The Five Types Of To-Do Lists

Ponderlily Planners have space for lists to organise work and life

Ponderlily Planners have plenty of space for lists 

There’s no doubt that planning is personal. Each of us has our own way of keeping ourselves organised and on task, and it’s usually a habit we’ve honed over many years of trying different methods, eventually finding or creating a process that works for us.

But one thing that I think most of us do regularly is make lists. Whether it be lists for everyday living in our journals, or in our career or businesses, lists play an integral part of our planning lives.

Like planning, lists are one of those things that is very individual. Some people use lists religiously, for every single part of their life, while others might only use lists for shopping or housework. One list that most people have made in their lives at some point is the “to-do list”.

Now, I believe that to-do lists have been given an undeservedly bad rap recently. Every time we read about to-do lists, it’s usually in the context of it being “ever-growing” or “dreaded”. Lists are framed as something we should avoid.

I’m here to argue in favour of to-do lists by sharing five different types of to-do lists that can help you plan out your days, months, and weeks with intention and thoughtfulness.

Why Use Lists?

Before we get into those five types of lists, it’s important to understand how they actually help us with our productivity and planning.

Organisation, Visualisation & Memory

Lists allow us to get things out of our heads and organised onto paper. In both our professional and personal lives, we will often have multiple priorities and goals for the day jumbling around in our heads, and being able to write it all down in an orderly way can help us visualise what we have to achieve and the best way to go about it.

Lists are also a wonderful way to jog your memory to keep track of important things. The act of writing them down in our journal or notepad improves our recall, as we’ve taken the time to think about what we’re writing the list for. It forces your brain to do a bit more work.

Using the shopping list as an example - throughout the week, you’ll have added to the list and every time you do this, your brain is more likely to hold onto that piece of information. 

Stress & Anxiety

We all need to reduce our stress levels, and making lists is a great way to do this. It works on two levels: your brain is freed up from holding onto the information in your head, and it also allows you to see your to-dos in an organised fashion, making each task feel more achievable.

Having your goals or tasks down written down in your notebook will declutter your mind, which in itself can reduce stress levels. Making lists also allows you to remember items you may have otherwise overlooked or forgotten, especially if you want to tackle those items on your to-do list in the near future.

Writing your tasks down will help you reduce stress in the long run, because you know what errands are coming up and can plan accordingly. 

Creating Boundaries

Making lists can help us establish boundaries with our time, which is vitally important in both our professional and personal lives. Boundaries allow us to establish what is acceptable to us and what isn’t, and we can figure out what we can say yes to.

Often we can have a rough idea of the tasks we have on our plate on any given day, but if someone asks us to take on additional duties, it can be difficult turning them down without having a firm reference for what you may already have on your plate.

Having list written down in your planner will help you to plan your time, and determine your bandwidth for taking on new tasks. It will also help you communicate your boundaries to others and, if necessary, see which tasks could be delegated to someone else.

The 5 Types of To-Do Lists

The Master

This is the basic, no-frills, covering-all-bases list which captures all items you need to get done in no particular day. It’s the version you or I might imagine when we hear the words ‘to-do list’.

People best suited to a master-to list are those who want to have everything all in one place.

The Prioritised

This list is like The Master but with added extras.

Creating a prioritised list is a matter of assigning each task a number in order of significance and completing the tasks accordingly. A prioritised to-do list can be a good idea if you struggle to get all your responsibilities complete by the end of the day, as it’ll help you to get the most important tasks done first.

The Scheduler

In this list, tasks are grouped in order of the length of time it will take to complete them. This can help if you prefer to tackle the quickest jobs first to get them off your list. This is also the most useful if you pick up extra duties throughout the day.

The Categoriser

Grouping the list based on location (eg. supermarket) or life section (eg. personal, professional) can make it easier to keep track of all areas of your life. You can see at a glance which tasks are to do with which category, and this can help you decide which job to tackle first.

The Do-It-Later

If you often have ideas pop into your head while in the middle of another task or you have a lot of projects going on at once, this list is perfect for you. The for-later to-do list allows you to park all your grand ideas, without interfering with the projects you have happening currently.


Whichever list you find resonates, the most important thing is to find what works best for you, and what optimises your time efficiently. I would encourage you to use your journal or notebook to trial a different type of list each day or week, to see which list fits with how you approach your day.

Every individual has a unique planning personality that influences their approach to goal-setting and ability to get their tasks done.

If you’re not sure what yours is, don’t forget to check out our Planning Personality Quiz to help you gain an understanding of how you can become more effective throughout your day, while remaining focused on the things that matter most to you.


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