How to Write an ‘At the Very Least’ List


Sep 13 2016

Gold Tape

How to Write an 'At the Very Least' List

at the very least

I’ve written about my ‘in case of emergency list’, a sampling of irresistibly easy and effective strategies for reigniting my motivation, written in gold pen on Kate Spade paper. It’s my go-to remedy for listless days.

I have another list, for equally inspiration-less feels, that serves a slightly different purpose. It’s called the ‘at the very least’ list, and rather than including things that will cheer me up, it delineates the simple steps I should go through on even the darkest of days to feel fulfilled and human.

How to Write an 'At the Very Least' List

At the very least:

  • brush my teeth
  • have a shower or bath time
  • light a candle
  • do the laundry
  • go outside
  • read one page
  • go through my email-checking routine
  • write
  • have lunch

When I am especially lost, I start at the top and work downwards. If that’s all I get done in a day, that’s fine. My ‘at the very least list’ refreshes me physically and mentally, and includes some easy tasks that will nonetheless make me feel accomplished.

Cleansing myself

Feeling clean makes an amazing difference. I don’t usually write ‘brush teeth’ on my daily agenda, because it happens naturally. But when I’m in a certain mood, I don’t feel like I deserve to do anything, including brushing my teeth. If, late in the day, I decide to get up and start, I need to have written permission to take the time to do this. It only takes a few minutes, but when I’m frantic, I feel like I don’t have time!

Taking a shower gets my blood flowing as my body reacts to a change in temperature. If I barely feel like getting up, lying down in the bath is a more welcome option. Throw in some salt with a bit of bath bomb bubbles and my senses are refreshed with the new smells and relaxing waters. 

The magic of clean clothes

Loading up laundry and pressing start takes very little effort – I let the machine do the hard work – but I have done something, which is a crucial step on its own. If there are clothes to put away, I treat the task as a mindful practice, feeling the fabric, checking for loose threads or holes to be mended before folding each garment into a neat pile and back in its home.

Even if I am not up for a full day of work, I do something to prepare myself in the future; I will appreciate having a stack of clean clothes in my drawer when I am ready to put them on! Plus I am motivated by being in charge of Monkey’s laundry too; doing this task is satisfying, as it benefits him as well as me. 

How to Write an 'At the Very Least' List

Just one page

For years and years and years now I have benefited from journaling, but I still need to remind myself that when I’m  at my worst, writing makes me feel better. When I open the book and start writing, magic happens – but opening it is the hardest part. 

The same goes for reading – lying in bed I get stuck in the storm of my thoughts, and often what I need most is to sink into someone else’s story. Promising to read just one page is the momentum I need to get started and keep going.

Staying on top of emails

Every day I set a timer for 30 minutes to tackle my email with complete focus. Doing this daily is essential to keeping emails from piling up. For this task, I need to show up fully, in focus and as a person, as it is a social activity.

Just like writing by hand, putting my fingers on the keyboard is a source of power – I learned to type when I was 5 years old, and the motions are comforting to me, and ease me into my day as a writer.

How to Write an 'At the Very Least' List

How to get started

If you have days where you don’t feel like getting up, I suggest writing your own ‘at the very least’ list. Some guidelines:

  • Put the tasks in chronological order.
  • Start with easy stuff.
  • Focus on the first step, one that is easy to execute but difficult to convince yourself to begin.
  • Remember that this list is different from an ‘in case of emergency’ list. It is an abbreviated, bare bones version of your daily routine. 

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P.S. I write more about simple care practices that make all the difference in my Addendum on Depression, which is included for free with each purchase of my book, Own Your Story. Read more about the set here.

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