How to become a pro at prioritising

We’ve all set sail on that one semester with the best of intentions before realising around major assignment time that something’s gone a bit awry. But it’s not too late to steer your ship to the waters of success; all that’s needed is a bit of planning. Indeed, with the sheer amount of responsibilities you juggle as a uni student, time can be a fleeting resource you can’t afford to squander. To this end we spoke to Alison Hillier, Senior Learning Advisor at Academic Learning Support, to help us chart a course towards time management and prioritisation.

Lock It In

In essence, time management is about blocking out time in your day to get certain work items done. In practise, it’s a trainable skill of estimating the time needed to complete a task, setting a time to do the task, and adapting the schedule to fit changes. This means that rather than keeping the vague thought, “I really need to do those readings at some point”, you’ve created a concrete time to start or continue work. In those parts of the day where you might just tune out or check social media there could be opportunities for productivity. “Look at the gaps in your day,” Alison said, “If I’ve got 45 minutes and I happen to have my readings with me, can I have a quick look through?”

Turning a vague collection of items into a clear schedule can really help to cement the path forward. In this matter, calendars, to-do lists, as well as organisational programs and apps are your best friend. “It’s really important to have something in front of you” Alison said. Physical lists, boards and other aids can help you visualise the tasks at hand. Additionally, the use of apps or email reminders can play a role in re-igniting your motivation to work, even if it’s just to make the notifications go away.

Scheduling Specificity

The sensation of spending a whole day at the campus library, engaging with a thousand little things, and somehow making no progress is one I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. Often, the size of an assessment can leave us wondering where to even begin. Thankfully, time management principles can get you on track to feel like you’re making progress in your work. “Effective planning helps you know how to progress to the next step of your assignment,” Alison said. “With major assessments, it can be helpful to work backwards from the due date… starting off where you want to be, and breaking down what’s needed, helps you know the time you need to set aside to do those things.”

Another stumbling block when it comes to making concrete progress is that we leave our study goals too vague. “You can put a lot of effort into something, but if you don’t have a plan on how to get there you’re just treading water,” Alison said. Indeed, energy isn’t much without technique. By breaking big concepts into their smaller parts, you can attack specific problems and it’s much easier to track your progress. ‘Write intro paragraph for assignment 1’ is far more useful than a big block saying ‘study’. The act of creating multiple smaller deadlines also creates a bit of time pressure which you can use to keep you motivated.

Time Triage

Some of us are morning larks, some are night owls, but all of us have spaces in the day where work just feels like spinning the wheels. To this, the goal is identifying the work that takes the most of our mental faculties, and prioritising them in the times we’re most alert. To Alison, this means “if you’re fresh in the morning, doing that hard cognitive work … and leaving the drudge work for the afternoon when your brain’s feeling a bit fried.”

Block Out Breaks

Becoming your new productive self doesn’t mean you must give up on downtime. In fact, you might find you end up enjoying it more. Wired as we are for short-term gratification, it’s easy to procrastinate with low-density fun like browsing social media as it’s easier than work. But by doing the hard yards, we create blocks of time that can be spent seeing a film, hanging out with friends, or doing something we strongly engage with. Ultimately, time management and prioritisation will help you have a smoother life in more senses than just the academic.

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