How to Get Your Priorities Straight in College

College is full of a whole host of exciting and wonderful things. Not only are you pursuing your future—an education, a degree, a career—but you’re meeting loads of new people, trying new activities and extracurriculars, and being exposed to all sorts of different opportunities.

Between intermural volleyball practice, your roommate’s movie night, your Tuesday night study group, five textbooks waiting to be read, class, and that ten-page paper you have to write by Friday, how are you supposed to figure out what takes priority and what doesn’t? Figuring out your priorities can be a challenge—everyone has different values and different responsibilities. Sure, your roommate might be able to stay out with friends until 1:00 a.m., but he or she may also not have class the next day when you do.

We’ve put together a few things to consider as you contemplate your priorities and what should take precedence first versus what should be closer to the end of your list.

1. Make a list

If you have a ton going on during a certain month, it can feel very overwhelming if everything is jumbled in your head—particularly if everything seems like a priority.

The first thing to do when you’re trying to sort everything out is making a list. When you begin, don’t worry about the order of things or how important they are. Once you’ve got everything down on paper, out in front of your eyes, then you can start figuring out where each thing goes. Write out the deadlines of all your tasks, and then start organizing them by day, week, and month. That thing that is due next month might not be a priority this week, but you might need to start working on it next week in order to give yourself enough time.

2. Work backward

If you’re working on deadlines, this is a great way to figure out everything you need to get done and in the right order. Start with the day something is due and work backward from there. If the final draft of your paper is due on Friday, when should you have a rough draft finished by? When do you need to proofread? When do you need to have all your research done? When do you need to actually write the paper? When do you need to conduct your research? When do you need to have a topic chosen by?

Running through a list of questions like this can help you determine how many steps your project actually has before completion, and it can help you break those up into manageable-size bites. It will also help you determine when you actually need to start working on something in order to get it done in time for the due date.

3. Break everything up 

Speaking of breaking things up into steps, breaking down big projects into manageable pieces can really help you from feeling stressed out. Sometimes complicated projects can feel really overwhelming because it’s difficult to determine where to start. Working backward and breaking up each step into smaller bits allows you to focus on just one thing at a time instead of a whole slew of things all at once. Once you’ve broken everything up and assigned it a day and time in your planner, make a pact with yourself to only focus on the one task or set of tasks you’re working on during any given day. If you look at everything you have to do all at once, it’s easy to feel buried in a flood of tasks.

4. Consider the value

Assessing the value of a task can be tricky, but it’s important to consider your own values as well. Sure, you might need to go run some errands, but if you have a friend who really needs a listening ear, you might consider bumping that task to the next day. Of course, some things really can’t wait another day, and if your homework deadline is really pressing, you can assume that task has a very high value.

Considering your physical, spiritual, and emotional health, as well as how other people are impacted is a good way to determine a priority. And when it comes to school, remember that you’re assignments are not only impacting you but your future self as well.