We all have several sectors to our lives. For most of my readers, your list probably looks something like this:
- 6-7 classes
- Extracurricular Activities
- Personal health
Now, all of these things are important. But, we can’t do all of these things at 100% all the time – we just can’t. So, we have to prioritize. I’m going to give you my two-step formula for determining the importance of something so we don’t get paralyzed and are able to make the most of our time.
There are two factors that I consider in order to prioritize things: urgency and importance. These two factors will help me determine in what order and to what degree I need to do work. Let’s delve into each of them specifically. I’m going to use school work as the overarching example because that’s the type of work most of my readers will need to prioritize the most.
Step 1: Urgency
The most urgent task = the latest possible deadline is soonest
So, for schoolwork the most urgent tasks will be that which is due tomorrow (or next period, depending on how much you procrastinated). The mistake I see students making with urgency is that they will work on less urgent work first, and then something happens or they get too tired or they run out of time and the urgent work never gets done. This could have been prevented had they done the most urgent work first.
But, you can’t just consider urgency in the equation. This is what a lot of student do, and so bigger projects and deadlines sneak up on them because they’re always looking only in the short-term. Or, they do the least important item first and end up losing more points.
Step 2: Importance
The most important task = the one that will have the greatest positive consequence from doing it, or the greatest negative consequence from doing it
For schoolwork, importance is best seen in the point reward. Let’s say you have two assignments of equal urgency, but one is worth 10 points and the other is worth 50. You’re going to want to devote more time and energy sooner to the 50 point assignment. Similarly, if you have studying to do for an exam worth 100 points, that’s going to have higher importance than a 20-point assignment.
With importance, there are often other factors to consider, such as the benefit of the assignment. For instance, if there’s an assignment that feels like busywork for you and you won’t get much out of it, that should be a lesser priority than one which you will learn a lot from and will help you truly understand a concept.
Another concept is how well you’re doing in a subject and how confident you are in that subject. If you have two hundred-point exams tomorrow, you’re going to want to study the one you’re least confident first.
How do you prioritize?
Now that you know the two factors to prioritization, let’s learn how to use them. First, mark which items are urgent (next day). I like to use a pink highlighter for this. If it’s a longer list, I’ll do next day in pink, two days out in orange, and three in yellow. Keep in mind that this is the real deadline, not the ideal deadline.
Second, mark down the importance of the tasks by marking which ones will have the greatest consequences. I usually use an asterisk (*) to mark those.
Third, assign time estimations to each task. This will be helpful in determining which tasks you should do in your given time slot. (Ex. three priority 1 tasks, 45 minutes to work, task 1 takes 40 minutes and tasks 2 and 3 take 20, you should do 2 and 3 instead of just 1)
Fourth, number your tasks with priority labels 1, 2, and 3 based on the above assessments.
Finally, order your tasks on a fresh sheet of paper, and start with the first one making your way down.
Why is this important?
If you don’t prioritize, you’re not going to get everything done that you need to, and you’re not going to make the most of your time. This is a simple system of prioritizing that will ensure that you get what really needs to get done first. There have been many nights I’ve been up late because I waited to start the more important tasks later, when if I would have done them in a different order, I could have put the lower priority tasks for the next day and gotten enough sleep.
Prioritization doesn’t just apply to work, although that’s the example I gave to teach this principle. It’s important to prioritize all aspects of life I mentioned at the beginning. Sometimes, your mental health will out-prioritize your work. Other times, family obligations will be more urgent than hanging out with friends. If you get into the habit of asking yourself, “how urgent is this? How important is it?” I guarantee you will make better decisions in your daily life. Prioritization is simply strategic decision-making.
I hope this helped, happy prioritizing!