How I Organize My To-Do Lists

Aug 12

Are your to-do lists getting longer as back-to-school gets closer? Do you write your list (or lists) and start tackling it right away? Or do you feel intimidated / suffocated by what you see on the list so you lose motivation to do anything? Not sure where to begin? Feel like you’re chasing your tail?

Then I hope this post will help!

We need to take a collective deep breath as the school year nears. *deep breath in through the nose…slowly release it through the mouth* Seriously, do this a few more times before reading this post. Not because I’m about to stress you out. On the contrary, this post should empower yet calm you at the same time.

Take a moment to think about your lists. Ask if what you’re putting on the list is really important. I think many of us fall prey to what we think is important, yet isn’t. Ever felt like you’ve been running around all day doing things, but at the end of the day you ask yourself what exactly you got done? *raises hand* I’ve been there too! Structure your lists in a way that allow you to feel accomplished…meaning you’re actually getting things done. Not just things, tasks that really matter!

Let me go ahead and shatter your World for a second…to-do lists never end or go away. So unless you’re working on a project to-do list that has a defined, outlined start and end, your to-do lists will never be empty. Because to-do lists are a part of life, I’m going to share with you how I manage mine. I’m always successful with this system because I don’t set myself up to fail to begin with. I hope my system makes you feel successful too! Some of you may prefer digital over paper, and that’s totally fine. For me, I’m a paper girl. So while what you’ll see here is paper-based…feel free to adapt for digital. That’s absolutely possible!

If you’re visual, like me, having hanging files (these are from the old Martha Stewart Home Office collection) within view can be incredibly helpful for getting more done!…

I placed these above my desk 2 years ago and they haven’t budged – because it works! Over the last 2 years I’ve had various files and papers organized within this system and as a visual person, it’s allowed me to stay even more organized. Everything is within reach when I need it and nothing gets lost in the paper shuffle or ends up piled in a stack. The hanging files are right above my desktop…

Having files hanging on the wall gives me a completely clear work surface too…


Because I manage quite a few topics, I broke my to-do lists down into categories. For me, there is nothing worse than one huge master to-do list with items for my business shuffled in with items for school. I’ve done the master list before and no matter how I structured it, it was overflowing and a total mess. Breaking down your lists into a few categories makes them more manageable and easier to stay on top of.

Now, you’ll notice within in my hanging wall files there are various file pockets…


I love these pockets. With a passion. They are great for containing individual client projects, business topics I’m working on (like my branding process I’ve shared), home improvement lists (or dreams),Β aaaaaaand to-do lists! They are thin, flexible and portable! I say portable because I keep clients broken down into these pockets and when I head out the door to see them, I grab and go…

They come in a variety of colors (or clear) as you see hanging in my office…and I slap a clear label on the corner for quick locating…

You can find these project pockets at office supply stores or right here on Amazon – $8 for 10!…

You may be wondering what my categories are…


So nosy! πŸ˜‰

Here’s my current category titles:

* blog posts to do (this is my master list of topics / ideas)
* blog series (long-running blog series I have planned)
* blog maintenance to do
* due to companies (product reviews / product photography)
* branding to do
* simply organized clients to do
* simply organized business to do (printing materials, talking to the bank about something, LLC stuff)
* cpa (he gives me homework)
* home to do (related specifically to home issues – plumber, painting, etc)
* home finances
* newsletter (i write for a local moms club newsletter)
* napo sf conference (i’m on the planning committee)
* speakers (potential speakers I’m in contact with for the conference or chapter meetings)
* vendors (potential vendors I’m in contact with for the conference or our SF chapter)
* 5th grade
* 3rd grade
* kindergarten
* church
That list gives you an idea. Yes, I am responsible for a lot these days – but it will slow down later this fall. My main categories change once in a while. For example, the conference is in November so that will go away this fall. The kids weren’t in school this summer so I didn’t have teacher papers or homework projects to stay on top of. The school files were gone for the summer, but now they’re back. When I wrap up a client project, I file their folder away somewhere else. You catch my drift.
So, now that you’ve seen my main categories…what I do next is pull together a list of things to-do for ONE day. Here’s the example – my actual to-do list for today Wednesday, August 12 – and then I’ll explain…
My calendar is obviously where my appointments and scheduled items live (I’ll soon be talking about my calendar in detail), but here’s a quick glance…

My calendar is broken down into weeks…

These post-it tabs are everything

I do know what I have going on day to day so my to-do list reflects that. Meaning, even though I’ve planned out my list for today, I have a rough idea of what my lists for the next few days will look like too. When I’m planning out my daily to-do list, I have my calendar nearby to make sure I don’t miss any details, like an upcoming birthday, party, school event I volunteered for or client need…
That way, if I’m already going to a store for something, I can grab other items I’m sure I’ll need in the next week. I typically write out my to-do list the evening before – that way I know exactly what I’m doing the next day, wake up prepared for that, and schedule my day around getting to those stores, calls or computer time. You can see here on my list how I easily break it down…
Things to do for home, simply organized, calls to make, and blog related items. As I said, I pretty much know what needs to get done day to day and week to week, but I consult my to-do list categories and calendar to make sure I’m not missing the little details.
IMPORTANT: I never allow my to-do list go beyond this amount of items. If I did, I’d be setting myself up to feel defeated. I purposely create lists that I know are doable. I know I will accomplish all of that today because my day allows for it – we’re home all morning / early afternoon, then I have a sitter coming at 3 so I can run client errands and attend a school meeting this evening. If I had a client I was working for today plus taking my kids to activities or something, my list would have 1-3 items and that’s it. And they would be items that absolutely must get done – like the market or calls. I wouldn’t put computer time on my list or a blog post on my list if I knew I’d be out of the house most of the day. Just won’t make me feel good and knowing me, I’d sit in bed at night with my laptop knocking that blog post out just to prove I could do it. I’m very competitive with myself.
The key is understanding what your day looks like and being realistic with what you can get done. No one knows you better than you. If you know your energy peaks in the morning but you’re only good for about 2 hours, set yourself up with a few things to do during that time so you’ll know you can get it done. If when you’re finished you decide you can take on something else, by all means look at your list to see if you have something else small. Otherwise, just enjoy the fact your list is complete and instead think about tomorrow’s list.
I write my daily to-do list on a pad of paper because when it’s done I can shred or recycle the list…AND more importantly, things come up during the day that need to be added to various to-do lists. If I get a call, text, e-mail or see someone that needs me to do something, my pad of paper is right there. Then later when I’m home or in my office, I can transfer those to-do items to their appropriate categories.
This really is simple, I promise you! Maybe all of my writing makes it appear like a lot to do just for your to-do’s….but it isn’t. It’s a very simple system that is going to set you up for success! The whole point is to know what your bigger headings are and break them down into bite-size pieces. Again, don’t overwhelm yourself. Of course, we all have days that don’t go as planned. So if items remain on that list at the end of the day because something came up and kept you from it, don’t fret! There’s always tomorrow!
At this time (it’s 2:15) I’ve already crossed off more than half my list and what remains will get done when my sitter arrives in 45 minutes. So, with my free time I cleaned up my desktop…


The kids and I did some back to school shopping earlier this week and was happy to find my favorite Sharpie writing pens on sale at Target! I loaded up and that sparked me cleaning up my little pencil / pen tins…

I bought the tins a while ago from the Target $1 section. They did have some there when we were at the store earlier this week so go grab some for yourself! Love these! I have them around the house to contain lots of little things…cute too!
If you have any questions or comments, please share below! I love to hear what works for you…and what doesn’t! And if you choose to adopt this system, be sure to come back and let me know how it’s working!
Happy to-do listing everyone!

comments +

  1. Andrea says:

    What are those pockets? I have never seen those before.

    • Hi! Thank you for reminding me – I've edited the post with a link to the product. You can find them in office supply stores too, but I did share a link to where you can purchase on Amazon.

      Thank you!!!

  2. illyse says:

    Wow!! Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing! Your system seems wonderful and I am going to try it!

  3. Jenn C says:

    What are you currently using for your weekly calendar sheets?

    • Hi Jenn,

      I use the weekly family planner sheets from You can find a link to her site on my sidebar if you want to order them or you can purchase from The Container Store too!

      Sam πŸ™‚

  4. Sara and Dan says:

    Do you keep master long-term to-do lists within the pockets?

    • Hi,

      Just depends on what the category is. Within my home to do folder, yes – I have a running list of projects, improvements, or dreams I have for the house. Then I consult the list for things to knock off when I have the time. For my blog topics, I have a running list of ideas that I tap into for inspiration. But for clients, it's a way to stay on top of their projects and I tend to knock out those to-do lists pretty quickly…no need for a master list, unless I am working on more than 8-10 spaces in their home and we are taking on one at a time.

      Does this make sense?

      Sam πŸ™‚

  5. Erin says:

    Sam!! Absolutely love your list system! I think that is key – setting yourself up for success by not adding too many items to your to-do list. I know this, but still overwhelm myself with a big long list I can't possibly get done. Have to work on that! You're my hero. πŸ™‚ xo

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