How To Prioritize When Everything Is Important
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We all know the feeling, one day, life is going smoothly and the next day you are being pulled in 50 different directions. Okay, so this really doesn’t happen overnight, but often we suddenly reach our capacity to deal with competing priorities. So, how can we set-up our lives and our priorities to ensure that we are making the best use of our time and resources?
Categorize Your Life
I’ll admit this one sounds weird. Clearly there are certain obvious categories: self-care, school, work, family, friends, entertainment, side-hustle, etc. But there may be subcategories that are important for each category. You may want to consider each class or subject a subcategory of school. Your work or side-hustle may have different types of tasks that make sense to consider subcategories. For example, as an educator, I break my work category down into teaching, research and service.
Dedicate Time To The Categories
Life can’t be all work and no play. So, think realistically about how to break down your time between categories and subcategories. For example, I can easily spend over 40 hours per week working on my teaching tasks before I dedicate time to research or service which are both requirements of my job. So if I don’t want to work 60+ hours per week, I have to be careful to avoid sinking so much time into teaching. And if I’m putting 60+ hours in at work, I lose quality time I should be spending with my family or on self-care.
As a student, “that one really hard class” can easily pull you back over and over again. And, while you may need to spend a large chunk of your study time on that class, you don’t want “that really hard class” to negatively impact your performance in all of your other classes. So, decide ahead of time how much time you will commit to each class. Reminder the general rule is 2-3 hours outside of class per hour in the classroom.
Sometimes our time commitments to our families or friends can be substantial. If you find that you aren’t able to accomplish your work or school work due to these commitments, you may need to work on personal boundaries. Sometimes these commitments are completely healthy or needed and in that case, you may need to see if you can temporarily scale back at school or work.
Develop Semester Goals
For each category, come up with 1-3 semester goals to work on for each category/subcategory. An example of a course related semester goal is to earn an A in “that one really hard class.” A personal goal can be to learn a new hobby or to exercise regularly (an average 3 times per week) throughout the semester. If you are interested in a promotion at work, what goal should you set to become competitive for the promotion?
Be careful about setting too many goals. If you set too many goals, then you’ll still feel pulled in too many directions. Each goal should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). If you honestly need more than 3 semester goals in each category, prioritize the goals so that when your time becomes limited, you’ve already decided where to focus.
Create Weekly To-Do Lists
Once a week sit down with your semester goals, and create a to-do list of the things you need to work on hat week to work towards accomplishing your goals. Some individuals recommend creating these lists on Sunday. I prefer to create them after class on Monday. Sit down with your Lang Planner, Planner Pads or bullet journal and look over your list from last week. What did you accomplish? What still needs accomplished and needs to be moved to this week? What new tasks do you need to accomplish this week? Do you have any special appointments or meetings that you need to be sure are on my calendar?
Daily To-Do Lists (Optional)
Consider creating a daily to-do list from your weekly to-do list every morning. Semester, weekly, daily lists - it may seem like overkill. However, it works. I use daily to-do lists for some days. There are some days of the week where my schedule and goals are the same every week, so I find keeping a to-do list for those days unnecessary. And, if I find myself with unexpected time during one of those days, I can quickly glance at my weekly to-do list to find an appropriate task that fits into my available time block. On my days with less structure, having a daily to-do list is critical to help ensure that I’m working on tasks at the top of my priority list.
Don’t Give Up
Prioritization and organization is hard! It can be easiest to use this system when you are a moderate level busy. When I get too busy, I go into survival mode and it can be easy to stop prioritizing. However, that is when I need this system the most. I have to remind myself why it is important and using the system may become one of my goals.
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Don’t Be Afraid To Say No
You choose your priorities. There are plenty of people around you who would love to hand you their priorities as well. So, protect your time. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” You aren’t rejecting anyone if you can’t help with a particular committee or attend a certain sporting event. Know that you are valuable; and therefore, your time is valuable.
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