If you’ve ever felt so completely overwhelmed that you want to cry, you’re not alone. I’ve been there a dozen times and I know that many other students have as well. Along with university comes great expectations. Study, a part time job, family life, social life and extra-curricular clubs are just a few of things that students have to juggle along with their workload. Getting your mind around everything to start prioritising at university can be difficult.
I’m usually pretty good at staying on top of my study, but I recently completed an internship which chewed up a lot of my time, and I’m at a point in the semester where I have a lot of due dates approaching fast. Taking some time out of my day to prioritise what I need to work on is what gets me through these rough periods during the semester. Knowing how to prioritise is an important skill for students to have that will make your time at university so much easier.
Why you should start prioritising at university
Prioritising at university is important for staying on top of study, producing quality work, and also for taking care of your mental health. The ability to prioritise enables you to efficiently and effectively get through your workload. It cuts down on time-wasting and procrastination when you have a clear idea of what you need to be working on. A clear focus (mixed with a little time pressure) can also provide the motivation you need to get started on your work.
“So how does this help me?” I’m hearing you ask. By planning and prioritising, students can gain that healthy balance between study and life. It’s not necessarily about constantly working on a to-do list, it’s about making decisions about how you are going to spend your time. I’ve spoken about stress procrastination before, and prioritising is a perfect way to steer clear of it! There are no more crazy stressful nights of panic and overwhelm when you have planned and know in advance where to put your time and effort.
Deciding what’s more important can be a difficult task. I often get caught up in this stage and end up floundering around, wasting time trying to figure out whether I should be working on an assignment or studying for an exam. In reality, I could have just started working on the assignment and had it finished in the time it took me to worry about wasting time on the wrong thing. When I don’t take time to plan it out, even if I’m being productive and working on something, my brain is still screaming at me like “why aren’t you doing other stuff that’s also important?”. I think a lot of students run into this hurdle and it can be quite damaging to you mentally. A clear awareness of how to spend your time is a good way to combat these obstacles.
Prioritising at university is not just about studying and schoolwork. You may want to prioritise social activities or self-care routines to make sure that you have balance. Prioritising can go a long way to taking care of yourself. Reducing stress levels by staying up to date on your study is good method but taking time out to go and get a coffee with a friend or go to the gym are also great ways to relieve stress. Once you start prioritising your time you’ll get a feel for what’s important to you and it’ll be easier to decide where to put your time. If you have a test to study for that’s high on your priority list, it’s okay to say “I want to spend time on this instead of spending the day out with friends”. And you know, if you are out of your mind stressed, crying, struggling over some small assignment and you haven’t had any sleep… it’s okay to prioritise you. Your well-being is way more important than schoolwork. Get a good night’s sleep, let your body recharge and start fresh the next morning. Prioritising is important to gain balance in your life, not just to continuously study.
Where do I start?
Prioritising at university is all about thinking ahead and making a decision. I generally have the next seven days planned out. I know dues dates for assignments and any days when I’m working. Having a strong idea of what to expect and knowing what you are doing means you can prioritise accordingly and avoid wasting time trying to decide where to focus your energy. Say I have an assignment due on Friday. If I know that I’m working on Wednesday and Thursday night, then I know I don’t have as much time to work on it on those days, so I might prioritise that assignment to get it done first, and then work on some smaller weekly tasks on the other nights.
Prioritising is something that I do daily. Making a giant to-do list can be a great way to organise (trust me, I’m a big fan of lists), but if you are feeling overwhelmed, sometimes looking at a really big picture can be super demotivating. I know I have a paper due this weekend, and also an assignment next week but I also need to study for a test that is the week after that, not to mention I have two presentations… I mean, it just goes on. Any student knows that the end of the semester is busy. When I think about all the work I have to do in the next few weeks it can be kind of scary. So prioritising at university allows me to chip away at everything until it seems completely achievable. Everyone’s prioritisation will be different. I tend to prioritise tasks that have closer deadlines, and tasks that are large and time-consuming. For example, a 6000 word paper I have due involves a lot of time and effort, not just to write it but also to research for it, so I make it a priority to work on that as often as I can. Prioritising smaller tasks that we tend to put off can be a good way to get them over with, particularly if they take less than 5 minutes. Be careful with this, however, as you don’t want to be completing a bunch of smaller tasks when you have more urgent, higher priorities.
Try starting with 5 things. In the morning I make a list of 5 tasks that I want to prioritise for the day. When making a list, think about what you should be working on, what’s coming up, what can you get done today that will free up some time later or what do you keep forgetting to do. Questions like these will help make your priorities clear and you’ll find that you already know exactly what you should be working on. On my list there are usually 2 bigger tasks, 2 smaller tasks, and something for my own self-care (though it can change depending on my level of busy). I then carry this list with me in my planner for the whole day so I can work on it.
You can use pretty much anything to write down your priorities. A notepad, a journal, a post-it note. I actually designed my own little daily priority lists which I have for you today at the end of this post in the form of a FREE PRINTABLE! Yay! Just print out a page, cut out your lists and go! You can stick them in your planner or on your desk so that they are easily accessible every day. You can even fill them out at night before you go to bed and then wake up in the morning ready to be productive.
Once you start prioritising at university, you won’t want to stop. It’s an invaluable organisational tool for students and can help make that giant to-do list way more achievable. If you use a system to help prioritise different tasks, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment!
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