How to Prioritize

Monday, June 18, 2018 | Posted by: Alpha Kappa Psi

Whether you’re dealing with work or school, stress always finds a way to creep in. In fact, a recent study by the American Institute of Stress showed that a whopping 46% of professional stress was caused by sheer workload, with another 20% came from juggling projects and personal life. Similarly, 85% of college students say they felt overwhelmed in the last year.  This could be a result of a particularly hectic environment, coworkers or classmates dropping the ball in group work, or even just classic procrastination. Regardless of the reason, it’s vital that in these moments of work overload you have concrete steps for prioritizing and juggling multiple tasks. Setting yourself up for success, it seems, starts with planning to achieve it.

Make Complete To-Do Lists

Creating a to-do list is a great way to get started prioritizing a lot of tasks. However, these lists should be crafted with care, as a study showed that 41% of to-do items are never completed. List what is on your mind in a way that is helpful for you. For some, this may mean keeping it simple and only including the big tasks like, “Write Quarterly Report” or “Study for Econ Exam.” Others may prefer to break those items down into smaller parts, which can help to make the activity feel less ominous. For example, “Write Quarterly Report” may include subtasks of “Pull Marketing Data,” “Email Jen to Confirm Numbers,” “Write Intro and Conclusion.” Checking these off may lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and help to stimulate motivation. Or maybe you’re more the kind of person who likes to dive in and give one big check-off when the whole task is done. Either way, with this list in hand you’ll feel more in control.

Cross Reference Your Calendar with Timelines

Everyone has their own pace of work, which is why it takes some people longer to do things than others. When prioritizing your upcoming projects, spend some time contemplating just how hard each task might be. Are there certain items that you already know will take you longer than others? Maybe using Excel has always been tough for you, meaning that the data you need to pull and analyze requires additional time. So, that should be given priority over another task you’ll excel at, even if you want to do that one first. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself, as you’ll only end up clawing for more time if you start with inaccurate estimations or by putting off the tough stuff.

You’ll also need to consider any other people you’re working with. If you’re working on a presentation and need graphics developed by a coworker, find out how much time they will need. Their ability may impact how highly you prioritize that work, too. Just make sure that when you ask the honest question you are ready to respect the time others need to work. Also, remember, obstacles come up when least expected.  

Remain Flexible and Consider Your Mental Wellness

We’ve all heard the saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” Regardless of how in-depth your list may be, or how many strategies you utilize, there’s always the chance that someone will knock on your office door or shoot you an email with a demand to drop everything and work on a new task. But this doesn’t have to wreck your schedule, as long as you’ve anticipated the need to be flexible in advance. Here are some tips for staying loose while still getting things done:

  • Maintain a routine. Sticking to a daily schedule will help to ensure you don’t fall behind in your duties, meaning you’ll get more done and provide space in case something pops up.
  • Train others so that you can delegate. You don’t want to be the only one who knows how to use Photoshop or write a proposal. Share your skills with colleagues so they can step up in time of additional workload.
  • Plan for the unplanned. When planning out your week, try to create pockets of free time in the schedule. You can shift those bubbles around and fill with a sudden assignment if need be.

However, it’s also totally acceptable to say no if a sudden request is just too much to handle. Your mental wellness shouldn’t be an afterthought, and you’re not alone in this feeling; 80% of people said they feel too much work is being expected from too few people. When faced with a daunting task, go back to the start of our advice and start making a list. Estimate the timeline and figure out what is possible without everyone burning out.

When tasks and projects start to pile up, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, there are plenty of easy organizational tricks to prioritize, plan, and ultimately get things done. By making complete and in-depth lists, keeping in mind the needs of others, considering your own strengths and weaknesses, and doing your best to remain flexible you can be sure to get back on top of your workload.


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