Personal planning

How to organise your day and get more done

Manage your time more effectively and beat procrastination

Are you always busy? Do you constantly feel overwhelmed by the amount of different things swirling around in your head? Does it feel like every new bit of information pushes something else out of your head?

Busyness is the modern disease. Almost everyone when making small talk will allude to how busy they are. It usually goes something like: ‘how are you?’ ‘good thanks, super busy though’ ‘yeah, me too’. I say this to people far too much, it’s just become the thing that you say.

If you feel like you’re constantly busy and juggling a thousand things at once but without actually getting anything done, I have one important question for you. Are you actually busy? Like really, truly, no time to spare, important meetings all day, in-charge-of-a-country kind of busy? Or is it that you just haven’t gotten yourself properly organised? laziness

One of the most common causes of feeling this kind of busyness overwhelm is that you’re trying to keep far too much in your head and holding onto all of that information while trying to go about your day being productive. It might be a combination of those; you can be truly busy and be doing it wrong too.

To fix this you need to be really honest with yourself. It’s so easy to feed yourself bullshit about the fact that you’re busy to avoid doing any real thought or making a real effort, or to use busyness as a badge of honour- you must be super important because you’re just soooo busy. You can work on your productivity and get more done, but first you have to get over that, you have to stop the busyness self-talk and focus on putting in place systems that are going to help you make a change.

Over the years I’ve experimented with different time management techniques, sometimes without even realising it, going all the way back to revising for exams as a teenager. After a degree, a masters and a demanding job which sees me working on several projects simultaneously while fitting in the gym, my social life, and working on my pet projects, I want to share the things that have worked for me.The mind is for having ideas, not for holding them

1. Think on paper

Yeah, that’s why I called my blog that! The first and most important step is to get everything out of your head. Stop forcing your brain to processes hundreds of bits of minutiae in the background while you try to do proper work.

How can you possibly expect to be productive or to do any really creative or analytical thinking if your head is full of ‘buy cat food, go to post office, finish report, make calls, emails….etc.’? You can’t. There’s no ‘multitasking’ your way out of this one (most people can’t multitask at all- period.)

The best way to increase your productivity is to take the pressure off yourself and stop approaching life as a memory test. You need a series of reliable systems that can do the remembering and easy lifting for you. We’re going to cover these systems in further posts.

If you do something regularly and it’s straightforward, why on earth would you keep thinking through that each time you have to do it? Get a list or a process or a flow chart you can use over and over again each time you do that task.

The example I always use here is packing for a work trip. You need 90% of the same stuff for every single trip. Why would you burden your amazing brain with that nonsense? Have a list you can use each time to tick stuff off into your case and forget about it. Packing then takes 10 minutes and virtually no brain power.

Everything to do with organisation, productivity and time management stems from getting all the thoughts, ideas, deadlines, phone calls, etc. out of your head and onto paper where you can organise them effectively and start making your life easier.

thomas edison quote

2. Plan properly

Planning out your day and your week and your month is crucial if you’re going to find time to do everything as effectively as possible. And yes, I said effectively, not efficiently, we’ll get onto why in a future post.

To plan properly you have to get clear on what is and isn’t procrastination and what’s actually useful to you. Just because others use one process doesn’t mean you should and just because someone says your system is useless, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

When I did my GCSEs I sat and planned out all the topics I needed to revise for each of the subjects I was taking. I actually still have the timetable I made. I vividly remember it being the standard joke (and I’m sure it still is) that students would procrastinate by making painstakingly elaborate revision timetables in lots of different colours instead of actually revising. I remember questioning whether I was doing the right thing as people seemed to suggest I was procrastinating and wasting time by making my revision timetable.

Now answer this, how on earth would I know how long it was going to take me to revise all those topics in time for each of the exams? How would I know I’d covered everything? How would I know I had time to get through it all? I wouldn’t. I needed the timetable, I planned properly and it paid off.

Don’t let people tell you what is and isn’t productive. Take the time you need to properly plan. Don’t be deluded into thinking that blazing in doing ‘stuff’ with no direction is productivity. With no direction you’re going nowhere and you’re not going to get anything done.

Stop, breath, think. Make a plan and then execute it (but probably don’t spend time adorning it with cute cat memes… not productive).


3. Find your productive times and use them well

This feeds into the planning stage above. How will you know when best to tackle certain tasks if you don’t know when you’re most productive? How will you know what order to schedule everything in?

Think about when you’re best able to read and take in information, when you’re best able to sit and write for a sustained amount of time, when you’re best able to be creative or make phone calls and be sociable.

Make sure you’re scheduling your less productive time for things that are less mentally taxing, like easily repeatable administrative tasks. If you have to write lots of emails that don’t require too much thought or technical input, save those for that time.

Pre-empt lulls in your productivity to do a different task for a ‘break’, like putting down your report and going to the gym for an hour. Absolutely do not wait until you’re unproductive to switch task. This is a super important point so I’m going to say it again: do not wait until you’re unproductive to switch task. It’s a bit like keeping hydrated, they always say by the time you’re thirsty it’s too late, you’re already dehydrated. The same is true with productivity.

I still occasionally fall into this trap (I did it yesterday, in fact), I’ll schedule my lunchtime gym break in my calendar, then 12pm will roll around and I still feel like I’m being super productive so I carry on…30 minutes later and productivity is going down…another 30 minutes on and I’m now getting next to nothing done.

But wait, I just had a super unproductive hour, I can’t possibly go to the gym now, I need to catch up on work! And so the vicious cycle is established and I end the day a) not having gone to the gym, b) not being as productive as I could have been, c) stressed that I haven’t worked out or done all my work. Learn from your typical routine, if your productivity trailed off at lunchtime yesterday, it’ll probably happen today. Have a plan, as soon as it hits 12pm, hit the gym.

Do awesome things

4. Batch tasks effectively and time block key tasks

I’ve alluded to this above while talking about finding your productive time. The best way to minimise the time wasted by constantly switching tasks is to batch similar tasks together, providing your deadlines allow it (but you have loads of time to finish everything because you planned ahead, right?).

Got lots of emails to send that don’t take too much brain power? Set aside an hour after lunch when you’re a bit sleepy to read and reply to emails and send any new ones.  Or use a pesky 30 minutes in between meetings where you can’t possibly get back into the flow of a larger, more complex task to knock a few admin-type tasks or emails on the head.

I’ve always used time blocking, right from my GCSE revision timetables, even though I only recently found out that it was a ‘thing’. Each evening I’ll look at my to do list and my day ahead and think about how I’m going to best fit those tasks into the next day to minimise task switching, use up shorter bits of time between meetings and take advantage of any less productive times of day to complete the ‘easy’ tasks.

This achieves two key things. Not only will it help you get things done in a productive and time-effective way, it will reduce the sense of overwhelm and panic you get from having lots of things on your plate. If you work on several projects at once, you’ll know that tense feeling on working on one thing while panicking about the fact that you’re not doing the other things, which usually leads to pointless and ineffective switching between the tasks.

If you batch and schedule your tasks properly you can focus on the task at hand, safe in the knowledge that your diary will tell you what to do and when (assuming you’ve scheduled it correctly!) without having to constantly worry about what else you should be doing.

The crucial thing here is that if you haven’t planned this out before hand, you’re unlikely to put it into practice. If you don’t already have the time blocked out or a to-do list that’s properly scheduled, you’re going to try to do the wrong tasks at an ineffective time or you’ll complete similar tasks piecemeal throughout the day and force yourself to keep switching focus.

When you notice your attention waning you need a go-to list of ready batched ‘easy tasks’ to smash through while you’re waiting for your brain to come back online.

5. Use ‘down time’ effectively

Everything goes back to proper planning…including this. There’s a lot of ‘dead’ time during the day. I’m not saying you should be flat out morning, noon and night, but if you have a short train journey or walk where you can’t do much that’s useful then why not use the time to make all those calls you keep putting off? Or listen to an audio book or language course that you otherwise struggle to find time to get to?

The trick to this is very much in the planning part, otherwise it’s too easy to just let the time get away from you daydreaming or wasting time on social media.

Think about some of the down time in your day; it could be time spent travelling (especially shorter journeys), time when your attention is poor. Make sure you have a subset of your to do list (I’ll cover different ways of producing to do lists in future posts) which has these types of ‘down time’ tasks all batched up and ready to go so you don’t have to rely on your brain randomly reminding you to do them at an opportune moment, but so that you can go straight to that list and work through it when you know you have an appropriate time slot coming up.

I’ll be writing a series of posts on the best ways to record and organise this information so you can get it out of your head and into a trustworthy system that will greatly increase your effectiveness and productivity.

how to organise your time and get more done

To do lists steps to making to do lists that get things done

Writing effective to do lists

Most people will use to do lists to some extent or other in either their personal or working lives. They can be a great way of reducing that sense of overwhelm that comes from busy modern lives and a great way of staying goal oriented if you’re working towards a bigger goal.

But many people fail to make good use of to do lists. Either they tick off half of the items but there are some things that linger on there unfinished seemingly forever, or they write the list as a kind of aspirational guide to the week ahead but then forget about it altogether and consequently nothing is achieved.5 tips for effective to do lists

Other major hurdles to effective list making include looking back at the list and having no idea what the task actually is or when it needs completing. Or you might write everything down and then take one look and find your motivation ebb away as you see the insurmountable stack of tasks before you.

Making a great to do list is a key part of being productive and staying focused. Making an effective list is very similar to the SMART method for goal setting where you look to make your goals Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound (although there are many versions of this acronym).

I most frequently use to do lists as a day to day personal management tool at work to make sure I capture everything I’m supposed to do and that it gets actioned on time. However, I also tend to keep a personal master list in the memo app on my phone so that during evenings and weekends I can check on the things I need or want to get done.

Here are my top five tips for creating effective to do lists that will prevent you from dropping the ball on important tasks, get more done, and -most importantly- get rid of that sense of overwhelm you have when juggling too many tasks. This is the method I use for my work to do lists- I take a slightly less methodical approach in my personal life.


You need to make your to do list items specific. There’s no need to write more than a sentence or your list will be be useless as a quick reference guide to what you should be doing, but you do need to make it clear what the action is.

When I first started working I vividly remember looking back at notes and to do lists and having no idea what I meant when I wrote it down, and therefore no idea what someone was expecting me to deliver.

It’s no good noting down something like “Phone Bob”. Phone Bob about what? By when? What crucial things do you need to get from Bob? It’s helpful to think along the lines of “who, what, when, why?” In a better example you end up with: “Phone Bob by COB today about financial projections.”

Simple as that, no need for more detail unless it’s super tricky or you think you need a memo somewhere to remember a couple of points to cover on a call. But that’s the difference between an item you can easily action and one you can’t.

Part of being specific is also breaking down tasks sufficiently so that the item is actually actionable. If you were buying a house, you probably wouldn’t put ‘get mortgage’ on your to do list, it would look more like:

  1. Research mortgage providers
  2. Make appointment with mortgage advisor
  3. Download payslips from online portal, etc.

You can’t action ‘get mortgage’, you need granular enough steps to complete on the way there to be able to complete the goal of getting a mortgage.


When you write a to do list make sure you take enough time to write everything down and that all new items make it onto the list. Don’t come across a new task and think ‘that’s only small, I’ll remember that’. The point of the to do list is that you don’t need to remember pointless things, they’re all stored safely somewhere for you to work through and use your brain power elsewhere.

There is one exception to this rule: the 2 minute rule. If something comes up and you can do it right then and there in less than 2 minutes, then do it and don’t bother to add it to the list. You just have to have some discipline around this- it is not a licence to let yourself become constantly distracted and keep jumping between new tasks and ideas.

At the end of the week or when I’ve filled my to do list template, I will make sure my working to do list is kept current by rolling over unfinished items onto the next list. It would be chaos to have 2 or more lists running at the same time so I always make sure I have one current list I’m working on so that things don’t get missed.

For the avoidance of doubt, when I roll items over I always make sure that everything on the defunct list has either been ticked off to mark it as complete, struck through and crossed off to show it was removed from the list (it’s ok to do this if you discover something doesn’t need to be done, or is struck through to show that it has been rolled over onto the updated list. SSS Bundle pink gold 1.jpg


Not everything has or needs a deadline, but it’s worth remembering Parkinson’s law, that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. The best way to get something done in a timely fashion is to set yourself a deadline.

If there is an externally imposed deadline, then make sure you note this down so that when you have your list, you can prioritise the items appropriately to suit yourself and to keep to your deadlines.

Even where there are no immediate deadlines you may still wish to prioritise the items either because they’re important or because there are dependencies with other items. I’ll often do this with a highlighter pen or by circling the number of the task with a different coloured pen. Or you can simply add space on the template you use for your list to add a priority number of other code. It’s totally up to you and sometimes prioritisation isn’t needed at all, or only becomes an issue later on in the week, at which point you can go back and rank or highlight priority items.


It’s not always the case that tasks are either complete or incomplete as it might turn out that it takes more than one step to get it done once you try to complete it. If I’ve half actioned something I will make sure I update that item with my progress so I don’t have to wonder where I got to with it (when I’m really busy, it does happen). For example, if I need to get certain information, when I’ve sent the email or left the voicemail requesting the information I’ll drop a note in a different coloured pen next to the item to say who I reached out to and when.

This is something I never used to do because I felt it spoiled the feeling of order and neatness with my to do lists, but this is all about finding the system that works for you and I found that to really get everything out of my head and onto paper, I needed to track my progress, even for seemingly small actions.


Once you’ve got a system you need to use is consistently to see results. If you’re not consistent about producing, updating and reviewing your to do list, things will get missed, tasks won’t get completed and goals won’t be reached. Consistency relates to two key issues: consistency in actually using list, and consistency in the approach that you take to producing and using it.

Depending on how many items typically make it onto your list in a day or a week or a month, you should look to develop a habit of reviewing and adding to it at a frequency that makes sense for you.

I usually add to a list in my notebook until each line of the page is filled, and then if I need to add more, I start a new one and roll over unfinished items onto the next list. It’s an arbitrary way to do it, but it works for me, especially as my tasks will often have longer deadlines than a week ahead, so there’s no sense me automatically rolling items over onto a new list just because a new week has started.


So, I lied, there are actually 6 steps. This is the most important but usually the most overlooked. As with most things in life, the best approach is the one that works for you. You could be using the most tried and tested system and getting no results because it doesn’t work for you. If it doesn’t serve you, don’t use it.

The best way to come up with an effective system for making to do lists is to keep using them and experimenting until you find a system that makes sense to you. If you don’t seem to be able to adapt to using a system then it won’t help you, you need to find something that can become second nature to you over time so you’re not spending pointless time and effort using a system that isn’t bringing you results. SSS Bundle white rose gold 5.jpg