Books & Literature

Book Review: I Didn’t Do the Thing Today, by Madeleine Dore

SELF-HELP: An antidote to our obsession with busyness, author Madeleine Dore explores the joys of releasing ourselves from the burden of productivity guilt.

One of the better self-help books of the last few years.

Busyness is often worn as a badge of honour. In some circles it is almost fetishised. Books about how to get more organised/write better lists/be more effective make up one of the largest-selling literary sub-genres. Many of us feel guilty if we didn’t get up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym, or forgot listen to our “teach yourself Russian” course in our lunch break, or neglected to put on a load of washing before we went to work. There are only so many hours in a day, and the standard self-help authors would have us believe that we can squeeze so much more out of them, if only we have the right organisational tool, or a bit more self-discipline.

Writer and podcaster Madeleine Dore wants to subvert this exhausting paradigm.

Rather than giving advice on how to jam an MBA into your morning tea break, I Didn’t Do the Thing Today seeks to explore the question: what is a day well spent? Through her blog Extraordinary Routines, and her podcast, Routines and Ruts, Dore has been looking at this issue for some years. She interviews people, many of them creatives, about how they navigate their days. And in this book, there are quotes aplenty from some of those she has had as guests on her podcast. The general tenor of all her work is to focus on creative ways of living, rather than productive ones. She takes the aphorism how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and changes it to how we spend our days is how we slowly figure out how to navigate our lives.

The book is delivered in short chapters, and a lively, readable style. Unlike most self-help books, it is fairly solidly prosy with only the occasional chunk of dot-points. This layout in itself is a testament to this work not being the standard “life hack” tome. However, the dot-point lists she does use are some of the highlights. For example, How we can find our own way includes such gems as: “… we might bookend the day with a way to begin, and a way to end, creating a container for the muddle in the middle,” and “… we might make checklists for our days or weeks, and allow them to be order-less reminders of what makes a good day.”

I Didn’t Do the Thing Today gently unpacks the sacred concept of routine, but also dips into psychology to pose questions around such areas as decision-making, comparing ourselves to others, and the void inside that the busyness is attempting to fill.  

Dore writes with wisdom, compassion, and enthusiasm. Its nearly 300 pages contain a fair bit of repetition and padding: some judicious cutting and tightening would have made an improvement. However, there is no doubt that reading this book makes you see things slightly differently, and opens the portal to a kinder approach to oneself and one’s life. It is genuinely one of the better self-help books to come out over the last 10 years.

The core philosophy at the heart of I Didn’t Do the Thing Today is best summarised by this line from near the end of the book:

“Maybe we can’t expect to enjoy every day, but we can find it endearing.”

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: January 2022
RRP: $32.99

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