My first semester of college was rough. Not because I was missing my family or the level of academic study was difficult. The reason my first semester was so difficult was because I didn’t know how to prioritize my day. I would get up whenever, go to be whenever, and while I was serious about my education and its importance, I did miss a few assignments. You see up until that point, other people had prioritized all of my tasks and activities for me: my parents, my teachers, my coaches all told me what to do, when to do it and gave me plenty of reminders along the way. As a result, my transition into making these decisions on my own was a little bit (read: a lot) more rocky than expected. But the good news is that I learned from it and have passed that knowledge on to others, including first time college students. Here are the Top 5 Lessons I learned and that anyone can utilize to make their Adulting just a tiny bit easier.
Lesson #1: Write it all down
This is by far the biggest mistake people make! They rely on their brain to keep all their important items in order and what gets me is that they are surprised when items get forget. Sometimes it’s a simple as forgetting to buy milk and having to go back to the store. Annoying sure, but not really critical. But what happens when you forget an important meeting with your boss, miss your child’s school performance, or worse, forget your spouse’s birthday and don’t have a present for them? Yikes!
Now a lot of people think “I don’t want to have to get a planner to write all these things in. I hate planners. It’s just another thing to carry… Blah blah blah.” Okay then, if you don’t like planners, then don’t get one. Get a little notebook you like and make yourself a daily to do list. Or be like my husband, write one big list, cross things off as you go, and add new items at the bottom. It’s more about getting that To Do list out of your head and in the real world, where you can see it.
Lesson #2: The Biggies
The Biggies are the really large categories you use to classify things. For example, a student’s Biggies might be School, Family, Work. My Biggies are currently School, Work, Family/Friends, and Home. And essentially everything that I have on my To Do list Falls into one of those 4 categories. By breaking things down into these categories, I can clump things together. Not only does it make it easier to write these items down, I can more easily focus on one area a time.
So how do you utilize The Biggies to prioritize? Personally, I assign days to each area of my life. Sunday and Wednesday are Home days, so on those days, anything I have in that category gets priority over say the Family/Friends category. By breaking it up this way, I’m able to give my uninterrupted focus to items I need to get done in a single Biggie. I’ve also seen people assign certain Biggies to certain parts of the day, like doing their Home items at certain times of the day. It’s really about what works best for you!
Lesson #3: The 4 Ds
Now that you’ve got your Biggies laid out, how do you know what to do first? The method that I employ, and that I feel is the simplest, is inspired by the Eisenhower Box. Basically, I assign, and write, each of my Biggie Tasks into one of 4 categories; called the 4 Ds: Do, Decide, Delegate, & Delete.
Do items are High Priority because they going to happen that day, and must be completed.
Decide items are Medium Priority, meaning they are important, but you’ve got some time to complete. Schedule time for these another day.
Delegate items are also Medium Priority. The way to think these items as “I’m waiting for something to happen or someone is going to do it for me. I’ll need to follow up later.”
Delete items are Low Priority. Whether they get done or not, it won’t affect your end goals.
Here’s what mine looks like for my School Biggies:
Do – High priority items!
- Read chapter 15 and take quiz (due tonight)
- Discussion Board Post (due tonight)
- Homework Assignment (due tonight)
- Read chapter 19 (due Friday; Assigned to Thursday)
- Group Project #1 (due next month; group meeting Friday)
- Group Project #2 (due next week; completed contribution & waiting on other members)
- Group Discussion Board (due next week; ask partner to write final copy)
- Group email (no response needed)
- Campus email (glance but no response needed)
You’ll notice that I put some notes to the right of my items. This helps me keep track of where I am on a task. While this is meant to be done everyday, I realize that’s unrealistic; you’ve got to have a life too. Once a week works well for this method as well.
Lesson #4: Do the Hardest Thing First
This is my favorite lesson, even though it is by far the hardest one and took me the longest to learn. We naturally avoid things we don’t want to do and that is the root of procrastination. By doing the one or two items you’re dreading first each day, you don’t waste energy on the dread. For me, cleaning the bathroom is my most dreaded task, but of course, it can’t be avoided. On Sundays, I get up, clean the bathroom first, and then move on with the rest of my Biggie items for the day.
This works well for items that are Difficult or Time Consuming projects. Even if you don’t dread doing the item, energy is still wasted by putting it off, because you have to put in more energy later to get it done.
Lesson #5: Flexibility is Key
In a perfect world, you’ll be able to accomplish every item in each and every day. But of course, it’s not a perfect world, and stuff comes up to derail your whole plan for the day. Flexibility is key!
This was another tough lesson for me to learn because I’m a Type A overachiever and perfectionist. It is really, really hard for me to leave a task undone and/or less than perfect; and I’m sure there are many other people out there just like me! But with some practice, you can learn to pivot your day as things change.
Now these lessons won’t solve all your problems and it will take time for you to get accustomed to thinking this way. For me, it took a few weeks to get the hang of it. But it is so worth it and had made my life so much more manageable. We all know that adulting is hard. Sometimes there is so much to do and it feels completely overwhelming! This is understandable and hopefully, these tips will make managing it all a little bit easier.