Grocery list on a table with a pen

How to Write an Effective Grocery List

I kind of covered this in my post Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Save Money on Groceries, but I wanted to get right to the nitty-gritty of making a grocery list. Yes, to some, that may seem basic.

You write down what you think you need so you remember why you went to the store. But how many times have you gone there and got home only to realize you forgot something important?

So, more or less, this is how to write an effective grocery list that will help prevent that from happening. Plus, you’ll:

  • Save money on groceries
  • Prevent food waste
  • Spend less time going to the store
  • Avoid getting takeout

First and foremost, to make a grocery list, you need to know what meals you’re shopping for.

Decide What You Want to Eat

When you ask someone what they want to eat, you could get various answers from I don’t know to I don’t care, and possibly whatever, followed by not that. By deciding what you want to eat for the week ahead of time, you’re not only reducing the amount of decision fatigue you might face, but you’ll also have an idea of what ingredients you’ll need to make that happen.

First and foremost, check your fridge, cupboards, pantry, and so on for food you already have. Also, check the flyer to see what’s on sale. Doing this will help with inspiration when creating a menu for the week. You can also keep a list of your favourites—similar to browsing a restaurant menu.

You can do this for every meal or dinner only if you find breakfast and lunch are pretty routine (but don't forget you need ingredients to make these too).

Write Out Your Grocery List

Now that you’ve looked at the ingredients you already have, checked the flyer, and made your menu, make a list of any the items you’ll need to cook your meals. Make sure you include the quantity and any specifics like flavours, colours, textures, etc. if there are several options.

You’ll also want to keep a running list in your kitchen to write down food and ingredients you run out of—and write them down as you think of them. An important thing to note here is you want to avoid keeping multiple lists. If you have more than one, it’s easy to think that’s everything when it’s not.

If you live with someone else, you’ll want them to have access to the same list you do. If you need to write it elsewhere in the meantime, remember to put it on the main list when you can.

Using the Bring! app on your phone is helpful. It’s free, and you can share lists with others. All you do is click icons to make your list and click to remove them. I have no affiliation with the app, I just like it, and you might too.

Go Shopping

At first, planning meals to write a shopping list might seem like a lot, especially if you’re new to grocery shopping. But as you go, it’s something that will get easier.

A hand with a pen checking off a to do list in a notebook

How to Get Your To-Do List Back on Track in 3 Steps

As tedious as it sounds, the best way to organize a cupboard, drawer, or closet is to take everything out and put it back in again.

Not only are you putting things back in a tidy manner, but it gives you the chance to reassess the importance of the items inside. What’s worth keeping? What should you toss? Is there a better place for it?

This method of decluttering helps ensure you find the most important items you need them.

But what about your to-do lists?

How do we account for the many things in our minds? Our to-dos aren’t tangible like items in a linen closet or a desk.

It’s like that cluttered drawer in your kitchen—the one that’s tough to open—tasks tend to get pushed to the back. Subsequent to them surfacing again comes the dreaded ah, shit moment.

Much like that catch-all drawer, you can take inventory of your to-do list and decide what stays and what goes. Here’s how.

1. Write Down All of Your To-Dos

To start, anything you need to do that’s not a daily habit, like checking your emails, brushing your teeth, or doing the dishes — write it down all in one place.

Ensure items on your list hold some weight and aren’t something you do naturally, like cleaning the dishes or responding to an email. For example, you might write that you need to organize the hall closet, but not list wipe the kitchen counters because you do that automatically, plus doing so takes about ten seconds.

Include tasks that are top of mind, events, and occasions. Try your best to think of anything you may be forgetting and everything you’ve been meaning to do.

You’re creating an exhaustive list at this point, so you need not worry about prioritizing, assigning, breaking down, or sorting your items.

This may resemble a warehouse inventory for some, but don't get overwhelmed as you’re soon going to take action.

2. Sort Your To-Dos

Now that you’ve written them all out, avoid tackling the items at random in an effort to get them done as soon as possible. It can be tempting to pick one and go, especially if you’re impulsive, but sorting them will help you develop a more effective plan.

Create four categories to write out your tasks: backlog, project or event-specific, revisit, and recommendations. Grab your day planner as well.

Backlog: This is where all your general items will go. Basically, a list of tasks you intend to do at some point, but not right now. They’ll live here in the meantime, so you don't forget them, but also so they’re not nagging you.

Project or event-specific: Place items with the same goal together and title them accordingly. For example, a lofty list of creative projects you want separate from your need-to-dos or tasks related to an event you're planning.

Revisit: This list gives all your ideas a place to go. Think items that aren't the highest priority, but you want to do them at some point. It’s helpful to park these ideas here to prevent them from becoming a distraction or forgotten.

Recommendations: Another non-priority list. Stash items others want you to look into or check out here. Sometimes they’re worth it and sometimes not so much, but once you list them, they’re less likely to be distracting. When trying to recall that website your colleague told you about, it's on the list.

Appointments, reminders, events, and due dates: put these right into your day planner under the correct date to avoid forgetting them.

Go through your task inventory and move items into their respective category. Scratch out any tasks you don’t need or want to do—like those items in the junk drawer that you really never use.

Keep in mind these new lists are living documents for you to reference. Each time something new comes up, add it to the right one.

3. Plan Your To-Dos

Pull items from your lists and add them to your day planner. You can do this however you’d like. The Ivy Lee method takes a lot of stress out of writing a to-do list.

To summarize what that is, you write six tasks in order of priority and work your way through the list from top to bottom. By doing this the evening before, you know exactly where to start. Any incomplete tasks move to the next day.

You might also find it helpful to keep a rough list of about seven weekly items — you know the ones you want to get done, but you’re not sure when yet.

Tackle Your To-do List

After taking inventory of your to-do list, it will be one that’s filled with only the most important and meaningful tasks and a plan for tackling them. Like your freshly organized closet, you’ll be able to stay on top of what’s in there—and if it gets messy, you can do it all again.

Keep in mind, that tasks don’t always need to be productive to make it on your list.

A phone and notebook on a desktop

Dump Your Unlimited To-Do List with the Ivy Lee Method

Let me paint you a picture—figuratively of course. You spend the day busting your ass only to feel like you didn’t move the needle.

You still have a gargantuan to-do list that you can’t tackle because, hey, you have to eat and sleep sometime. So, you feel somewhat grumpy and restless as you call it quits for the day.

Well, you probably did plenty—you just don’t know it.

Dump Your Unlimited To-Do List

No matter what, you won't reach your goals if you keep moving the posts—especially if you’re not setting them in your sights in the first place.

By not defining a clear goal for the day, you’re setting yourself up for that dreaded feeling of oh, shit, in the evening.

Of course, it isn’t realistic to expect we’ll meet our broader goals like getting a promotion, learning an instrument, or training to be the top cat herder in a day. However, using a daily to-do list, we create a mini-scope of work for ourselves to work towards our larger targets.

Along the way, getting things done and feeling good about it will keep us motivated, but not if we don’t keep track of our progress. Keeping tabs on what we’ve done also comes with another benefit — knowing when it's time to take a break.

Write Out a Set Amount of Tasks Per Day

No goal is complete without a unit of measurement you can use to track it.

In 1918 a productivity consultant named Ivy Lee told a team of business executives at Bethlehem Steel Corporation to write out six tasks each evening. They were to write them out in order of importance, and the next day they were to focus on getting them done one at a time.

Lee didn’t charge the company's president, Charles M. Schwab, for his consultation, but after three months, Schwab was so impressed with this idea he sent him a cheque for $25,000, which is worth far more these days.

This method is helpful in picking the most meaningful tasks and prioritizing them. You know exactly where to start and what to do next instead of feeling lost or overwhelmed in a sea of to-dos. However, since you’re not listing ten or eighteen tasks, you want to make sure the six will hold an impact.

You want to avoid listing things that take minimal time and items that may qualify as daily habits like checking your emails and walking the dog—in that case, you may want a habit tracker.

Think of tasks like preparing your expense report, organizing the filing cabinet, or going shopping. If it's humongous, break it into pieces and if you can't get everything done that day, don’t worry. Carry it forward the next day.

Don’t Keep Adding to Your List

Adding tasks to your to-do list once it’s complete is kind of like a Peanuts comic strip. You’re Charlie Brown, and your personal time is the football. At the same time, you’re Lucy and you’re yoinking that ball—or that chance to eat a proper meal, relax, or enjoy a hobby—away from yourself.

Once your list is complete, catch up with your friends, catch up on yourself, and if you need to be present at work until a specific time, catch up on emails or small tasks.

If you find tasks on your list keep carrying over to the next day, do those to get them off your list. It could also be the case that the item isn’t that meaningful, and you can scratch it off in a let's not and say we did manner.

Celebrate Your Wins

Why not try the Ivy Lee Method to see if it improves your to-do list? It works whether you're a pen and paper person or you prefer a to-do list app.

I even wrote this article at MUO on how to use the Ivy Lee Method in Notion and ClickUp.

No matter how you plan your to-do list, stop moving your goal posts and give yourself a break.

Photo of a Mac laptop keyboard

Increase Your Productivity with This Roundup of Notion Tutorials

If you’ve yet to use Notion, this project management and note-taking tool will take your to-do lists and planning to the next level. You can create anything from a simple checklist to an entire website using nothing but text and blocks.

I even drafted this blog post in Notion before it made its way to WordPress.

For those who are just getting started, Notion offers many templates, and its website is a vast resource library, but sometimes it helps to have an extra bit of detail or inspiration.

That’s why I’ve covered the topic so much over at MUO. It truly is a fantastic tool, it’s free for personal use, and once you get the hang of it, it’s actually kind of fun.

Below you’ll find some of those tutorials. Some take the basics more in-depth to help you over hang-ups—like the whole page within a page within a page thing. Others allow you to explore the possibilities of what you can do with this software because soon you’ll want to use it for everything.

Keep in mind that these links will take you off-site to MUO.


A Beginner’s Guide to Notion Terminology

How to Keep Your Notes Organized and Accessible in Notion

The Top 7 Features to Use in Notion

How to Set Reminders in Notion

How to Get Your To-Do list Back on track with Notion

How to Switch a Database from Full Page to Inline in Notion

3 Lists You Can Keep in Notion to Help Boost Productivity

How to Archive Items in Notion


7 Productive Ways to Use Notion

How to Create a Simple Budget Tracker in Notion

How to Use Notion to Track Your Fitness Goals

How to Keep Track of your Tasks Using a Backlog in Notion

How to Create a Wiki in Notion

How to Build a Simple CRM in Notion

How to Create Public Pages in Notion

How to Outline a Workflow in Notion

How to Use the Content Calendar Template in Notion

How to Set and Track Your Goals Using Notion


Notion Free vs. Paid: Which Plan is Right for You?

ClickUp vs. Notion: Which is Better for Project Collaboration?


Looking for more tech tutorials? Check out MUO. Here, my fellow writers cover various topics, from computers and mobile devices to gaming and gadgets.