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Priority Lists

Author: Pencil Case  Date: 22 August 2019

List Your Priorities = Effective Time Management

A priority list is a simple way of organising all of the things you have to do from most important/urgent to least important/urgent. The success comes when you make sure that you do the items at the top of your list first, and only move on to less important items when you have completed the more important items. The case study below will help us to understand the benefit of this system.

Case study

Sarah Samson is feeling under pressure. She has lots of work to do and tests and exams are rapidly approaching. She in fact has 3 assessments tomorrow and she hasn't studied for any of them. She has a test in human biology on skin, she has to perform a monologue for drama, and she has to write an in-class assignment for history on the rise of Adolf Hitler.

After eating dinner, and watching The Voice, it is 8:30 and Sarah decides to start with studying human biology because she knows that the section on skin isn't very long and the test tomorrow should be fairly straight forward. She knocks her human biology study off in 50 mins. She then takes a break and has something to eat, scratches the dog and gets back to it. She studies her drama monologue next. The drama monologue is only worth 5% for the semester, but Sarah has really been enjoying this particular piece. The assessment tomorrow is open book (meaning she is aloud to read from the page) but because Sarah has dreams of being an actor one day she wants to try really hard and get her vocal style and delivery just right.

Finally, she starts her history at 10:05pm. Initially, Sarah gets stuck into it but then her mum comes in and complains that she should be in bed. Sarah asks her mum for another 30 minutes and gets to work. But it's late, and there are a lot of dates to remember. Sarah is tired and can't really concentrate so she decides to go to bed, with plans to study on the bus to school in the morning.

Reflect on this case study. Work out if you think Sarah got the most out of her time and if she didn't, what do you think she should have done?

My answer

If Sarah had her priorities straight I think she would have done things very differently. She almost certainly would have started with the hardest job, i.e. studying for history, and then human biology, and finally drama. This would have benefited her on a positive note because she would have been able to devote quality time and effort to her hardest subject. On a negative note, if she was ever going to wing (succeed despite a lack of effort) one of her assessments, it was going to be the open book drama. Even if she failed it, she only lost 5% compared to a major assignment for history.

So the point of priority lists are that you complete what is most important early and if you run out of time, you have minimised the damage because the things you weren't able to do weren't that important anyway!

Advanced tip

You can do this type of exercise in your head. Just ask yourself as you begin something is this the best thing for me to do right now? If the answer is no, do something else.

Question: Will I get everything on my list done?

Answer: No you won't, but you will get the most important things done first, so if you run out of time, it doesn't matter as much.

What do I do tomorrow?

Let's say you have 10 things on your priority list today. You work hard and get 5 of them done. Tomorrow, you may have new priorities to add to your list, or perhaps the things you didn't do today become urgent and move up the list.


We are going to create our own priority list. In the spaces below, write down in any order 10 things that you need to get done in the next day or so e.g. mow the lawn for mum, study the names of colours in Indonesian etc.:

( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________
( ) _______________

Now look very carefully at your list, and start to decide what your priorities are. Number your list inside the brackets from (1) most important to (10) least important.


(3) Study drama monologue

(1) Study Adolf Hitler for history assignment

(2) Study skin for human biology

Finally, and this is the most important part, you start completing your tasks in the order of priority you have set i.e. 1 first and 10 last. It sounds simple, but as you start getting tired, bored, lose motivation, and run out of time you will find you can't get it all done. By completing your priorities first get you get the most value from your time.

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