Prioritisation skills

Prioritisation is an invaluable skill when managing time for learning.

Being able to prioritise is being able to see the bigger picture and make decisions about what study activities you should give your attention to and in what order.

It is also being able to see when it is appropriate to study and when the responsibilities of work, home and health come first. Prioritising helps to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals and helps to direct attention to the most important ones.

Can you be sure that you are prioritising correctly – either at work or in your study time? Do you know where you are channelling your energies and whether you are really effective?

Before we look at the systematic approach to prioritisation, think hard now about how you spend your time. To do this, you could consider filling out an activity log – simply write a list of what tasks you have undertaken in a day or a week, the time you undertook the task and the time spent on them.

Also, by each task, make a note of how you feel physically, be it energetic, tired, stressed etc.

You may be quite pleased to see that you are prioritising your time effectively, or you might be shocked at how important activities are overlooked or given only cursory attention. Perhaps you find you are spending lots of time on futile activities?

As well as helping you understand how you prioritise and spend your time, an activity log may also show you when (i.e. time of day) you perform best – something that is important to planning study time. 

Using this audit approach encourages you to think creatively about allocating your study tasks. For example, you should be able to schedule your most challenging study activities at a time of day when your energy levels are high.

Prioritising can underpin the scheduling technique, or it can be used as a mechanism to determine the structure of a schedule itself. The source for prioritising tasks should ideally be a “to do” list which is just an unorganised list of everything you have awaiting completion.

Prioritisation steps

We are going to look at the steps you might take if you wish to prioritise your weekly activities, based on your “to do” list and encompassing work, personal and learning tasks.


With reference to your list, decide between:

  • Normal tasks
  • Important, urgent, or fixed tasks


Classify the items according to:

  • Significance – impact on your day, reputation, the company
  • Whom the task is for – the importance of the person making the request
  • Urgency – what is the deadline?
  • How long? – will it take you to do the task?


Assess your resources:

  • Your time
  • Support from peers
  • Reference materials
  • Logistics


Prepare a formal list:

  • Which can be accessed easily by anyone
  • Which can be amended and updated easily by you

Eventually, this lengthy process becomes automatic, quick and second nature.