Get Your Priorities Straight!
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
If there’s one thing students complain about, it’s procrastination – but thankfully, there are several ways to overcome it!
One of the keys to overcoming procrastination is to recognise where our priorities lie, and how to plan in line with them.
So, what is prioritisation? And how do we prioritise our time?
Prioritisation is about being able to recognise the importance of each task or activity that we need to undertake in line with the goals that we want to achieve, and then using that to guide our decision as to how and when to carry each task out.
The first step involved in prioritisation is becoming aware of how we currently decide between which activities are most important to us, for example:
Do you attempt the hardest tasks first, or the most fun tasks first?
Do you do urgent work as soon as you get it, or delay it until the last minute?
How much time do you spend in between tasks on activities like watching YouTube videos, or going through your Facebook or Instagram feed?
Once we understand how we are currently using our time, we can then use prioritisation tools to manage our time more effectively.
We can look at prioritisation from two different angles:
In this post, we’re going to focus on our long-term priorities. This is where we take a long-term view with respect to all the things happening in our daily lives. We can then place them within broad categories, for example:
Exam preparation and studying e.g. lectures, revision.
Job/work commitments e.g. full-time employment, internship, volunteering.
Social life e.g. seeing friends, parties.
Hobbies and recreational activities e.g. sports, gym, music, Netflix.
Home maintenance e.g. cleaning, cooking.
Family commitments e.g. looking after siblings.
Take a look at these categories and identify where your priorities lie now! Remember – you’re trying to see your priorities as they currently are, not what you think they should be.
Once you’ve done this, identify any of the above priorities which you feel you should be prioritising.
For example, students may want to prioritise exam preparation and studying, while someone in full-time employment may want to move their hobbies and recreational activities higher up on their priority list.
Case Study: Exam Preparation for Students
Take a look at where exam preparation lies on your list of current priorities.
Don’t worry if it is not priority number 1 at this moment. Simply becoming aware of the level of commitment you currently have towards it is extremely valuable.
The truth is that a lot of us are intimidated about placing exams as our biggest priority.
Some of us feel afraid of the expectation that we will be placing upon ourselves to perform well if we place it at the top of our priority list. We also think that it means sacrificing other aspects of our lives for the sake of a result that isn’t even guaranteed, and feel resistance and dissatisfaction towards exams as a result.
We must understand that prioritisation is not about putting pressure on ourselves to achieve an outcome, nor is it about cutting things out of our lives.
It is just about recognising what is most important to us over this temporary time period. It is about asking ourselves how we can minimise any chance of regret regardless of the outcome that we get, by ensuring that we set aside enough time to prepare for that task and honour our commitment to it.
We are not neglecting our friends or stopping tennis lessons while exams are on the horizon, we are simply de-prioritising them. We are just recognising that our Biology revision notes on osmosis are a priority above spontaneously hanging out with our friends at Starbucks, or agreeing to fill in a concert slot as soon as someone asks.
It is only a temporary arrangement!
And once we have completed our priority tasks, we are absolutely entitled to have fun and address our de-prioritised tasks, such as social commitments, sports etc. A healthy balance is key to maintaining a consistent study plan and optimum state of mind.
With this in mind, take a moment to re-evaluate and decide what you should be prioritising given your goals regarding exams.
It may be that you realise that exam preparation is going to come above social life and hobbies for this time period, even though it wouldn’t ordinarily. That’s okay! It is temporary.
For some of you who are also employed during your exams, it may be that your job remains a priority over exam preparation. Again – this is completely understandable.
The key is simply to know our priorities and be fully aware of them.
Because we have to plan in line with our priorities.
Let me explain what I mean by this.
A lot of us create our plans, and then prioritise the tasks on that plan. Unfortunately, this often leads to us spending too much time on tasks that aren’t aligned with our priorities - in other words, they're not really that important! We then feel stressed that we haven’t completed our most important tasks, and demotivated because we haven’t moved any closer to achieving our goals.
Instead, the tasks on our plan should be centred around our priorities. In doing this, we focus our time and energy on the most important tasks that will ultimately take us closer to fulfilling the goals that we set ourselves around our highest priorities.
So, what are you waiting for?
Identify your long-term priorities today, and start to create a kick-ass plan in line with those priorities! We’ll be back soon with another blog post on how to exactly choose the short-term daily tasks that you prioritise on your plan...
....but if you can’t wait until then, grab my free eBook on Overcoming Procrastination for students, where I detail why we procrastinate and the steps we can take to begin overcoming it! It’s just part of the 1st chapter of my book, The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch by email or through social media (Facebook or Instagram). And if you really want to give yourself an edge for your upcoming university interviews (especially Oxbridge interviews), please get in touch about my custom interview-coaching packages.
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.