Skills Hub

Prioritising tasks

There is so much going on at university and it can be difficult to fit everything in. If it doesn't feel like you have much time, try to prioritise and see if there is anything you can leave out.

Where does the time go?

It can help to think about how you spend your time. In a day (24 hours) you might spend:

  • 8 hours sleeping
  • 3 hours eating, showering etc
  • 6 hours studying

That leaves 7 hours for everything else, e.g. keeping fit, socialising, household chores, shopping, paid work, family commitments. If you can't understand how you're spending all your hours, try writing a time use diary.

What to prioritise

When you have a lot of work, it's important to prioritise. Write a list of the things you think you need to do. Divide your list into tasks, for example:

  • Reading for tomorrow's seminar
  • Send off CV
Important but not urgent
  • Finish essay due end of week
  • Food shopping
  • Phone home
Not important but urgent
  • Sort out where to go tomorrow night
Not urgent and not important
  • Committee meeting - send apologies and ask someone else to let me know what happens


You may find there are things that you don't need to do at all. If you have too much on, but you can't put anything in the ‘Not urgent and not important' column, look at our tips on learning to say no.

5 steps to time management

1. List tasks
You may not want to be reminded of how much you have to do - but listing all the tasks is the first step in sorting them out.

2. Break down big tasks
Tasks are less overwhelming if you tackle them one step at a time. For example, divide reading for your seminar into small tasks. Work out how much you need to read and how long you've got. Plan to read a certain number of pages per study session.

3. Prioritise your work list
Be realistic about what needs doing now - give yourself just 3 or 4 things to do on one day. Deadlines are the priority, while extra background reading can wait till later.

4. Do one task immediately
If you have a deadline coming up, get that piece of work out of the way first. Tick it off the list, and you will feel calmer. If you're stuck because you don't understand the material, go back to basics and build up from there - or ask for help.

5. Put the other tasks in priority order
Make a plan to tackle your tasks in the time you have available. Don't forget that deadlines and word counts help to define the scope of your work - so don't do more work than you need to.

Look at how the marks are awarded for your module to help you prioritise how long you should spend on your work. A piece of coursework that contributes only 5 percent to the overall module mark should take you far less time than coursework that contributes 70 percent.

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