To-do or not-to-do

Have you ever made a revision to-do list, determined to tick off all items by the end of the day, but it hits 10pm and you have just ticked off item 1? Sound familiar? Read on to uncover the learnings of a pre-crastinator (trust me it’s a thing!)


As a student, I depended on my to-do lists. I was a diligent student and I would plan months in advance, leaving ample time to cover all technical material ahead of an exam. I am the opposite of a procrastinator, a pre-crastinator. Being organised is so deeply embedded in my psyche, it’s what allows me to prioritise and get s*** done!

The thing is, when you’re a pre-crastinator there is a compelling urge to tick off all your to-do list and when you don’t, it feels like your entire plan is going to pot! Arguably, this is counterproductive because the stress of re-planning your schedule, coupled with feelings of defeat for not having achieved your plan, are an unwelcome guest to the mind #mindfulnessmatters.

Fine balance

After some trial and error, I learned what worked for me. I knew that being overly optimistic with my to-do list was going to impact how productively I worked (cognitive psychology states that our short-term memory can only hold 7 items, plus or minus 2) but equally underestimating my capabilities would mean I was not pushing myself, thus would be demotivated. There was a fine balance I needed to achieve.

I get it, you’re simultaneously working and studying, so initially it may feel like a struggle. However, once you’ve figured out YOUR ‘flow’, you’ll be able to get the balance between your work and the studying just right.

Figuring out YOUR flow

As a morning person (yes, I’m the annoying commuter who will make conversation with you on the tube if I know you!) my thing was waking up at 5am and studying for an hour before I went to work.

Figure out when you're most engaged to study and plan your study calendar around this. You are more likely to stick to your to-do list if you work during the time you are most productive.

Figuring out YOUR flow also means knowing what type of student you are. What is your learning preference? How do you like to learn? You don’t have to ponder over this endlessly but knowing how your mind prefers to process information can go a long away in improving your productivity.

Personal Preferences

For instance, I can retain information better if I have it repeatedly said out loud to me. Therefore, I was a keen user of audio-notes. It also meant I learned to memorise the accounting treatment by recording myself reading it for various standards (obviously paraphrased in my own words), which I’d then play back to myself during my journeys to and from work. I could tick off revising a topic on my to-do list whilst commuting, and that gave me a sense of satisfaction. Additionally, I was making productive use of what may be deemed idle time.

If listening to the sound of your voice doesn’t appeal to you, technology offers a plethora of resources at the press of a button via your mobile phone. You could tick off items on your to-do list by watching a YouTube video on a technical topic or review the answer scheme to a past paper via the student resources on the ICAEW website, you could even make a bullet point list on your phone of all the things you’ve learned from yesterday (remember repetition is retention).

These behaviours repeated daily can help form habits that make it easier for you to tick-off items on your to-do list.


I always liked to give myself an incentive once completing a task or ticking off all my to-do list by promising myself a treat at the end. Whether this is indulging in your favourite TV show, treating yourself to a sugary treat, or arranging some rest and relaxation time, it’s important to give yourself a break from the studying. Rewards and breaks will allow your mind to refocus and feel re-energised when you commence studying again.

If you’re looking for ways to get started with revision check out our article ‘Getting Started’.

For further hints and tips on exam technique follow The Accountaholics on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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