How to Write a “To Do List” You’ll Actually Use

With all the talk this week of organizing and planning for the new school year, You are likely thinking about all of the things you need to get done by the time students arrive on the first day.

Today I want to share my method of “To Do List” creation to help you organize your Back to School tasks.

It seems so simple, but the way you organize your list (and the fact that you can actually locate your list and take action upon the items on the list) can increase your productivity and make you feel like you have it all under control.

My first recommendation would be to start with a master “To Do” list you keep in one place, with categories that fit your individual needs.

I update my master list each week, transferring over any items that didn’t get finished that week to the new list. You can either hand write or type these lists. It really doesn’t matter.

Here is a sample of a typical school week’s list.

I also make a similar type of list at home for my personal items.

I include categories like cleaning and organizing, meals and cooking, and bills to pay.

This past week I’ve felt really disorganized, and I realized why. I forgot to make my master list! For some reason, I hadn’t created a new one this week, and I felt lost. Because my head is not always the most reliable, I need to write everything down. So, apparently, I need to put “Make a new List” on my To Do List. Confused yet?

Each morning I transfer 3 items from the big list into a small list on a sticky note.

These are the things I need or want to accomplish that day. Then, they get crossed off the big list, and the sticky gets tossed. Anything in addition to those items I consider “bonus” for that day.

This method works for me because it breaks down all of my tasks into manageable chunks and prevents me from feeling too overwhelmed. If I look at the big list too often, I will get overwhelmed. Sometimes I hide it. Seriously. But it helps.

So, maybe you think I am nuts and have a simple app that helps you keep your list handy. If so, please share. I’ve tried several apps, but they have not worked as well as the system I’ve just explained. To each their own!

How do you organize your to do list? 

Any good productivity apps out there that you’re hooked on?

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Melissa Pruitt

    Mine is similar but not as organized.  I find physically writing things down helps me remember and stay focused on the day.  I also pick 1-3 things to focus on.  My one thing can be quite long and I am raising 4 kids so time is limited.  I count it a success if I get one thing done and have found if 3 things get done, it is a really good day!  Also, I will make a longer list at the beginning of the week and use that for the entire week at times.  Again, crossing 1-3 things off of it everyday.  This doesn’t work as well as writing a smaller list everyday.

  • Post-its!  I would die without them! :)

  • I love the idea of categories! It helps to break it down into a few chunks, instead of one giant, daunting list. 

  • guest

    Make those bullet points on your list empty circles. It seems silly but when I get to fill them in the satisfaction will motivate me to get the next task done so I can fill in another!

  • Bonnie McDaniel

    I use Evernote. It syncs with my laptop, phone and ipad. It is a life saver!

  • Sue M

    This is similar to what I do, but I circle the check box for the 2-3 things that are the priority for the day. Then those items that get circled change as I cross things off the main list.

    Does anyone have ideas for how to store lessons plans? I use regular 9 x 12 file folders, but I often have tracers, extra xeroxes, and thick or oversize samples and they get really bulky. Also, right now I have them by grade level, but since lessons can often be worked well up or down the grades, I’m not sure this is the best way.

    • Courtney Kane

      File ’n Save System Chart Storage Box works for me, I have one for each grade level.

  • LAHeinig

    Gmail has an incredibly helpful feature called “tasks”. If you have never clicked on the dropdown arrow next to “mail” when looking at your inbox… do it now! Click tasks! Change your life!

    I also store my larger units in printer paper boxes which can help with weird visual items I don’t want to have out all the time or squish!

  • Daniel Bell

    I just bought a smart phone (Motorola Moto G for only $150 from Consumer Cellular) and downloaded the ToDoist app. I also installed the ToDoist apps on my desktops at home and at school and my list syncs all three automatically. It has a nice, clean format and lots of list organization features (categories, tasks and sub-tasks, notes, dates, etc.) I’m on the free version but I like it so much I plan to buy it. I know some people love stickies but I tend to lose them and I’m getting too forgetful to trust my memory.

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