Tips for Prioritizing a Busy Week for College Students

[Editor’s note: following is a guest blog post  by Jessica Edmondson]

The idea that a college student only represents someone who is committed to schoolwork is changing. A busy week no longer means just three papers and one exam.

It could also mean you have a full work-shift, a child’s sporting event, and the preparation of a healthy family meal.

Regardless of what your busy week entails, here are some proven strategies to help college students manage their time when it’s most in demand:

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Rank Priorities

All of your priorities can be broken into three hierarchical categories: essential, important, and optional.

  • Essential priorities, such as your health and the health of your family, are non-negotiable.
  • Important priorities are a means of achieving the essential ones and manifest as your responsibilities at school and work.
  • Optional priorities are activities you engage in for personal fulfillment.

College students are often required to juggle all three priorities daily. But recognizing your priorities for what they are is the first step in effectively managing them.

Get Ready

When you know a busy week is coming up, prepare over the weekend. Start with the essential priorities, such as:

  • Run a week’s worth of laundry
  • Prepare and freeze healthy meals
  • Pay bills early
  • Reschedule medical appointments

If you can meet any of the week’s important priorities ahead of deadline, do so. If not, keep in mind that they will be easier to achieve in an organized environment. Clear off your desk, clean your dorm room or house, and finish any other chore that may distract you from the tasks ahead. Optional priorities have the most give and should be flexed.

Make a Schedule

A to-do list and a daily (or even hourly) calendar are tools you can’t afford to neglect. The more carefully you plan your busy week, the more smoothly it will run, so don’t hesitate to schedule tasks as finite as reading assignment instructions, emailing associates, or even cleaning the house.

Major academic assignments, in particular, can easily be broken down into their component parts. For example: instead of scheduling 3 hours to write a 1,000-word paper, instead plan 20 minutes to outline, 20 minutes to write each paragraph, and 20 minutes to proofread.

Learn When to Say No

As a college student, you are constantly exposed to new and potential commitments. During a busy week, when offered a new opportunity or presented with an “emergency” situation that does not involve your essential or important priorities, just say no.

Be polite but firm — something along the lines of, “That sounds interesting/fun/gratifying, and I know I’d want to give it more time than I have,” is usually sufficient. If the opportunity interests you, reschedule for a future engagement.

Procrastinate Effectively

Careful scheduling may hinder your sense of spontaneity, but that doesn’t mean you can force yourself to be productive.

If the urge to procrastinate on a task or assignment is so strong that it’s overwhelming your ability to focus, then choose an activity that engages your body but leaves your brain free to keep working, such as:

  • Go for a walk
  • Tidy the house
  • Play a simple video game
  • Set a time limit on the activity
  • Don’t waste any moment of it feeling guilty

Once your time is up, go back to finishing the task at hand—you’ll be surprised at how well you can focus after a break.

Effectively managing a grueling class schedule, while handling family commitments, takes careful prioritizing. In most cases, you’ll need to break some old habits and learn how to take control over your life and your surroundings.

The tips above can help you effectively manage your hectic schedule and still succeed in your education while saving some time for yourself and your family. It sounds like a lot, but remember – if you do it right, you can manage your time without letting it manage you.

This guest post was provided by Jessica Edmondson who writes about professional development and strategic planning training courses for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc.