clock with pen and notebook on desk

Find balance with time management.

You’re smart, talented, and excellent at what you do – whether that’s on the job or in school. But, you struggle with managing your time and meeting deadlines. You end up stressed, trying to juggle five completely different last minute tasks and your work – and mental health – can suffer. Learning to manage your time can be a lifelong undertaking, but every small step toward becoming better at meeting goals and getting things done will make your work and personal life a bit easier to handle. The first thing to do? Understand how you can set priorities that work for your schedule.

You’ve got the time.

One thing everyone has in common? We all have 168 hours available to us each week. What you do with that time is what makes you unique. But when you’ve never really learned how to prioritize your tasks, it can be tough figuring out what to start when and what makes sense to do first versus last. What matters more than how much time you have is how you use that time. So the first step in taking control of the 168 hours you have per week is figuring out how to be smart about prioritizing your tasks.

Priority isn’t just about due dates

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When you’re looking at everything you need to get done, your instinct may be to decide which task is most important based on when it’s due. While that can be a reliable way to make a daily to-do list, it’s also important to learn to decide what things have more weight and consequence. But how do you decide what’s more important? Ask yourself a few questions, like

  • Who or what does this task affect?
  • Will being late on this task cause others to be late?
  • Does this task require more research or work than previously thought?
  • Does not completing this task on time have a big impact on business or grades?

From there, you can get a better sense of how to organize your workflow. For example, if not completing a task by the due date will have longer term effects, like losing money or getting a lower grade, then you may want to move that up your list.

...But due dates can help you organize your priorities.

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So, you’ve started to figure out what things need to take priority over others, but you’re still not sure how to organize your time to make sure things get done when they should. Here’s where prioritizing and scheduling can come together.

With your weekly, or daily, to-do list in front of you, go through and assign each task a priority level. A simple way to do it without getting too detailed is using a scale of, say, 1 to 3. One is assigned to tasks that are absolutely essential and MUST be done by the deadline. Two’s are those tasks that need to be done on time, but can be flexible depending on time and need. Three’s are those tasks that you should make every effort to get done but won’t hurt anything if they’re pushed back a bit.

Once everything has a priority number, you can rearrange your schedule based on 1’s first, and so on, and use your due dates to make it even more organized. For example, you have your to-do list and a priority that is more flexible is due before something that is essential. That flexible task can probably be pushed down the list, to be completed after the more essential one.

Organization is important.

When you’re still getting used to managing your time and tasks effectively, distractions and disorganization can derail your workflow. Make a habit of keeping your calendar updated, writing your to-do lists down and crossing off completed tasks, and maintaining a neat workspace. Digging through a messy desk searching for something you need can be a time-waster, but that mess on your desk can also fuel your procrastination. You obviously have to clean up before you can dive into your work, right?

To avoid that pull toward procrastination, starting with a neat space will help. Keeping your calendar organized will also be a big help in the long run. Update your calendar and planner regularly. Besides having something you can review to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, writing things down can help you remember them.

Asking for help if you’re overwhelmed is not a bad thing.

You want to get everything done yourself, but when your tasks are piling up, your time management can snowball out of control. Instead of letting that stress overwhelm you, reach out for a helping hand! This is especially true if you work on a team. You all have similar goals, so working together helps everyone.

Say “no” when you need to.

Managing your time and priorities is also about making sure you don’t take on more than you have the time for. While you may want to say “yes” to everything a boss or teacher may ask you to do, taking on too much work will pile on the tasks and put you further behind on all the other work you’re responsible for. It’s okay to say no and make sure you get your original work done before taking on more.

Learn more about time management.

Effectively managing your time as an employee, parent, student, and friend can sometimes seem impossible. You have so much to do and you’re trying to stay on top of it all. Adding on furthering your education to your tasks might feel like too much, but with Penn Foster’s online, self-paced courses, you can fit everything in around your schedule. If you’re considering enrolling, are a student who wants to figure out how to juggle all you need to do, or you’re a graduate navigating a new career, setting priorities in your time management can make a big difference. Check out more ways to organize your work and the 168 hours you have each week in the time management webinar from the recent Student Success and Career Fair!