4 Steps for Students to Prioritize Tasks

4 Steps for Students to Prioritize Tasks

When juggling all of life’s responsibilities, learning to prioritize tasks can help students manage their workload.

Time is one of the most precious commodities we have, and it’s often in short supply. Between work, family life and education, it can feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. So what do you do when you have a list of tasks and only a handful of hours to complete everything?

Learning to prioritize—to determine the importance of each task and the order they should be completed in—is an invaluable skill to master. It can allow you to organize your workload and create a realistic plan of action to deal with it efficiently.

Step 1: Understand Each Task Completely

Before you can effectively prioritize all the tasks on your to-do list, you need to make sure you have a complete understanding of each task. This includes how the task will be performed, approximately how long each task will take to complete, which tasks are dependent on the completion of each other, and when each task is due.

Taking a few minutes to do a mental rundown of your task list can be time well spent, especially if you discover you need more clarification or information. There are few things more frustrating than getting halfway through an assignment only to realize you don’t have the resources you need to complete it.

Step 2: Rank Each Task

When everything feels like a priority, it can be difficult to prioritize anything. One way to overcome this is to logically break each task down into a numbered list. This will give you a set order to complete each task in, allowing you to focus on each task individually.

First, figure out which tasks are urgent and which ones are important. Assignments that are due before others on the list should be ranked higher. Large multi-step projects that will take a significant amount of time to complete can be broken down and numbered based on difficulty and the length of time it will take to complete. Any tasks that need to be finished before moving ahead with others can be numbered accordingly. Once you have flagged the most urgent tasks, you can continue to organize the remaining items on your list. When you’re finished, you should have a clear direction for completing your workload.

Step 3: Set Deadlines (and Stick to Them)

Now that you’ve determined the order to tackle each task in, set some realistic deadlines for them. This means being honest with yourself and objectively deciding how long each task will take to complete. For example, if you know it will take two hours to do initial research for a paper, don’t try to rush through it in a half hour. In fact, try giving yourself a buffer by scheduling some extra time for each task. This can help you if things take longer to complete than expected and prevent you from falling behind.

Step 4: Be Flexible

Writer Allen Saunders once wrote, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” You can try to plan and organize everything, but sometimes life gets in the way. Maybe you’re having Internet connection issues, or you forgot to bring your notes to a study session. This can be frustrating, especially when you have spent time and energy creating an ordered list for your tasks. If you find yourself at a roadblock, it’s important to be flexible and work around the issue. Rather than let a setback prevent you from progressing with your list, re-prioritize and move onto another item. This can help you stay on track, rather than letting everything wait until you resolve whatever issue you were having.

Interested in more study tips? Read our College Success blog.

If you’re a current student and are looking for assistance with time management, course questions or other concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your student advisor any time at 877-221-5800 (option 1).