To Do Lists…

*UPDATED May 2019* I have added a link to a website at the bottom of the post where you can use the Eisenhower Matrix for Free! 

We all have different methods of writing our to do lists.

Some prefer a neatly organised gigantic list of mammoth tasks to achieve in one day. Others prefer to break their lists down into maybe personal, department, lessons and so on. Some like scribbles across a sheet of paper with endless post it notes stuck hurriedly on top…


Here are some suggestions to help with you organising your time during the day. These are methods I was using…

1: Urgent/Important Matrix.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 11.46.43

The above method of planning time has certainly helped. I have recommended this to people in my teams who are always saying they are too busy or can not find a minute to do anything. However, I have found this method of planning time is more useful for long term planning. I have also found it difficult to rationalise what is important for me, my line managers or my teams.

2: Must/Should/Could

This way or organising your time simply separates tasks into those you must do by the end of a set period of time. Those you should do and look to find a way to achieve them and those you could do IF you are able to. This is helpful for day to day organisation of tasks and time.

3: Priority Lists

Write down ten things to do in order of priority and simply work your way down…

The way you prioritise here is important. Is it based on what needs doing? For who? You? Your institution or what will make you feel most ‘accomplished?’

4: Technology

Use of technology to organise your time? Siri? Kaitana? Outlook!? Google Calendar? Here are some useful websites you can use…


I began to think about ‘to do lists’ recently having stopped using them almost entirely! I now only use my outlook planner to organise my day. That way I know exactly how long I have dedicated to a task and what I have to achieve in a fixed time frame. I have removed the requirement for me to make choices.

Human beings are ‘completionists’. We will have a nagging feeling to complete unfinished tasks, which if left which can affect our physical and mental health! This is referred to as the Ziegnarnik effect.

I have also been reading about the theory of Ego Depletion. It is a concept based around the idea that the more decisions we make at the start of the day the less smart decisions will be made later on in the day… Read here for more information.

Therefore routines are vital.

Are lists essentially counter productive by making yourself chip away at unimportant tasks?

…overriding one’s predominant response tendencies consumes and temporarily depletes a limited inner resource.

I also began to wonder, if we simply write things down does that indulge us in thinking we are on our way to doing something about it! Whereas in reality we are no further forward?

Baumeister and Tierney explain, “…minds had apparently been cleared by the act of writing down a plan.”

Abstract or concrete? More research here, shows that writing one worded tasks are less helpful than writing concrete tasks down. This links to the construal level and proscratination theory. Which shows that if we are given loser time frames irrespective of the incentives and outcomes we are less likely to achieve a task at a high standard. The example given is if we are given a questionnaire to complete with a timeframe of 3 weeks!

The psychologists concluded that thinking in abstract, touchy-feely terms delays execution.

Therefore it is always worthwhile writing your lists as tasks/actions! Write down what you actually need to do and give yourself a specific timeframe. Allowing too much time delays productivity. I am thinking about assignments for my masters, no matter how long the deadline is, I will work on it a few days before only! Silly me…

So, next time you write a to do list, make it realistic, achievable and relevant to the day in hand. Otherwise you may end your day feeling despondent and like you have achieved nothing! Do not confuse quality with quantity! Also, remember that interruptions and unplanned obstacles always arise. So write them down on your to do list as achieved items of work. Give yourself more credit! Have a maximum of 3 tasks in your to do list only. This is supported by the successes of many individuals.

A large list of conflicting goals creates repetitive thoughts about the tasks at hand. There is constant worry that is created in the individual’s mind.

Write your list based on your ability to make sensible, smart decisions. Tick off when a task is complete. Add to your list from an ongoing list if you have more time than expected… To prevent the feelings/burden of having to write a long list use cue cards or small post its only! Write your to do list the night before and tackle item number 1, first!

Simples! 🙂 However, if it is not that simple this idea suggested by Vanessa Loder on the Forbes website is useful. Try a Mind Dump- write down everything you think you are needed to achieve. This will not become your list, but will help you release. Read more here!

Further Reading:

Most of my above blog was based on my reading from this amazing post. Also this useful post here too!

Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Model here.

Also this article by iDoneThis


Eisenhower Matrix!

Screenshot 2020-05-09 at 12.38.04Screenshot 2020-05-09 at 12.38.12

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 12.26.26


  1. Lots of good stuff here, Amjad. Thanks for sharing it.

    I am definitely a list maker, and I feel that writing something down is making a commitment to myself to get it done, so it does help to motivate me. I find ticking things off the list satisfying (and have been known to add something I’ve already done to a list just for the pleasure of ticking it off straight away!)

    I think sorting priorities is important though, so that if you DO run out of time you don’t miss the crucial stuff, such as the stuff which can cause problems for others if left undone. I also think it’s important to do early on the things you really don’t want to do (so that they don’t hang over you – eat your frog!) and also do the difficult things early when you have the energy/time to do them properly.

    Thanks again.

  2. Some really important ideas here, Amjad. Understandin the pressure of the urgent over the important is a really important personal skill. Can we extend this from the personal level to a systems level? Schools will be under exceptional pressure to address urgent budget issues over the next few years. We know that teaching quality is key to pupil outcomes. Given the pressure to ‘balance budgets’ will there be a temptation to cut essential CPD activities? I know when I was a Head I may have been but I hope I could have taken a more measured view. David Weston raised this very point at the ‘Future of CPD ‘ event and Tim Brighouse also raises it in a future edition of Primary Education.

  3. Really useful blog post. Coincidentally, I’ve been pondering similar thoughts. In my last job (just finished before Easter) what I found worked for me was having a separate diary – and I listed tasks as they came up on that day. As I crossed off tasks for a whole page I put a line through the page with highlighter so I could quickly see there’s nothing on that page. Very quickly I could see which jobs I was leaving as low priority as the weeks forged forward in my diary. Sometimes I would decide the task was no longer required, and sometimes that delay made the task more of a priority.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s