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Setting priorities & learning to plan

Setting priorities can sometimes be a daunting task. But did you know that you are often already subconsciously doing this in your head? For example, you are a lot less likely to forget your smartphone than your pencil case. This has to do with the value you place on your phone compared to your pencil case. So setting priorities for your school assignments or work projects is certainly not an impossible task. When you learn to plan, you will have this under control in no time. But how do you define your priorities and why should you start doing this? Stuvia gives you a clear explanation, shows you a helpful model called ‘the Eisenhower Matrix’, and learns you to plan your priorities.

What is a priority?

A priority is a task that has precedence over another task. So the urgency in the task you set a priority for is higher than that of another task. Therefore, you want to finish the task with priority sooner than a task without priority. Setting priorities helps you create an overview. Instead of having all your tasks in one giant pile, you rank them based on urgency. Where one task might take another week to complete, another needs to be finished before the end of the week. By determining your priorities in advance, you ensure more peace of mind and stress reduction.

Looking for more tips to make completing your tasks or courses easier? Then take a look at our learning styles.

The Eisenhower Matrix

A useful tool for determining your priorities is the Eisenhower Matrix. This matrix is also called the 'Urgent-Important' Matrix. In this matrix, you look at the task at hand and ask yourself the following two questions:

  • Is the task important or not important?
  • Is the task urgent or not urgent?

The importance of the task is about whether it needs to be completed and whether it creates problems if not completed. An important task can fit within your range of duties or could be a requirement for passing a course. Urgency is about when the task needs to be completed. An urgent task needs to be completed, for example, this week. Based on the answers to these two questions, your task will be placed inside the Eisenhower Matrix.

You can also set priorities in your learning objectives. It is advisable to use the SMART method here.

Learning to plan

Now that you know more about what a priority is and how to set priorities, it is time to learn how to plan. Following the step-by-step plan below will already help you a lot.

Step 1: Start your day with a to-do list

When you start your day, it is useful to create a to-do list. Creating a to-do list will help you get an overview of your tasks and will calm your mind.

Step 2: Set your priorities with the Eisenhower Matrix

Now that you know what you need to do, based on your to-do list, it is time to determine your priorities. Add the importance and urgency of each of your tasks, based on the Eisenhower Matrix. You could think of this as creating a comprehensive to-do list, also taking into account the time a task would take.  

Step 3: Take your energy level and rhythm into account

Everyone works differently. Where one person gets mountains of work done in the morning, another prefers to snooze for a while to be productive in the afternoon. So try to find out for yourself when you work most productively and organize your tasks accordingly. A useful tool here is the Pomodoro Technique, in which you divide your day into small parts of 25 minutes.  

Step 4: Monitor your schedule

Delaying your planning is often very appealing. Therefore, always try to monitor your schedule and plan moments of rest for yourself. In addition, it is advisable to reward yourself. For example, if your goal is to summarise chapters 1 and 2, you can reward yourself afterward by watching a short episode of your favorite series. Need more tips? Stuvia has several tips for optimizing your planning.

Step 5: Annoying tasks first

Now that you have set your priorities and planned your tasks, it is advisable to start with the most tedious tasks. This is also known as 'Eat That Frog', which assumes that if you would start your day by eating a living frog, the rest of the day would be a breeze. This also has a psychological reason: finishing the most tedious task is very satisfying. Try it out for yourself! You will see that after the most tedious task, the other tasks will go a lot easier.

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