Setting Priorities and Planning

The Tuesday post was about why you won’t survive university unless you have solid time-management skills. List, prioritize and plan are the 3 basic steps behind every time-management method under the sun. Through them, you will get all outstanding tasks and plans handed to you in a neatly organized format through which you know exactly what to do and when – which is a way better option than always having an intimidating ambiguous pile of ”stuff-to-do” hanging over your head. Instead of fretting about everything, you can just go out and get things done.

2.) Set Your Priorities

There are several different methods you can use prioritize your tasks, but the idea behind all of them is the same: You take your to-do list, and divide the tasks into groups according to various criteria. Some of these methods are complicated and expect you to behave as if you were running a company (e.g. the POSEC method – a convoluted way to over-manage every aspect of your life), and some are very simple and effective, including my personal favorite: the Eisenhower box.

Eisenhower Box

Different tasks on your list are going to have to be sorted according to importance and urgency. However, I cannot stress enough that urgent and important are not the same thing. If you check out the graphic of an Eisenhower box on the right, you will see that not everything that is urgent is important (e.g. the phone ringing – you need to devote attention to it right now if you don’t want the caller to hang up), and that not everything that is important is urgent (e.g. choosing a major for university, plan to take over the world etc.). So you do the following:

Group your tasks in 4 categories like in the graphic. Do not use the examples already inside as a guide, they are exaggerated as an illustration (I don’t think anyone would be so busy to put “extinguish fire” on a to-do list with the goal of doing it later). The guideline for “urgent and important” is anything that will have negative consequences if you do not start working on it soon, e.g. if you don’t start studying for that big exam scheduled in 3 days, you will most likely get a poor grade. The benchmark for “not urgent and important” is any big decision or long-term plan, like finding a place to live on campus next year. The “not urgent and not important” and “urgent but not important” categories are pretty self-explanatory.

After you have everything from your list in little groups like that, first cross out #4 (“not urgent/not important”). If you judged a task is neither urgent nor important, it is probably not worth worrying about and doing. Group #3 (“urgent/not important”) mostly consists of small annoyances, and this group is usually empty, because such things get dealt with as soon as they occur, so they don’t even get written down. You are left with the 2 “important groups”. For these, you proceed as follows:

3.) Plan

Get a planer and write the urgent/important stuff into timeslots closer to today and put the not urgent/important stuff in timeslots after those. That is the basic idea.

Having a planner is important because as a student you always have a lot of stuff going on, like tests, labs, assignments, a job or two… It can be overwhelming to keep track of all that in your head. You become stressed out of your mind because so much is going on. However, when you write it down, everything stops looking so scary. Why?

a) Your tasks don’t seem that big (because you have a clear overview)

b) You can start doing your tasks instead of just panicking about them (because you can plan out a way to solve them in the same planer)

As for myself, I first tried using my phone as a planner, but it didn’t work out because I was too lazy to type stuff into it. Next I tried a bound paper planer, but stopped using it after a semester because it is structured either per day (with hour slots), or per week (with day slots), and I needed both views at the same time.

Finally, I ended up using my timetable as a planner. I just made a table with 30 minute divisions for the entire week, and inserted my classes, labs etc. into it. What I got is all of my scheduled commitments in clear view, and empty slots for when I’m not going to school. Print a bunch of copies, fill the empty slots with whatever needs to be done, and that’s it.

Although this type of planner worked best for me, you should try everything until you find out what fits you best, because as I said in the previous post: everyone is different and different things work for different people. Maybe you will like using your smartphone best, because it is convenient (you always have it with you), or maybe because you can sync it to your computer. As long as you have a clear overview of what’s coming in the following week(s) and can prepare accordingly, it will do as a planner.

This three step approach to organization simply works because there is no complicated procedure: you write down stuff that needs to get done and then you sort and go do it. Give these tips a try, and be sure to comment on how they worked for you in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>