The “I did” list: the cure for lost time

Posted by on Jul 10, 2012 in Blog | 2 comments

We’ve all had days that just seemed to disappear without getting anything “useful” done. Here’s a simple practice that helps you find that missing time, so you can truly appreciate all the things you do in a single day.

As I was mulling over what to write about today, I stumbled across a really neat practice that’s part time management, part gratitude practice, and chock full of compassion. It’s a gentle counterpart to the ever-present “to do” list that so many of us have.

It’s called an “I did” or a “Did do” list, and I think it’s brilliant. Here’s how it works.

Making your list

Take a moment to write out all the things that you did yesterday. Don’t aim just for the big stuff. Make a note of everything, even (and especially) the small stuff that you did. Whether you think it was useful or effective doesn’t matter. Think of meal preparation, moments spent tidying or organizing or reading online, shopping or changing diapers, or running errands. Include time spent on Facebook or checking and responding to email.

List it all. Do your best to reserve judgment or evaluation– just list the facts.

My guess is that you’ll be surprised at what you see.

You may discover that you have hidden hours in your day that you’re secreting away for your own purposes. You may have time stockpiled in places you didn’t expect. Or, you may have every minute accounted for in an ongoing battle to clear your to-do list.

Giving credit

I wish I could claim credit for coming up with the “I did” list, but I can’t. I actually read about it here, here, and here.

Interestingly, it seems to show up a lot in blogs for new moms, which I think is telling. So many new moms find their time disappears in the whirlwind of childcare. I’ve written elsewhere about how childcare, housework, and emotional caregiving is invisible work to folks who don’t do it, and it is often discounted or discredited in our culture.

This can leave people who spend most of their days spearheading these tasks feeling as though they haven’t contributed meaningfully or that their time just “disappeared.”

But, it is quite common for many of us to feel as though we have vanishing hours in our day. So, while this practice is intended first and foremost as a practice in gratitude and compassion, it can also be a valuable learning tool. Read on to learn how making an “I did” list can be helpful in everyday life.


I think you can complete an “I did” list any old time, but there are a few instances when it can be especially useful. Take five minutes to do one if you’re ever…

going nowhere fast— sometimes it’s hard to move forward when you’re stuck in a rut or under a deadline. Taking a moment to give yourself credit and gratitude for what you do can be a balm to the guilt or anxiety you feel about not moving forward on other projects.

losing time— if you aren’t sure where your time is going, this list can help you stay honest about how you spend your time. You can add in an evaluative component after making the list to determine if you’re happy with how you’re spending your time, and if you need to outsource tasks or ask for help to lighten the load.

seeking perspective this list can be a great catalyst for changing direction or maintaining the course. It is mid-year, after all. Are you using your time the way you intended when you set resolutions for yourself last winter? Is there anything you’d like to change or modify? Don’t invite guilt over for dinner on this– instead, use this inquiry as a way to bring gentle change into your life.

The disappearing hours

I would be very curious to know where your hours got off to. Or, when you completed this list, were they right where you left them, all neatly accounted for? Mine like to sneak off sometimes… I know I can’t be alone in that!

Please leave a comment and tell me this: where do your hours go? What surprised you about this practice?

PS: Be sure you add in helpings of compassion and gratitude for whatever is on your list, even if you’re making one to evaluate where your time goes…


  1. I love your analysis of the did list! It’s true — it really helped me feel like I had accomplished something instead of feeling like I was doing nothing all day since I didn’t get the laundry folded or the bathrooms cleaned. Thanks for the shout out!

  2. Yours was the first article I found on the topic– so helpful! I especially liked that you included your own list for your readers to see. It let me include all sorts of things on my list when I tried it, so I didn’t miss giving myself credit for stuff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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