Organize your life into nine categories

Photo: Lynn Davison

Being a mom reminds me of being a student. The work never ends, I can always think of more things to do to enhance my grades/family and spending time with the people I love is the best. I remember thinking these same thoughts years ago at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

So here is where my satisfaction with my Weekly To Do List faded. Sure I was keeping track of what I needed to do and where I needed to be (most of the time.) But when I could catch my breath, I was having a hard time choosing what I should do next. Of the one hundred plus things to do, which was most important to do at this time?

I decided to use another tool from my years in business: a project plan. Here I listed my things to do and projects by type. After a few months trying different names for categorizing my next actions and projects, I found I could organize everything I did into nine areas of focus:

  1. Finance: Tracking spending, reviewing our investments and insurances plus teaching our kids frugal habits.
  2. Food: Designing menus, grocery shopping, storing supplies, preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals, researching new recipes, teaching our children nutrition and right-sized portions, etc.
  3. Health: Taking children to the doctor, dentist, orthodontist, therapist, and specialist; scheduling regular medical tests like mammograms and colonoscopies, pap smears, etc. and stress management (!) and teaching our children healthy habits. Oh, and exercising, sometimes. Daily.
  4. Home: Laundry, cleaning, straightening, gardening, maintenance, decorating, painting, garbage, recycling, taxes, cable, internet, cell phones (well, they have to go somewhere,) and teaching the kids to pick up and organize their rooms.
  5. Jobs: School, work, studying, volunteering, and teaching our kids how to work hard and the value of grit.
  6.  Keeping: Cars, clothes, computers, haircuts, library books, postage stamps, dry cleaning and keeping it all organized and teaching our kids lean, uncluttered habits.
  7. Learning: Sports, music, acting, dancing, reading, and tutoring and fostering an appreciation of the arts and sports in our kids.
  8. Legacy: Birthday Parties, vacations, photography, photo- and scrap booking, crafts, pets, movies, television, emotion management, relationship and problem solving skills and teaching our children to savor family time and resolve disagreements in a mutually satisfactory manner through civil discussion.
  9. Virtues: Parenting, family rules and values that guide our actions and teach our children how to realize inner security, abundance and personal moral authority.

It helped me to break my work into these mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive groups as it always does when we break big, scary projects into smaller pieces. It also gave me a way to bring order to the many important parts of being head of a large household.

  • Now I had a way to organize all my projects.
  • I file our papers in one tub with tabs using these nine areas of focus.
  • bookmark my favorite websites using folders with these names.
  • track our expenses using these categories.
  • I organize my files on my computer as well.

I organized my projects, papers, Internet bookmarks, computer files and expenses.  It helped me establish a sense of order around our household. Any parent will tell you that just taming the paperwork is no small task. However, focusing on each of these nine areas helped me the most when I used another tool from my days in the corporate world: the strategic plan.

Aloha, Auntie Lynn


Start with what you know

I’d been a manager of clients, projects and people for more than 18 years at work, and I had learned how to use tools to keep me organized. The first was a To Do List, which I mentioned earlier was growing quickly. The second was a calendar where I kept appointments. So far, so good. But not enough.

My burning desire was and is to have a close-knit family. I want each of us to be healthy, safe and wise. It would also be nice if everyone would pick up after themselves, do the dishes and their own laundry, study hard at school, get a job during the summer, exercise daily, eat home-cooked meals, save enough for retirement, go to bed on time, live a principle-centered life…my wish list was endless.

Thank goodness I found Marcia Garcia at She advocated keeping a Master To Do List. And chunking projects to work on a little each day. And to get rid of two bags of things each month (from a reader’s shared idea.) And lots of other organizing activities that made a BIG difference in our lives. However, the first idea that had a huge impact was the Master To Do List.

I find it demoralizing to copy To Do Lists over and over because it wastes time and just magnifies what I haven’t gotten done. Instead of just one list, Marcia suggests keeping your Master To Do List grouped by type. For example, my Master To Do List started out being categorized by phone calls, errands, correspondence, projects and miscellaneous tasks sections. Every week I picked a few entries from the Master List to complete during my week, printed it and carried it in my wallet. As I thought of new things to do or made appointments, I would jot them down on this list. Here is the template for my former Weekly To Do List:|

This approach worked for me for about a year. Until…

Aloha, Auntie Lynn