The "I Did" List – I Did It!

James Altucher
5 min readMar 18, 2014

Many people make a "to do" list. I used to make that list also.

And it felt great. I'd make the "to-do" list and then every time I did something on the list I'd cross it off and felt a sense of accomplishment.

Woo-hooo! I called five people by 11am!

Accomplishment releases all of these chemicals in the brain that then make you feel better. Very addictive chemicals. Dopamine, Endorphines, blah blah.

So I'd put more things on the to-do list. More people to call. More things to write. More places to go or people to meet.

Ugh. What the hell. Then at the end of the day I'd be spent and I'd feel bad for not finishing the things on my list. What a waste. I'm a waste. I'm a waste of human life.

On my deathbed: "I didn't finish my to-do list".

Now I have ONE thing on my list and then I'm done: I have to create one thing. This doesn't mean I'm an artist. Most things I create are really bad.

Yesterday I made my first Vine video. Vine lets you make these six second videos. Here's my Vine. I shared it on Twitter. That was my "thing" of the day. It's neither good or bad. It was my one thing:

What happens when you only have one thing on your "to-do" list?

More emails don't get answered. Most phone calls don't get returned. People think you're a jerk. I don't know. Lots of bad things happen. Things slip through the cracks.

And where do they go? I have no idea. Garbage. People get disappointed.

That's ok. They're all going to die. They won't say on their death bed, "everything would've been better if James just returned my call."

One thing a day not only adds up, it compounds:

  • You have the one thing
  • You learn from creating one thing. That learning makes the next "one thing" better.
  • Once you have a lot of "one things", each markets the other.
  • You learn new tricks. I had never used Vine before, for instance.
  • Without the pressure of everything else, your "one thing" gets your full focus and energy.

This doesn't mean the other things don't get done. I still make calls to people I want to.

I still talk to people or write stuff or do podcasts or take care of business and hang out with Claudia or my kids. But these things just aren't on a list. A MUST-DO-TO-BE-HAPPY List.

BUT then at the end of the day, I do my "I Did" list.

Even though only one thing was on my "to do" list. A LOT of things get on my "I DID" list.

Because in the 15 or so hours I'm awake, if I spend one hour doing my one thing, I have 14 hours to do a lot of other things, all things I want to do. People I want to be with. Ideas I explore. Things I'm grateful for.

But what if I work a 9 to five job?

Ok, that's fine. If you listen closely enough to what your life is telling you, there's a lot of empty silences and pauses. You can do whatever you want in those silences.

What if I have to take care of kids when I'm outside my job? Same thing.

I'm not going to give the BS line: "children are our greatest teachers". They aren't really. They are mostly annoying. They are hard work. The best thing a kid teaches us is patience and how to avoid these new, very enticing kinds of anger and annoyance.

I had nothing extra on my "to do" list this past week. But when I look back at my "I did" list I'm very proud.

If I had to pick one thing I'd want to share it would be to check out my podcast with Hugh Howey.

Two and a half years ago, Hugh was working in a bookstore, shelving books for $10 an hour.

On the side he was writing novels. He had no publisher so he was self-publishing through Amazon and then hoping some of his friends or family would read his books.

"I thought if one reader liked a book then it would be worth it," he told me.

I would give up on one novel if nobody read it. I'm a wimp.

Most publishers will give up on you as well. Which is why Hugh kept self-publishing.

Hugh wrote nine novels. He had a full time job the entire time.

On his ninth novel (ninth!), "WOOL", a lot of people liked it. So he wrote "WOOL 2", then "WOOL 3", then "WOOL 4", then the "WOOL Omnibus" that collected them all.

Soon his books were all in the top ten for science fiction on Amazon. Now everyone was reading his books! And people were reading his back books. He had done zero marketing.

Doing that one thing a day proved to be the BEST marketing. This is what many people don't get.

So he wrote more: "Dust", "Shift", "Sand", and more. His one thing each day: write. Ridley Scott bought the movie rights to "WOOL". Simon & Schuster bought the rights to distribute in bookstore.

When I visited Amazon last week I spent time with people in every department of publishing. They all spoke about Hugh's success but also about the successes of many authors now choosing the self-publishing route.

Persistence is a magic power. Again: "If one reader liked my novels then it's worth it".

He quit his full time job. He writes full time.

I am sure Hugh's "I did" list is much greater than his "to-do" list. He answers emails. He has to deal with the business now of being a writer. He came on my podcast. He writes a blog. He analyzes data about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. He approves covers and goes over his royalties I am assuming.

But every day he writes.

Pick your one thing. Do it. Share it if you can.

And at the end of the day or week, write your "I Did" list.

Life doesn't have to die in the cubicle. Weave magic out of the hidden silences in between meetings. Create your one thing a day. Good or bad. Who cares? You'll get better.

And then shout as loud as you can, "I DID IT!"



James Altucher

For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog. One day I’ll run out of stuff but not yet.