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How to Prioritize Your Workload

Updated: Feb 5

Many times, whether in high school, college, or a job, we find ourselves with a mountain of assignments and not nearly enough time to finish them all. These are the instances in which knowing how to sort your work by order of priority becomes especially important. Below, I outline a 5-step process that I use quite frequently and have found great success with.

  1. Collect a list of all your tasks. Take stock of everything that you need to get done and a reasonable estimate for how long each task will take. Be sure to write this information down.

  2. Create an Eisenhower Matrix. An Eisenhower Matrix is a model designed to compare an assignment’s urgency with its importance. To make one, simply sketch a normal graph and label the x-axis “urgency” and the y-axis “importance.” Then plot all of your tasks onto the graph. Generally, a task’s urgency depends on how soon it needs to be done, whereas a task’s importance depends on how serious the consequences would be if it was not completed. All the tasks that fall into the “not urgent, not important” quadrant can be dismissed or saved for another day. The tasks that are considered urgent, but not important, should be delegated whenever possible. The important, but not urgent tasks should be saved for a later date, but I recommend scheduling a time to do them and sticking to it, rather than just saying, “I’ll do it later.” The tasks that are important and urgent should be done right away. The Eisenhower Matrix can be an extremely useful tool, as long as you are honest about the nature of the tasks.

  3. Factor in long-term plans. One particular night during my senior year in high school, I was torn between studying for a math test or a history test. It was difficult because not only were they during 1st and 2nd period, but I had a bubble grade in both classes, and so I needed to do well. However, I couldn’t dedicate a sufficient amount of time to both tests. I decided to study for history because I knew that I wasn’t going to be a STEM student in college and that there was an outside chance I ended up studying history as a major. Remembering what you hope to study later on can serve as a clarifying force during in those tricky situations.

  4. Get some momentum. It can be difficult sometimes to sit down and begin working on a hugely important assignment right away. It puts your brain under pressure and can dampen your creativity. I like to start working with a small assignment that will only take a few minutes to complete. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and gets my brain fully engaged, so I am ready to undertake a larger task.

  5. Accept what you can’t finish. Inevitably, you won’t be able to finish everything you will have wanted to. You need to accept this and create a game plan for the next day. Don’t forget to communicate with your teachers or a supervisor if you need an extension or help.

Remember; do this quickly! Every minute spent organizing is another minute spent not working, so don’t spend more than a few minutes. Good luck!

Jacob Connell is sophomore at George Washington University in Washington, DC.


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