4.6 Prioritization: Self-Management of What You Do and When You Do It


  • Why is prioritization important?
  • What are the steps involved in prioritization?
  • How do I deal with situation where others’ priorities are not the same as my own?
  • What do I do when priorities conflict?
  • What are the best ways to make sure I complete tasks?

Prioritization: Self-Management of What You Do and When You Do It

Another key component in time management is that of prioritization. Prioritization can be thought of as ordering tasks and allotting time for them based on their identified needs or value.

This next section provides some insight into not only helping prioritize tasks and actions based on need and value, but also how to better understand the factors that contribute to prioritization.

How to Prioritize

The enemy of good prioritization is panic, or at least making decisions based on strictly emotional reactions. However, when it comes to juggling multiple problems or tasks to complete, prioritizing them first may mean the difference between completing everything satisfactorily and completing nothing at all.

Make Certain You Understand the Requirements of Each Task

Before you can create a plan you will need to understand what your assignments are asking you to do. For example, if your assignment requires you to create a website to show your work and you have never made website, you will require more time and can then plan accordingly. Read the instructions and marking rubric early in the term for all major assignments and note the following:

  • identify what the assignment is worth and how it will be graded (review any rubrics available)
  • identify the skills and resources required to complete it—what skills do I have and who can help me develop the skills I don’t have (build in time for reaching out to Fanshawe support staff who can help with research, writing, math, IT, etc.
  • estimate the time it will take to complete based on what you have learned from the first 2 steps – work backward from the due date and break up the assignment into smaller chunks and set milestones for parts of a project and give yourself a due date a few days in advance for time to review and revise
  • find the best time and space to focus on this task and eliminate distractions to focus
  • plan for the unexpected – have a back up plan
  • communicate regularly when problems arise to keep your professors aware – even if you think you can solve the problem (they may have some suggestions)

Make Decisions on Importance, Impact on Other Priorities, and Urgency

After you are aware of the requirements for each task, you can then decide your priorities based on the importance of the task and what things need to be finished in which order.

If you have two assignments due on the same day, at the same time it will be important to prioritize.

To better see how things may need to be prioritized, some people make a list of the tasks they need to complete and then arrange them in a quadrant map based on importance and urgency.

In this activity you will begin by making a list of things you need or want to do today and then draw your own version of the grid below. Write each item in one of the four squares; choose the square that best describes it based on its urgency and its importance. When you have completed writing each the tasks in its appropriate square, you will see a prioritization order of your tasks. Obviously, those listed in the Important and Urgent square will be the things you need to finish first. After that will come things that are “important but not urgent,” followed by “not important, but urgent,” and finally “not urgent and not important.”

A two-way table shows the Eisenhower Matrix with tasks categorized on the basis of their urgency and importance.
The Eisenhower Matrix can help organize priorities and ensure that you focus on the correct tasks.

Outside Influencers

Woman sitting at computer with hands on head due to stress. Two people are trying to assist her on either side.
Photo By Karolina GrabowskaPexels License

Many of your tasks are being driven by a number of different individuals who are not only unaware of the other things you need to do, but they often have goals that are in conflict with your other tasks. This means that different instructors, your manager at work, or even your friends and family may be trying to assert their needs into your priorities.

In some cases, keeping others informed about your priorities may help avert possible conflicts (e.g., letting your boss know you will need time on a certain evening to study, letting your friends know you plan to do a journal project on Saturday but can do something on Sunday, etc.).

It will be important to be aware of how others can drive your priorities and for you to listen to your own good judgment. In essence, time management in college is as much about managing all the elements of your life as it is about managing time for class and to complete assignments.

What if I Can’t Get it All Done?

Blank checklist on a chalkboard with one box ticked off
Photo by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay License

Occasionally, regardless of how much you have planned or how well you have managed your time, events arise where it becomes  impossible to accomplish everything you need to by the time required.

Finding yourself in this kind of situation is when prioritization becomes most important. When this occurs with college assignments, the dilemma can be extremely stressful, but it is important to not feel overwhelmed by the anxiety of the situation so that you can make a carefully calculated decision based on the value and impact of your choice.

To manage a situation like this it is important to understand all the factors involved. While it may seem that whichever assignment is worth the most points to your grade is how you make the choice, there are other things to consider.

For example, one of the assignments may only be worth a small amount toward your total grade, but if you don’t complete it, you may not be able to complete work for the next part of the course. Or the instructor for one of the courses might have a “late assignment” policy that is more forgiving—something that would allow you to turn in the work a little late without too much of a penalty.

If you find yourself in a similar predicament:

  • communicate with your instructors professionally, in a written email, to let them know about the situation well in advance of the due date and tell them
    • what you have completed already,
    • what you still have to do,
    • exactly when YOU think YOU can submit your work,
    • your appreciation for considering your request.

The key here is to make certain you are aware of and understand all the ramifications to help make the best decision when the situation dictates you make a hard choice among priorities.


Analysis: Take the time to think about where you will do your work and when. What can you do to help ensure your working environment will be helpful rather than harmful? What do you know doesn’t work for you? What will you do to prevent those adverse conditions from creeping into your work environment? What changes can you make TODAY to help you use the time you have more productively?

Below is a quick survey to help you determine your own preferences in regard to your work space, the time you work, and distractions. Rank each option: 1–4, 1 meaning “least like me” and 4 meaning “most like me.”

  • I like my workspace to be organized and clean.
  • There are certain places where I am more comfortable when I work.
  • I prefer to be alone when I work on certain things.
  • I find it difficult to read with other sounds or voices around me.
  • There are certain times of the day when I can be more focused.
  • My moods or emotions can interfere with my ability to concentrate.

3.5 Prioritization: Self- Management of What You Do and When You Do It” from College Success  by Amy Baldwin & Open Stax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 



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