating I go and touch all my neighbors in my apartment building with affection. Every day.  Well that’s one way to build community!

  • I schedule one chore per day for each day of the week. This assures I get something done each day while leaving the weekends free for “want tos” rather than “have tos.”

  • Shaynasmart

    I make sure I tell my partner I love her everyday. And to smile at least once!

  • Peninith1

    And I add, for those who are not able to do even these things, the great words from the Book of Common Prayer: “If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly . . . .

  • franci

    Since I’m abroad, call my mum and my husband. Whenever, wear cream on face, elbows and hands. Smile as much as I can. Recycle. Eat vegetables. Read quick news from the world. Think that life is a gift and it’s fantastic. And thanks God for this. Dream a little bit.

  • My things:  Dishes!  Rinse the sink, swish out the toilet, straighten the towels, swipe the counter tops (I call this my swish and swipe routine, takes me less than 3 minutes)!  Let the sunlight in! Make my bed!  Plan dinner (even if dinner plans are “we are going out because I am NOT COOKING!)!  Sing!  Brush my teeth!  Feed the animals.  Be grateful.

    • Nanana

      I’ve never replied to a post, but this is so positive and do-able.  I vow to sing to the radio each day on my way to work. (and let the sunlight in, make the ed, plan dinner, feed the animals etc!0

  • kathy b

    Every single day since we redid our kitchen at Thanksgiving, I thank my husband and tell him I LOVE the new kitchen.  Funny thing…I didnt want us to rennovate it….

  • Hagemeiert

    I’ve started making a to do list on the white erase board.  For every chore I write down I put a fun thing to do.   

  • annabarlowe

    I do pretty much all of the things on your list, actually (except #6 – good Lord, there are PEOPLE out there, and they might SEE me), but I think my number one no-miss is meditation.  And drinking tea.  Without those two things, life crumbles to dust immediately. 

    Fortunately, I also keep my Dustbuster charged up every day, just in case.  🙂

  • Cherry Blossom

    Pray
    Read the good word of God
    Wash my face
    Take my fiber
    Open the blinds/curtains to let the sunlight in
    Check on bank account (online)
    Five minutes of straightening up a room
    25 jumping jacks with my kids
    Laugh with my kids
    Hug each family member

  • I’ve started keeping a “things I did” list instead of a to do list in my dayplanner. I’m really enjoying celebrating the things I accomplished rather than stressing about all the things still sitting on my to do list. 

    • I like this idea… Instead of a “to do” list, an “I did” list. I can really see someone at the end of the day looking back and thinking, “Oh yeah… I did that, and that and that…” All the stuff that gets lost in the mix because there is so much that gets done. I suppose we can blame our memories (and maybe the primacy & recency effects).

      With Love and Gratitude,

      Jeremiah

      • gretchenrubin

        This is a great idea! A friend was just telling me yesterday that although
        she often feels like she never gets anything done, when she sits down and
        looks at the past week, she realizes she accomplished a lot. It’s
        encouraging to remember the “did” and not just obsess on the “to do.”

        _____

    • Leonore H. Dvorkin

      Great idea, Morgan! I’ve started doing something similar. It’s very self-affirming, much more cheering than having a guilt-inducing “to do” list. – Leonore Dvorkin

    • Kmccloskey

      I also do this!  It’s very uplifting and often makes you feel capable of doing a to-do  list….but probably not until tomorrow 🙂

  •  Great post Gretchen.
    You always are on the edge of thinking outside the box and very clever.
    Thanks for the share…

  • Bev

    I like the list, dont need to do 3 dont have a car, better not do 4 awaiting knee surgery and 6 is a little tricky but i think i can just about manage it, and i always do 8 unless my children move them.

    My list –
    1. spend time with God
    2. Have breakfast
    3. drink water
    4. tell my children i love them
    5. have lunch with a friend – most days
    6. read
    7. laugh
    8. eat good food
    9. have dinner with my family
    10. sit on the back step and watch the sun set

  • I have to say my Happiness Project has gotten sidetracked. I have a bad habit (?) of getting into a funk – periods of time when I feel overwhelmed and uninspired and tired and disappointed in myself when I don’t feel like getting anything done even though I have the time. I think the better way to look at these periods of time might be to see it as a recharging period; I am trying to do that. In reality I am sure I do plenty of worthwhile things on these “off” days, but I don’t realize or give myself credit for them. Maybe my everyday list can look like this:
    do some kind of exercise – gym, walk, yoga
    eat a vegetable or two
    read
    think and/or dream
    hug my kids
    go to work
    listen to music
    prepare for the next morning
    take a soothing shower
    I really like laugh every day – something I love to do but forget about

    • gretchenrubin

      I think it can really help, during a funk, to remind yourself of what you
      did manage to do — and actually to do things that are worthwhile. Sometimes
      the bar has to be set very low!

      _____

      • You rock Gretchen. The whole happiness issue is a really interesting project in psychology and self-talk.

  • Do you jump up and down to improve bone density? Or just for fun?

    • gretchenrubin

      Just for fun. It’s so goofy and childlike, it makes me feel more cheerful
      and energetic. But the bone density angle is good too!

      _____

      • Susan

        you’re lucky your knees still let you jump… all that jogging (which DID make me happy for years) left my knees too worn out…but a daily brisk walk is still a GREAT source of happiness.

  • Such a great idea, to have a list of simple little things that get accomplished every day no matter what. Too often I reach the end of the day and feel frustrated and grumpy because there are sooo many things I didn’t get to–but I don’t really think of all these basic things. Love your list, but I must admit, on my most chaotic days I don’t get to #1! (how embarassing). I would add to my personal list: read for pleasure (even if it’s only a couple of pages) and listen to music (can do this no matter what else is going on!).

    • Susan

      I would so much rather read for pleasure than do so many other things that I end up doing most days. But the thing about the bed…it takes literally less than 1 minute and as an engineer pointed out in the way (only an engineer would think of putting it this way) it makes the room immediately look 50% cleaner! 🙂  
       (But there are those days when my son sees it as an opportunity to get in it and mess it all up again BECAUSE it looks so nicely made and inviting)

  • Anne

    I pet/love on my yellow lab every day.  No matter what mood I’m in, it is always improved after facetime with my dog.

  • Awesome, yet simple way to have a great day!
    thanks for this post I’m going to share it with my friends.

  • Soqui

    I hope I can accomplish this every day: Read the Happiness Project post and daily quote!

  • K

    My list…
    1. Make my bed
    2. Take a 10 minute walk
    3. Take my vitamins
    4. Write a few words in my journal
    5. Read (at least a page or two)
    6. Take 5 minutes to straighten up my living space
    7. Listen to a happy song
    8. Brush my teeth
    9. Drink water
    10. Do a small kindness for someone else (smile, hold the door, chat with a stranger; say “I love you,” listen to, compliment someone I know)

  • Catseye

    Excellent idea, Gretchen!  I’m going to write down my own list to follow.  While I’m on the subject of everyday tasks, let me thank you for inspiring me to make my bed daily.  I’ve tried off and on for decades to make my bed every morning but for some reason, even though I’m a neatnik, I couldn’t make it a habit.  Reading your blog and book finally broke the mental and/or emotional log jam!  Who knows what else I might accomplish?  ;o)

    • Tana

      My sister-in-law is full Navajo, and she told me the following regarding making the bed:  Her mother told her that she rises early every day and immediately makes her bed.  Because when the good spirits see that a person hasn’t made her bed, it indicates that the person is not ready to receive the day’s blessings.

      I want always to be ready to receive:)

  • I addressed pretty much the same question in this post I wrote, with a Buddhist twist. A Basic Middle Way To Do List for Difficult Days
     
    My list? 
    1.  Keep breathing

    2.  Fulfill necessary obligations (work, family responsibilities) to the extent possible

    3.  Meditate

    4.  Get some exercise

    5.  Sleep

    6.  Clean something

    7.  Read something

    8.  Write something

    9.  Be kind to someone

    10.  Eat something healthful and good-tasting

  • PNWGal

    Love this idea! It is important to remember you are doing things even when your not feeling that way!

  • There are times when I get on myself too much. I have found that just straightening up a few rooms in the house makes me feel so much better. It’s just the act of doing but it works well.

  • Leonore H. Dvorkin

    My 10 things: I always make our bed, shower and wash my hair, wash the dishes, get some exercise, eat several servings of fruits and vegetables, write e-mail to friends, do some paid work (I tutor languages, teach weight training, and edit books), tell my husband that I love him, and check the news online. Although politics might be depressing, I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to keep up with it. – Leonore H. Dvorkin, Denver, Colorado, USA 

    • Susan

      I love news/politics too, but do you know that one of the first things (some) psychologists tell depressed patients is to “take a break from the news.”  I noticed on vacation this year I didn’t follow the news at all and it was such a nice break (and even though usually I’m a news junkie) I really enjoyed it. 

      Once I got back home I fell back in my old habits but I think we overestimate how much news we need to read/listen to to keep informed.  It’s good if you can listen to the radio while you’re house cleaning, or the News Hour while fixing dinner…but don’t just sit and watch it.
      (As one friend said, “It’s not like the State Department is going to call and ask you your opinion!”)
        And my mother in law pointed out that, although it’s enjoyable to read the morning paper, you can spend too much time reading the news that you could be getting stuff done… I mean, yes, inform yourself before you vote, but so many other issues, we just don’t have any control over them, can’t take any action (but may feel guilty for that) 

      I read that  the things that stress us the most are things that affect us & bother us…but we have NO control over.  So, rather than focus on hideously bad news…why not  focus on the good news of small things we can actually accomplish in our lives?

  • Juliet

    Hi. This is a good idea. Particularly when one is not at one’s best. Thank you .

  • Angellinda60

    Those are some sweet ideas. Believe me most times I have no money. So I’m stranded out in the country here. Since I have no income! But I do love these 10 ideas! I don’t live in an apt. But even in pain from Cancer Side effects I’m not as hopeless as I feel! Thank you for sharing these ideas!

  • Lmcollina

    Ten things I do every day:
    1.  drink a good cup of coffee
    2.  enjoy and/or make music
    3.  tell my son that I love him
    4.  eat some fruits and vegetables
    5.  spend at least a few minutes reading for pleasure
    6. stretch
    7.  smile
    8.  speak to a friend
    9.  pray/meditate
    10. do something (cook, tidy up, put flowers in a vase)to make home more pleasant

  • Tbellows

    Wow! This is so sad. Come on people, use your head, do you actually need someone to teach you how to be happy.

    Just read What I learned in Kindergarten, much shorter and the same info.

    • Susan

      well, it’s not sad.  you obviously haven’t read her book.  b/c yes, we don’t necessarily need someone to teach us how to be happy… it’s just fun to see how she does it and if what she learned might make us happier too.  but you just added that you did “need” someone too (Robert Fulghum) . I stumbled on Gretchen early on w/ her blog, only to find out that so did a zillion others seeking greater happiness.. and her book is really an enjoyable read. Pick it up  … try it , you might like it!

  • ewelina

    I just finished you book 🙂  and I am staring now create my own project but something I can not understand – how to reconcile ” Always be yourself” with ex. “do not tell malicious comments”? If I do not tell – this is not real me… If I dont like early wake up – why push myself  to bgetting up at 6 am- this is not real me…

  • Leah

    I love this idea and it reinforces what is important when everything else falls in a heap.

    1. Kiss my husband.
    2. Spend time with God.
    3. Pat my dog.
    4. Sing aloud.
    5. Stretch my body and take conscious breaths.
    6. Clear some clutter and put at least one thing away properly.
    7. Eat and drink something good for my body.
    8. Laugh.
    9. Wash my face and moisturise.
    10. Charge my iPhone.

  • ChuckNoland

    May we men pass on number 10 and instead take something in visually?  🙂

    • canaduck

      I’m pretty sure men have a sense of smell, actually.

  • Lizzie-bee

    Everyday without fail I make myself a fresh juice first thing in the morning. My partner and I started this about 5 months ago and each saturday we drive to a warehouse of the cheapest, best fresh produce in Melbourne (we literally buy 10kg bags of carrots for $5 for our juice every week, plus beetroots, ginger, pears, apples, rockmelons, strawberries, young coconuts… everything!).

    I find the taste of the fresh juice gives an immediate lift to my spirits no matter how I’m feeling.

  • Susan

    Re: #2 … Gretchen you look like a “ginger” but you really don’t have to wear _daily_ sunscreen. You need Vit D ,  if you’re not out long enough to get burned, the sun is GOOD for your skin.  http://blogs.mercola.com/sites/vitalvotes/archive/2007/06/19/The-Sunscreen-Myth-How-Sunscreen-Products-Actually-Promote-Cancer.aspx

  • Jessica

    Hi Gretchen.  I’m listening to The Happiness Project on my way to and from work and loving it.  I’m a full-time working mom of 2 young boys, life is pretty hectic but great.  I’m curious what your task list looks like.  Is it on the computer?  On paper? Is it looked at daily? Do you keep work and personal separate or does it all blend together?  I love to write and journal (and blog) but have never mastered a task list very well where it is an effective tool to organize my life.  Any tips?  Thanks so much!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that you’re enjoying the book. I keep my resolutions in a chart modeled after Benjamin Franklin’s. If you email me at gretchenrubin1 @ gretchenrubin.com, I can send you a copy, to see as an example.

      _____

  • Kellie waterson

    Definately going to do this task and was great reading everyones helpful ideas. Thank you and am grateful for stumbling onto this website.

  • Stacy

    Hug my kids whenever I think of it, that’s my resolution. Hugs for no reason. Makes them and me feel better.

  • Poirier H

    Tgis whole thong makes me happy. You a angel to have  thought of something like this and]d then shared it!! Thank you!

  • Bcheerful3

    This is such a nice list. These days it seems that corporations, technology and lack of humanity are robbing us all of our time and ability to expedite the simplest tasks. I will remember this list.

  • Kathryn

    Here are some quotes that I literally live by:

    “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
    “Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.”

    “Stop worrying so much. It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

    “What would you attempt to do if you knew you knew you could not fail?”

    “The first step to getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”

    “If I were to begin life again, I should want it as it was; I would only open my eyes a little more.”

  • Liz

    what a great way to start the day! I feel full of purpose now 😉