Figuring out how you're going to prioritize your commitments, deadlines, projects, work — everything — can be a great step towards increasing your effectiveness and your efficiency.

When we talk with students about what they need to do and want to do, we find there tends to be a lot of overlap: students need to eat and sleep, to go to class, to study, to show up for work and to take time for themselves, to exercise and to socialize. But students want to be doing those things, too, because in the intensity of the day/week/term, needs are being sacrificed. As stress and overwhelm build, we may cut back our sleep time, forget to eat meals, forgo taking time for ourselves to exercise or see friends so that we can instead double-down on our study, etc. It's hard, it's common, and it can be unhealthy, too.

This is where prioritization can become quite helpful. Taking the time not only to plan out your day (based on your week's commitments/needs (which will likely be informed by your long-term calendar)), but also figuring out what needs to be done first. What you use to weight these choices may vary depending on the situation, and could include deadlines, impact on your status in school, what you prefer to do, what time of day it is and your ability to concentrate/focus, etc. Below, you'll find a few different ways to think about prioritization. Take a look a them, consider what you're already doing and what you might like to try, and then get into prioritization mode.

  FIRST: Urgency vs. Importance (from Steven Covey's “Principles of Personal Management,” in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Consider the importance (or “weight”) of the items on your list, and the urgency (“is it due/when is it due?”). Steven Covey breaks prioritization down into four quadrants, and recommends that we spend most of our time in Quadrants 1 & 2 (and as little time as possible in Quadrant 4). Take a look:

QUADRANT 1: Important + Urgent. Examples of this might be things that are due today or tomorrow, or needing to deal with emergencies or crises. It's the stuff that you can't stop thinking or that carries a lot of weight/impact.

QUADRANT 2: Important + Not-Urgent. Examples of this could be long-term projects, planning ahead, studying in advance (yes!), and starting early (rad!).

QUADRANT 3: Not Important + Urgent. This quadrant's examples might consist of interruptions, distractions, fun events that come up, social invitations, etc. They might not be important, but they feel urgent because they carry emotional resonance and/or immediacy. Which mean they're happening! Right! Now!

QUADRANT 4: Not Important + Not Urgent. Here you might be engaging in time wasters (intentionally or unintentionally), busy work, procrastination activities (do you need to cook/clean/plan/etc. at this instant?), aimless internet browsing...

To use this approach, you might make an actual grid on your paper and use it to assign your to-do list tasks to their appropriate quadrant.

  SECOND: The ABC Method (Alan Lakein)

The ABC Method was originally developed by Alan Lakein and consists of assigning a priority status of “A,”B,” or “C” to each of the items on your to-do list or task list. 

“A” Status Items – “Must Do”: high priority items | very important items | critical items | immediate or very-near deadlines and/or a high level of importance otherwise (high stakes)

“B” Status Items – “Should Do”: medium priority items | can be quite important over time | not as critical as “A” items but still important to spend time engaging in completing/working on them.

“C” Status Items – “Nice to Do”: low priority items at this time | few negative consequences if left undone at this moment (low stakes).

To use this approach, you would create your to-do list and then go through and make these marks beside each. To make it even easier to see, you could color-code. If you don't like letters, create a series of symbols that stand in for "A," "B," and "C."

  THIRD: Other Considerations . . .  (adapted from David Allen's Getting Things Done website & newsletter)

As you're making your to-do list, you're also considering the following, and this will impact the way you order your tasks:

  • What can I do where I am? Think about location. What can you do where you are now? Sometimes we have unexpected pockets of time. How can you use them to your advantage?

  • How much time do I have and when do I have to do something else? Be realistic about what can be done. Your to-do list might shift based on how much time you have available.

  • How much energy & focus do I have? What can you realistically take on right now? When do you do your best work? How can you use this to your advantage?

  • What has the highest payoff for me if I do it? Yet another way to think about importance, weight, or priorities.

Remember, how you choose to prioritize may be different than someone else's approach. But, using prioritization as a part of your time management process can help you to increase your efficiency, which in turn can help you to increase your effectiveness, too. Get a feel for what needs to happen over the course of the term, decide how that will show up in your week, and then drill down into the details for each day, taking time to prioritize your tasks.

We've got a few tools below that might be helpful. Check them out! And then come in and chat with us at the ASC. Here's where you can find us and when we're open:

Waldo Hall 125 | Monday through Friday | 9 AM to 5 PM

If all of this works, great, but if it doesn't quite work yet, or if you need to think through an adaptation/adjustment to your current prioritization approach, or if you just want to shout about how radical it's all going for you, please do come and visit. We want to see you! We love talking about this stuff, and we're here to support you in your work to figure out the process that's best for you.