This morning, after my quiet time, I made a list. A list of all the things I have to do today. Take the bath mat that Jack stained to the cleaners. Talk to my husband about the finances. Call a friend who isn’t feeling well. Grade papers for my writing class. Run errands. Write this post. Oh, and call another friend, and return that toaster, and ask Steve about…

I, of course, am trying to follow Habit #5 of the Disciplined Woman, which is: she develops an effective to-do list system and calendar/planning system. I’ve got this habit half-way down. I have accumulated many credit-hours of to-do list and planning experience.

But it’s the “effective” part I have trouble with. My problem is that I tend to over-plan and way over-list. (Who else puts “File Nails” as an item on their to-do list? Write me. We need to be friends). My husband cringes when he asks what I’m doing today and I excitedly reply, “I am going to organize my life.” Those seven words always spell trouble. That usually means he’ll come home to find me in a pile of papers, sighing a lot.

However, I am blessed with my very own organizational advisor. Mom’s got both the list and the effective parts down. So enough about me, and my ineffective system; here are five simple steps to her highly effective to-do list and calendar system.

1. Create a Master To-Do List: First off, Mom keeps one running list of everything she needs to do. One author calls this a “mind-dump” on paper. This is her master to-do list. Each week she uses this list to do her weekly planning. She assigns various tasks from the master to-do list to the appropriate day of the week.

2. Create a Daily To-Do List: After her quiet time each day, Mom spends 15 minutes making a daily to-do list. Although Mom does her list in Microsoft Word, you can do it just as easily on paper. At the top she writes a verse or quote from her quiet time that she wants to meditate on that day. She already has several to-do list items assigned during her weekly planning, and she adds more as necessary. When an item on her master to-do list is a big project, her daily to-do list may include several tasks to move that project forward a little at a time.

3. Create a Daily Schedule: Mom takes her daily to-do list and allocates time for each task. She says it’s helpful to consider energy levels and to schedule the tasks that require the most thinking (e.g. balancing the check book, writing a letter) earlier in the day and save the brainless tasks (e.g. folding laundry) for the end of the day. Also, do your least-favorite tasks first and save the fun ones for last. Both the daily to-do list and the daily schedule are made with an eye on previously scheduled calendar items (e.g. homeschool Chad, dr.’s appt., church event, etc.).

4. Use Your Daily To-Do List/Schedule: Mom prints her daily to-do list/schedule and carries it around in her pocket. That way she has a verse, her to-do list, and the day’s schedule with her at all times. She is also more likely to fill up otherwise vacant slots of time accomplishing something on her list.

5. Do It Again Tomorrow: Whatever tasks she doesn’t complete get moved over to the next day and the process is repeated. For all you visual learners, here is a sample to-do list/schedule from Mom.

In order to effectively manage your to-do lists, calendar items, and goals, etc. you’ll need your very own “keep it all together” tool. Mom has a notebook (which includes a calendar) and she does her to-do lists on the computer and prints them out. By contrast, I keep all my information and lists on my laptop. You will need to discover the calendar/planning system—whether digital or paper—that is right for you.

Finally, there is one vital truth to remember about to-do lists. It’s something my dad tells us often: Only God gets His to-do list done . Only God accomplishes everything He needs to do, in exactly the way He intends, in precisely the right amount of time. Only God! This truth helps me see the arrogant absurdity of expecting to complete my own to-do list. It frees me to humbly accept my limitations, and simply seek to honor God by being a faithful steward of my time.


This article was adapted from "Girl Talk" - a blog kept by Carolyn and her three daughters for women in all seasons of life.

Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, homemaker, and the author of Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood and Shopping for Time: How To Do It All and Not Be Overwhelmed (written with her daughters) due out in July. During her more than 30 years as a pastor’s wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences, including those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which her husband, C.J., leads. C.J. and Carolyn have three married daughters and one fourteen-year-old son, Chad.

Nicole Whitacre is the oldest daughter of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, as well as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She assisted her mother with Feminine Appeal, and is the co-author of Girl Talk. Nicole and her husband Steve—who is a youth pastor at Sovereign Grace Church—have one son Jack, 4 and a newborn daughter Tori.

Kristin Chesemore and her husband Brian are the busy parents of three boys. Andrew is seven, Liam is four, and Owen is three. In the little spare time she does have, Kristin supports Brian in his role as a pastor in Family Life Ministries at Covenant Life Church.

Janelle Bradshaw has been married to her husband Mike for four years and they have a beautiful daughter Caly, 1. Mike serves as a pastor in Children’s Ministry at Covenant Life Church.  

Pictured above, left-right: Janelle, Kristin, Carolyn, and Nicole