How to prioritise when you’re feeling overwhelmed

The end of your first course is in sight but you might still feel overwhelmed by the pressures of your accelerated online program. The good news is, you can do something right now to sort your priorities and complete this course successfully.

 

Where do these feelings come from?

It’s not just the stress associated with your study that’s affecting you. Managing work, family and social commitments also add to the strain. By reducing your obligations you’ll find it easier to prioritise, so ask your employer, colleagues or family members to take over some of your daily duties while you concentrate on academic tasks.  You’ll immediately feel better for having done so.

 

The importance of urgent, important, not urgent and not important

Even after you delegate, you still need to prioritise. Using a traditional to-do list might not help you set your priorities; it’s really just a reminder of what needs to be done.  To better prioritise what is important, and what isn’t, you could revert to a grid-based time management system, such as Stephen Covey’s Time Management Grid.

When you utilise a visual grid like this it becomes evident how manageable your tasks could be when you see them in terms of Urgent, Important, Not Urgent or Not Important.

 

Do you need to clear the decks?

Much of the anxiety you’re feeling stems from the importance you place on your postgraduate studies.  Given that pretty much everything you do during your online program is important, a new strategy might be required. Writing in the Harvard Business review1, psychologist Alice Boyes explained a strategy called “Clear the decks”, where just one important task is worked on per day:

“Unfamiliar but important tasks often have a learning curve that makes how much time they’ll take to complete unpredictable. Working on them often feels more clumsy than efficient, which is another subtle factor in why we don’t do them. The “clear the decks” strategy of allowing yourself a full day, even when that seems excessive, can be useful in these cases.”

You might not have the luxury of a whole day to complete a task but by allocating more time in your schedule than you originally did, even an hour or two, you’ll give yourself breathing space. Lightening the load in other areas of your life, with the help of family and colleagues, will allow you to do this, as will a restructure of your study schedule.

 

You need your network

Friends, family and colleagues can take over home or workplace duties, and ease up on the new tasks and responsibilities they hand you. Less to do, means less to prioritise.

Your network should recognise that this sacrifice is a short-term one, and that the long-term rewards make this all worth it. You should remind yourself of this too.

By overcoming this discomfort and these feelings of being overwhelmed as you prepare for your final assessments, you’ll end up in the best possible place.

 

1https://hbr.org/2018/07/how-to-focus-on-whats-important-not-just-whats-urgent