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Make the Most of Your Mornings: Create a Realistic To-Do List (Day 6)

Last week, we talked about the importance of creating a to-do list that was based upon your yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. If you’ve not read that post (or you’ve not set down and mapped out some specific goals), can I encourage you to do that today? It just might rock your world! Now, onto today’s post…

We all have a lot we need to do each day. And, if you’re anything like me, you probably have a whole lot more that you want to do in each day, too.

I was just telling my husband yesterday that I have so much that I want to do that it’s a problem. I have a laundry list of new skills I want to learn, things I want to teach my children, place I’d love to visit, subjects I want to research in-depth, projects I want to attempt, people I’d like to reach out to and befriend, ministries I want to support, books I hope to read, character I want to work on… there are so many, many good things in life to choose from that putting together a daily to-do list can seem daunting.

But here’s the truth we all have to accept: none of us can do it all. Collectively, we can do a lot with our lives and make a huge impact in this world. Personally, we can make a big difference over the course of our lifetime. But we all only have 24 hours in each day.

Our time is limited and our energy is finite. Thus, we have to pick and choose the best from among the good. And we have to realize that what might be the best for others will not necessarily be the best for us.

1) Decide Your Personal Priorities

Determining what to put on our daily to-do list begins with deciding upon our own personal priorities for the season of life we’re currently in. I recommend choosing no more than five to six priorities. These are the things you will wrap your life around and what will be the basis for the majority of everything on your to-do list and all of the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals you set for yourself.

2) Start With the Basics

Before you try to save the world, you need to focus on making sure you (and your family, if you have one) have clean clothes, food to eat, and proper hygiene and rest. You’ll be a lot more effective at your efforts in other spheres of life if you make sure that you take care of the basics first.

So, think through what must be done in the course of your day. This is not what would be nice to have done, but those things that are actually necessities. For the record, the list of necessary things that must be done in a day is usually fairly short for most of us.

If you’re caring for someone who has life-threatening illness, have a special needs child, or have a lot of little ones, then most of your day is likely going to be made up of basic things. While they might mostly seem menial and mundane, remember that taking care of the basic needs of others is a very important thing to be investing your life in — even though it’s exhausting work. Remind yourself of what would happen if you weren’t doing it and you’ll realize just how important your tasks are!

3) Pick a Few Bite-Sized Pieces to Tackle

Once you have the basics on your to-do list for the day, if you still have a little wiggle room in your schedule, pick a few bite-sized pieces of your goals to tackle. These will typically be things you can accomplish in 15 or 30 minute slots, so keep this in mind when breaking goals down into bite-sized pieces. If you can’t accomplish the bite-sized piece in 30 minutes or less, it probably needs to be broken down further.

4) Prioritize Your List

I’ve found it helpful to prioritize my to-do list by marking each item with numbers in the order of priority I need to accomplish each task. I don’t always follow it to a tee, since sometimes a block of time will open up during the day and it will be perfect for tackling a specific item on my list — even though it’s out of order. When that happens, I just go with the flow and am happy to have another item crossed off the list, regardless of the fact that it’s out of order.

That said, as much as possible, I encourage you to focus on getting the hard tasks done first. “Eat your frogs” early in the day and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment to carry with you the rest of the day!

5) Keep it Short & Simple

As I’ve talked about before, if you want to set yourself up for success, you need to keep your to-do list short. If you put 56 items on your to-do list at the beginning of the day, you’ll probably give up before you even start because you’ll feel overwhelmed at defeated.

It’s better to plan to complete a few things and actually follow through with those things, then to set out to accomplish 102 things and just run around in circles all day trying to start a bunch of different things and finishing nothing at all.

Free Printable Daily Dockets and To-Do Lists

Looking for some helpful printable daily dockets or to-do lists? Here are a few free printables to check out:

We have a number of free household customizable management planners available to download, including a customizable daily docket.

Ann Voskamp has a free Daily Planner available for download.

Download and print a free Weekly Household Planner and Goal Sheet from Only a Breath.

Download a Daily Plan of Attack Worksheet.

Print free Home Management Binder pages from Amy Bayliss.

My Day 5 Project Update

Bedtime: Made it to bed by 9:38 p.m. Woot — I’m slowly making progress in the right direction!

My Top 5 Evening Must Do’s: Done!

Wake Up Time: Got up at 5:04 a.m. this morning!

Day 6 Project

1. Did you determine your bedtime and 5 Evening Must-Do’s? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did on them last night.

2. Did you determine what time you’re going to commit to waking up every morning for the next three weeks? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did this morning!

3. If you haven’t done so already, pick 1-5 goals that you’d like to accomplish in the next year and break them down into monthly and weekly pieces, if possible. Start looking for opportunities to add in bite-sized pieces to your daily to-do lists, as you’re able. Let us know what these goals are in the comments section.

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  • Sherry Lochner says:

    I got most everything done but my daily list. I got to bed at 10 and was awake before the alarm at 6. 🙂
    Here are some goals
    1. Start back exercising 3-4 times a week
    2. Set monthly dates w/hubby
    3. Do at least one craft project a month
    4. Organize monthly fellowships with friends
    5. Develop budget and stick to it

    I want to see if my teens will develop some goals for themselves as well.:) Thank you for having this! I’ve gotten a LOT more done in just the past week.

  • I love this post because I totally relate. I could make a list a mile long of things I would love to learn, do, teach the kids, etc…. I love someone giving me “permission” to focus on just a couple things! I know for sure I want to lose weight, start preschool at home with my daughter, work on blogging regularly, and start doing more cooking from scratch. Also, possibly move if our house would ever sell. 🙂 Now I need to sit down and break these into bite size steps. Thanks for the encouragement, Crystal!

    • Emma K says:

      Those things are all me too. Pinterest sometimes doesn’t help, I keep seeing all these recipes to try, projects to make, and organizing ideas and get overwhelmed by all I want to do. 🙂 I just started making a list of what day I want to sew, broke up recipes and made a few organizational ideas to get started.

    • Crystal says:

      You are so welcome! Your goals sound great — and I think they’d be pretty easy to break down into smaller bite-sized doable pieces.

      I’m cheering you on! You can do it!

  • Anna says:

    My update

    Bedtime: Went to bed at 9 pm and asleep by 9:30 pm. I was tired!

    My Top 5 Evening Must Do’s: Completed and I typed up a list and put it on my family board. I just follow my list. I will up date if needed.

    Wake Up Time: I got up at 5:45 am without a hitch. No snooze button. Did 20 minutes of stretching and walked 4 miles!

    Postitive attitude activity: I listened to Susan Boyle’s audition on BGT because the song is uplifting and the whole video is about an underdog. I also listen to MSM kids singing for spiritual encouragement :).

    Goals: I wrote up my goals based on my New Year’s goals as well as some short term and seasonal goals for fall. I keep my goals pretty easy.

    To do list: I started writing a to do list when I walk for the day but I switched it to evenings because of this challenge. I actually write on my to do list every day activities like 1) up at 5:45 am, 2) 20 minute stretch 3) walk 4 miles 5) eat breakfast 6) water garden 7) shower and dress 8) make bed 9) get lunches out (made the night before) 10) drive kids to school 11) drive to work. I continue my list and put down everything I want to do even the little things. I cross off my item in a highlighter and that give me a sense of accomplishment. If I don’t get something done I carry it over to the next day. I keep a running list going. My list is long but this is helping me develop a routine as well. I am going to type up my list but for now I just write it in a little notebook. I have work and home things to do. I have to stay on top of four kids as well as myself and work and kid schedules.

    1. Did you determine your bedtime and 5 Evening Must-Do’s? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did on them last night.

    2. Did you determine what time you’re going to commit to waking up every morning for the next three weeks? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did this morning!

    3. If you haven’t done so already, pick 1-5 goals that you’d like to accomplish in the next year and break them down into monthly and weekly pieces, if possible. Start looking for opportunities to add in bite-sized pieces to your daily to-do lists, asMy Day 5 Project

    • Anna says:

      OOPS! I left the questions on my comment. I was cutting and pasting and forgot to delete that pare. Oh well. I’ll put it on my to do list :).

    • Carolen says:

      I also create a daily to do list and then carry over anything that didn’t get done. It does make you feel like you did something productive at the end of the day to see all the items you crossed off.

    • Crystal says:

      Woot! I’m SO proud of you, Anna! You are doing fantastic!

  • Anna says:

    I accomplished my before-bed tasks last night (it is SO NICE to wake up to a clean kitchen!), and accomplished my Monday to-dos. I also got to bed by 9:30 and got up at 7:30, which got me 9 hours of sleep!

    Crystal, you are like a personal trainer. God has really gifted you with administrative skills, and the gift of encouragement.

  • I did terribly this morning! But, I did have a screaming two year old for part of the night, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself. It certainly seems that she sleeps so well until I plan to get up early!

    I’m working hard on learning to keep my to do list short. It’s tough. But I do run in circles when I have a long one, just like you said, Crystal! It is sometimes hard for me to swallow that there is only so much I can do in a day. Letting some of the good things go, until I am in a different season of life, is a challenge, but certainly worth while.

    • Crystal says:

      I think you totally can give yourself some grace with a being up in the night!

      I know how tough it is to keep a short to-do list! One thing I’ve found helpful is to look at my to-do list after I’ve written it and examine whether I have to do everything on it today. Most of the time there are at least 3-5 things I can nix off of it and move to another day to give myself more margin in my day (something that this Type A gal is working on incorporating more! :)). Another thing I’ve found helpful is to move those 3-5 things to a section on the list that says “If time do this” — that way, I give myself a pass to not feel obligated to do them if I don’t have time/energy.

  • Tara Blanchard says:

    1. Bedtime: Asleep by 10:50 – before my bedtime!
    2. Did my 5 must-dos!
    3. Woke up at 7am – right on time!
    4. My yearly goals:
    * Work out 3-4 a week
    * Set a budget and stick to it
    * Get and keep laundry caught up
    * Rock Room Mom for two classrooms! 🙂

  • Amen, amen to this! A few years ago I learned a method of creating a realistic to-do list called “The Absolute Yes List.” It has been so helpful in helping me create a list that is a achievable. It is actually a running list that I continually add to, but it works for me!

    So does the accountability of writing goals each week and posting them here in the Weekly Goal link-up. It has done wonders in keeping on track.

    As for the morning/evening routines, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was late getting to bed last night. Then after having a rough night of not being able to sleep, I was up way past my target wake up time. I am determined to make sure I get to bed on time tonight no matter what!

  • cindy says:

    I’m doing well with my evening tasks and getting to bed on time, but really need to focus on getting up at 6am! Setting the alarm would be a good start…

    Goals for the next year:
    – Find a location-independent income stream that I’ll enjoy and begin to build whatever is necessary to do it right
    – Strengthen my relationships with my husband and kiddo
    – Build my blog
    – Develop and maintain a workout routine that works for me
    – Learn to live sustainably

  • I had been keeping up with my routine for the whole week until that is last night. I forgot to do my 5 evening tasks. This morning I woke up to no bread in the cupboard (taking the bread out of the freezer is one of my 5 tasks.) I forgot to get the meat for dinner out of the freezer the night before another one of my 5 tasks. So this morning was a little more rushed but we made it through. This was a good test to see if this system is really helping and I can say that when I do each item my mornings are easier.

    I am also guilty of too long of a to do list. I have recently started to recognize how long of a to do list I can actually get done each day and I am improving but this is a good reminder for me.

    So my update for today

    I got to bed on time 10:30
    Forgot to do my 5 before bed tasks
    Got up on time 7:00 and wished I had remembered my 5 before bed tasks but still greeted the day with a good attitude although a little more rushed
    I have goals to work on for the rest of this year
    I will work on keeping my to do list within a manageable amount and prioritize my list

    • Crystal says:

      It sounds like you’re making some good progress. And it’s always good to fall of the bandwagon a little to help you realize that the changes are actually really making more of a difference than you realized!

  • ClareC. says:

    Picking a wake-up time is easy. If I’m not up by 5:30 this year, my high schooler, 2 middle schoolers, and 1 elementary student won’t be on time to their respective schools. I plan to sleep a bit later on the weekends. 🙂
    Bedtime is 9:30 and asleep by 10. Still working on the goals …

    • Crystal says:

      Sounds like you’re plate is full! I’m cheering you on to success, no stress, and smooth mornings with all the juggling it sounds like you’re going to be doing!

  • Amanda says:

    My update:
    Last night I laid down in bed at 9 pm to read (one of my must do’s) and I don’t think I made it through a page! I was asleep within minutes. Half an hour before my sleeping goal! and then I was up around 3:30-4 (just thinking maybe I should set that to be my wake up goal since I keep waking up at that time??)
    This weekend I slacked a little bit over the 5 must do’s but I was able to get back on track last night!
    I made yearly goals, and broke them down into weekly things I want to accomplish and am including things I can do to work towards those goals in my daily to do lists! Today’s list was a little lengthy but there was a few things that *needed* to be done today and not tomorrow, so I felt a little rushed and skipped the big dinner I was planning to make for something simpler.

  • Annabell says:

    I didn’t get to bed until 10:30 last night (1/2 hour late!), and didn’t get up until 6:45 (45 minutes late). I also did not get my 5 Evening-Must Do’s done.I don’t feel guilty or like I failed. I know that every day won’t be perfect, and I don’t want to stress over it. Tonight I have nothing standing in my way to get to bed on time or get my 5 Evening Must-Do’s finished!

    I did already pick my 5 goals, and they are:
    1. Find a church
    2. Read 100 books
    3. Lose 15 pounds
    4. Find a second job
    5. Get etsy business up and running

    Tonight I am going to work on breaking these goals (and even my weekly goals) into smaller pieces. I feel like my goals are so vague, so I definitely need the smaller pieces so I can be successful!

  • I am doing well on my 5 things to do in the evening. Bedtime is getting better, I was 30 minutes late last night and got up 10 minutes late.
    Here are 5 goals for the rest of the year:
    1. Run a half marathon
    2. Build blog readership
    3. Daily Bible Study and Prayer
    4. Go through Power of the Praying Wife
    5. Finish 2 sewing projects

    It was really hard to narrow down my goals. I have so many!

  • Stephanie says:

    My goal has been to get up thirty minutes early, 5 days per week, to go walking. I’ve been lacking energy lately, and I know the exercise will give me an energy boost. I have NEVER gotten up early to exercise in my life, so this is a big deal. I went to bed thirty minutes early last night, with a plan of rising at 6:00. Got up 15 minutes later than planned, but still went walking. It made me feel so good, and I can’t wait to go tomorrow.

    Thank you, Crystal, for inspiring us to do great things!

  • These were my goals:

    Monthly date night
    Sleep train my son
    See all family at least once per year
    Learn to sew using a sewing machine
    Do a new craft once every two weeks.

    And seeing Sherry’s goal, I’ll steal her fifth one and try that one, too.

    Stick to my budget! (seriously, so great, how did I forget?!?)

    Getting to bed has gotten easier, getting up is still a challenge. I’m so not a morning person…then again, that’s why I’m taking this challenge!

    Way to go, everyone!!!

  • Marie says:

    I have to say that I have been really able to stick to the bedtime and wakeup time, which is huge for me! But I need to get goals written down so I’m not flopping around my day like a fish out of water!! I’m really struggling with how to break it all down. I came home tonight and had to laugh at this post when it said, “REALISTIC to do list”! Just today my counselor and I were talking about expectations and my to do list. I was feeling like i wasn’t getting things done when I even had a mother’s helper for the summer! So I was feeling guilty and wasteful but my counselor asked me, “Wasn’t this summer suppose to be about taking some time for yourself and having help to lighten your load so maybe you could just sit and not feel guilty.” Yum- yes but how does that get put on a to do list? Ha-Ha. I am finding it hard to give myself grace during this period of recovering from an extremely taxing year+.
    But I so appreciate this blog and all the wonderful readers comments.
    I’ll get there.

    • Courtney says:

      I always put on my to do list one thing for me. Well, maybe 2 – one pleasure, one that is torture but will be pleasure… someday (exercise).

      That way I can sit and enjoy my book, or my computer time, or whatever, and then cross it off my to do list. It helped me more than reminding myself that a happy mom makes for a happy home.

  • Terri Hallman says:

    I have gotten up at 5 a.m. for 2 days now and my kids start back to school tomorrow! I have determined my 5 evening must do’s:
    1. Clean Dishes 2. Pick out clothes for next day 3. Spend Time with my husband 4. Pick up Living Room 5. Relax before bed.
    My goals for this year are different than any other year, because the biggest goal is graduating with my Bachelor’s in Psychology this year. I will graduate in May so that is the complete focus of this year along with being a support to my kids and husband through this year. My other goal is applying for my Master’s of Social Work, which I will begin next year. My goal list is short, but very big.
    I am loving reading these morning challenge articles and it is really helping me be excited about waking up in the mornings, being more efficient with my time, and I feel wonderful support from just reading these articles!

  • Emily says:

    I have been working diligently to cross off everything on my goals list for this week! Last week got really off track, and it looked that way for this week, but I just dug in my heels and kept at it. On the plus side, we found out that my husband does NOT have west nile virus. We’re in Texas, so it was a true threat when he was so dizzy and had several of the symptoms after have 20+ mosquito bites. This is the first time for me to post my goals on here, but I’m excited!

    Religious: Two Bible stories to Katherine; continue with reading the Bible in one year

    Money: purchase a camcorder that we’ve saved cash for (DD is just about to start crawling!); order photos from online

    Home: Make two lasagnas to freeze and one crock-pot pork butt for a friend who just had a baby

    Family: Read one book/day to Katherine; one weekly outing to the Farmer’s Market; date with DH.

    Personal: Read one book; work out three times; make breakfast (not just cereal) every morning for my husband and myself.

    • Crystal says:

      I love it that you dug your heels in and kept at it. And I’m so thankful your husband doesn’t have West Nile!

      Your goals sound wonderful; you inspire me!

  • Sunday night I did terribly. I went to bed around midnight. (goal bedtime of 10 pm) I did not find a place for 5 things… And then I woke up at 8 (goal wake-up time of 7). The day wasn’t too bad – productive overall, just hard to get started.

    I already have completed some of my 2012 goals, but the ones I have left are: finish reading through the New Testament (currently in 2 Corinthians), read 3 books in each category (marriage, family, frugality, Christian biography), try one new frugal recipe/month, menu plan weekly, and have one date night/month with my husband.

  • KathyD says:

    Doing well on my 5 to-dos. Committed to a 9:30 bedtime and have been within 20 minutes of that every night. No problem getting up at 5:30, I actually enjoy being up uber-early 🙂

    My goals for the rest of this year?
    1.Exercise at least 4-5 times a week, keep reading a LOT to my kiddo, allow my husband to be the leader in our marriage, relax and rest in the Lord, quit trying to do everything in my own power!

    • Crystal says:

      Great job on sticking with your bedtime!

    • Emily says:

      Ooohhh. Your goals for the rest of the year really spoke to me. I’m constantly trying to battle my Type-A tendencies. I hate feeling like I have no control, no matter how much I trust my husband to always to what’s right for our family. I didn’t realize how much worse it had gotten after my DD was born in March until my husband said it really bothered him that I was trying to do it all. In all honesty, I was trying to keep his life as normal as possible! Didn’t even realize it hurt his feelings, but at least he told me! Now I can be intentional about letting him lead our family.

  • Deb says:

    Crystal, I’m really enjoying your posts. You’re such an encouragement to get my life in order. I feel like I want to do a million things but nothing gets done because I don’t even know where to begin. Just last week I started my family binder and it has been a big help. Just knowing that I have a plan is motivating to me. At the same time, I do notice that I almost feel anxious about the family binder, lol. What I mean is that since I’m not used to it, I feel like it needs to be in great order and make complete sense but it’s still not what I would like it to be. I also feel like I need to check it constantly and add to it any small idea that pops into my head immediately. Is this normal? Does it take time to live your life in an orderly way? I’m guessing the answer is yes.

  • Tara says:


    I love the links you included, but I can’t get the one titled “Your Goal Buttoned Up” to be a printable. What am I doing wrong?


  • Kerri says:

    Here’s my update…

    I have been hitting my target bedtime and completing my five evening to-dos pretty consistently. My wake-up time has not been so good. My children have been up in the night so getting out of bed early has been hard.

    I have reviewed my 2012 goals and have narrowed them down to the following five. I still need to further clarify them and break them down.

    1. Increase the amount of time I spend praying.
    2. Decrease my % of body fat by 4%.
    3. Complete my database certification.
    4. Pay off $12,000 in debt.
    5. Read 24 books.

  • Amanda P. says:

    I have been getting up by 5am for the past two days and it has been wonderful. If I accomplish all of my 5 evening tasks the night before, my mornings have been so much more smooth. I can have time to workout, shower and dress, work at my business, and read my bible ALL before the kids are up at 7/7:30.

    I am finding that I am a better mom because of this. I’m in the moment with my kids instead of distracted , thinking of all the stuff I need to do. I hope I can keep it up!

    Here are my 5 Goals:
    1. To lose the baby weight. 
    Work out 4-5 days a week and eat healthy.
    2. To learn to run a 5k. ( I think this will help with number 1.)
    I am doing a couch to 5k program with a friend.
    3. Build up the portraiture side of my business.
    Find different ways to advertise.
    4. Make time for my hobbies.
    The only hobby I can really do right now with 3 small kids is read. I am doing well on my list that I wanted to read.
    5. Homeschool with confidence.
    We started school this week!

  • Leslie says:

    I would like to have my sewing business off the ground and marketed in the next 12 months.
    1. sew 3 hours a day
    2. read a home craft business book a week for the next 10 weeks
    3. network with the senior center ladies and the church ladies weekly mtg.
    4. get legal advice from a lawyer in 10 weeks.
    5. rent a booth at 3 local fairs in the next 6 months.

    I think it helps to be specific. It lets me identify where my weaknesses are and how to shore them up.

  • Ms. Edith says:

    I have my goals set, but I still need to break them down into monthly and weekly and some into daily. I’m having a little hard time in breaking them down, but I think that once I have each month set out in front of me it’ll be a little easier.

    Our bedtime went well last night – we actually went to bed an hour early!

    Our bedtime to do didn’t go to well last night though. We were both a bit exhausted, anxious, and excited for back to school this morning. But we’ll be getting it done tonight for sure!

  • Elizabeth Kane says:

    Love this. I’m a big list maker, and I’m going to use these before I conquer my next to-do list. And it’s true – there is so much life to live and we can only do but so much at a time!  I like how your #1 is setting your personal priorities. It’s such an essential before you start jumping into your day, listing task after task after task – I’ve learned that one the hard way.

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