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Time Management Tips: How to Use An ABC List

Image: Time Management Tips - Using an ABC List to Prioritize Your To-Do List

For busy students balancing schoolwork with their professional and personal lives, the traditional to-do list just doesn’t cut it as a time management tool. Using an ABC list can help manage your time more efficiently and get more done by organizing tasks by importance.

In an ABC list, “A” tasks are ones that are most urgent and important, “B” tasks are important but not as urgent, and “C” tasks are neither important nor urgent. The goal of using an ABC list is to make sure you are spending most of your time on the tasks that are really important to your education and other important goals.

Follow these five simple steps to get started.

Step 1: Brainstorm Tasks

Start out by making a list of all the things you need to accomplish for school. Write down everything that comes to mind without censoring yourself or trying to put the items in any sort of order. This should include everything from writing papers and reading chapters to memorizing terms, commenting on online bulletin boards, completing research, and finishing assignments. Non-school tasks can be included in addition to all other task that need to be accomplished.


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Keep in mind that as you create this list, some tasks may not be as important as an “A” or “B” task and perhaps should not even be included in the “C” category. As you brainstorm your list, take into consideration what needs to be accomplished in a week’s span, particularly if it is a “C” item. This will help keep your list current and relevant for the time period.

A few quick tips:

  1. Be specific: “Study” is far too general, but “Study History 265: Chapter 9, Lesson 2 for Friday’s essay test” is more clear.
  2. Break down large responsibilities into smaller ones that will take no more than two hours apiece. In order to make a huge task like a research paper more manageable, you could potentially write separate items for the research paper, such as completing library research, compiling notes, drafting the actual paper and so on.

Step 2: Estimate Time

Next, try to figure out how much time each task will take you, realistically. Write the expected time frame next to each item on your list. If your task involves traveling (such as to a library or other workspace), be sure to include traveling time in your estimate. Use your prior experience and your self-knowledge when estimating.

Step 3: Rate Each Task by Priority

Here is where the letters come in: Rate each item on your list as either “A,” “B,” or “C.” Your “A” tasks are things that you must do or suffer severe consequences. Examples might include studying for upcoming exams or completing high-stakes assignments. Identifying your “A” tasks tells you what you absolutely must do, no matter how short the time available. If you have multiple “A” tasks, you can prioritize those by labeling them: “A-1,” “A-2,” and so forth. Your goal is to complete the most critical tasks first. These tasks are going to be what you should spend most of your time working on as you study.


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As you label your “B” tasks, keep in mind that they are necessary tasks but have less serious consequences. Your “B” tasks do need to be completed, but there is less urgency. Work on these tasks after the “A” tasks have been tackled. Your “B” tasks are important but can wait. Only when all “A” and “B” tasks have been finished should you consider completing any “C” tasks.

Step 4: Cross Off Tasks

After you have completed an item satisfactorily, you can put a line through the item and take a deep breath. Since you have already prioritized your items, you know that you finished your most daunting task. Make a point of crossing off every item as it is completed.

Step 5: Reevaluate Your List

This is the final stage of the ABC list but should be considered the most important. At the end of the day or week, review your list and update it for any new tasks while taking away those that you have completed. In this stage, you can reprioritize your tasks, change the priority of your tasks, or even adjust your time frame for completing them. The ABC list should be a fluid list that is ever evolving along with your day-to-day life.

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