Back to school is an exciting yet busy time of year. We start off with such high expectations and hopes of what we can and will accomplish. But if your house is like mine, soon after school starts I find my neatly organized piles of books disheveled, calendars and schedules hijacked by struggles or unexpected events, and the promises of “I will get to it!” from little mouths go unfulfilled on a daily basis. This can be very discouraging and can make homeschooling feel more like a chore than a blessing.

The reality is most of us cannot accomplish everything we want to in a day. And we spend so much time trying to accomplish our list of tasks that we miss out on enjoying the good stuff: the events we want to do as a family, the topics we want to learn more about, and the activities that bring us closer to one another. But, with better organization and keen decision making, you and your children can accomplish more than you think, and remove the constant reminding and nagging that become such a drain. Get more done AND have more peace? Count me in!

When it comes to getting things done and feeling a sense of accomplishment, there’s nothing greater than list making. But, if your house is like mine, I find neatly written lists all over the house with boxes unchecked. Let’s face it, the challenge isn’t making the list, it’s accomplishing it! So, how do we teach our kids to make a list with organized tasks and motivate them to accomplish those tasks?

Enter the Must, Need, Want list. The key to staying organized and accomplishing goals is to list and prioritize. And, the key to getting kids on board is to incentivize! This rule does all of that in one neat package.

The Process

Developing a Must, Need, Want list is easier than you think. Just follow these simple steps to get more organized and accomplished without the irksome reminders.

Step #1: List– Start by listing — in no particular order — all of the tasks, assignments, etc. your child must do and really needs to accomplish in a given day. This should include school work, household duties, and extra-curricular practice. Then, have your child list 2-3 activities they would like to do once they have accomplished their goals. In our house this always includes some sort of screen time and outside play.

Step #2: Prioritize– Rank the to-do tasks in order of importance based upon deadlines, penalties, household needs etc. Put numbers by each task in order of which is most important based upon deadlines, penalties, and family rules. Then, take a step back and look at the list. Place the most important tasks for which the deadlines are soon or there are high penalties, in a “must” column. Place the other tasks in a “need” column.

Here’s an example: On Monday’s my child must complete one lesson in each subject, make his bed, bring down all of his laundry (Mondays are laundry days!), practice piano, feed the dog, write a thank you note to his grandma, and gather his library books because they are due on Tuesday. In this situation, I realize this list is more than he can accomplish in 5 school hours. Here’s how this list will look.

MUST
  • Complete 1 lesson in each subject
  • Gather library books
  • Bring down all laundry
  • Feed dog
NEED
  • Practice piano
  • Make bed
  • Write thank-you note to MiMi

Notice that the musts are the tasks that have the most impact on academic progress and support our family needs and routines. The needs are those things that need to be done but are of less priority.

Step #3: Decide– At this point you should decide how many things from the “need” list should be accomplished that day before allowing your child to have free time to do their wants. This will look different for each child, depending on their age. Write a number next to the need column for how many need tasks the child must accomplish.

Step #4: Incentivize– Here’s the fun part! Have your child list their want activities just like their must and needs above. I distinguish this part of the page with a big black line to help them see the difference between to-dos and free time. I also still use the same check boxes to help them feel accomplished during free time.

Here’s what a final list might look like:

MUST
  • Complete 1 lesson in each subject
  • Gather library books
  • Bring down all laundry
  • Feed dog
NEED
  • Practice piano
  • Make bed
  • Write thank-you note to MiMi

WANT
  • Computer 30 minutes
  • Play outside
  • Go to friend’s house

We all want to encourage responsibility in our children and doing so doesn’t have to be at the expense of accomplishment. Use a Must, Need, Want list today and watch as your child (and maybe you!) do more with much less stress.