Published: October 12th, 2015

One of the first things I had to learn after graduating from high school was task management. All of a sudden there were all of these different responsibilities and assignments that I had to account for and get done, and as someone who was used to just doing as I was told in class, I was overwhelmed. However, I refused to believe that college had to be a mess of sleepless nights, poorly-done assignments, and long hours in the library. I hunkered down and figured out how to organize all of my responsibilities, starting with how I plan out my week.

First, a disclaimer. What works for me may not work for you. How I go about organizing my to-dos now is really a mix of many different systems as I learned from them. The key to learning what works best for you is constant experimentation. Keep what works for you and change what doesn’t. If you fine-tune your system, everything else will fit into its place so that you’ll have time for school, side projects, friends, family, and anything else you want to do. My hope is that this may start you off on your journey to getting stuff done.

Also, I personally use a productivity app called Wunderlist after a few years of trying out different apps. I’ll be basing my example on what I use, but you can use anything you want. The system is transferable.

Step 1: Figure out where your responsibilities are coming from.

Before actually working out the different tasks and appointments we have coming up, we need to see why we have to do them or from where they’re coming from. We all have different ways in which we can divide up the responsibilities in our lives. For example, you can divide what you have to do between personal matters, school, and work. If one area is particularly bloated with activity, you can separate that further. Within work you might have the marketing campaign you’re working on and some social media sites to manage. In my case, I’ve identified six major areas of responsibility: school, AMA, church stuff, personal stuff, writing, and my job. Within a few areas, say, AMA, I have the two subcategories of the Digital Media Committee (DMC) and Roaring Concepts (RC).

Pro tip: Label each of the individual categories at the lowest level with a little three-letter tag. It’ll help in simplifying your list by giving you context for the assignment without having to record too much detail. I have little codes like WRI for my writing or STA for my statistics class.

Step 2: Dump everything.

Once we’ve figured out what are the different sources of your things to do, we’re just going to dump it all in an inbox. Everything. Seriously, this is key. One of the main reasons we feel overwhelmed by everything we have to do is that we try to keep it all in our heads, and so the tasks just nag at us all day. Get it out of your mind. Trust your system to remind you of what needs to be done when you can actually do something about it. Since this is focused on a weekly planning schedule, try focusing on what needs to be done that week, as well as any major projects that need to be addressed over time.

As you write down the task, label it under its appropriate category and take note of the due date. For me, a task would look something like “STA: Do problems 49-59 (10/12/15).” The labels help because now I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m working on math problems from my stats class specifically. I don’t have to make a note of the textbook or anything like that. When I’m going through classes, like Business Communications (COM) or Personal Selling (PS), I look at whatever the syllabus assigns and include that. Anything else that’s hanging out in my mind goes too.

Step 3: Reorganize the list by due date.

This step is simple, especially if you’re using a task management app. Once everything is included properly, use a “sort by due date” function to reorganize all of that for you. If you’re using a physical agenda or calendar, do this as you’re dumping everything.

Step 4: Decide on what to do each day.

So now we have this master list of every single thing we have to do in the week. Some would just use this to guide their work for the week, but I don’t because it is psychologically discouraging. Imagine waking up in the morning and looking at everything you haven’t done. Obviously you couldn’t even dream to finish that in a day, but your brain likes to think so, and guilts you when you don’t. To avoid all that drama, I organize each day’s tasks in the morning.

I have a separate list of to-dos for today. Every morning I first include everything due that day. Then I organize each task according to the time I have. For example, if I have to dart out of my house for class in the morning, but have two and half hours before lunch after that, I will schedule two hours worth of work. As I see that I have time left, I will add more and more tasks. Once the items due that day are scheduled, I add stuff from the next day and so on until I am comfortable with the amount of work I have. Typically, eight tasks is enough; too few and you’re wasting time, too many and you’ll feel overwhelmed. Also, it’s important to have free time every day, but rather than wasting it while procrastinating, get your stuff done first and enjoy yourself after.

Step 5: Get things done!

Armed with your work for that day and you’re ambition, you are now ready to challenge the world! As you go through you’re day, just focus on getting the next thing on your list done. Don’t even think about the next next thing you have to do. Just work through the list. Outline your essay, then practice some calculus, and finally take the rest of your day off because you’re done!

“Action this day; action everyday.” -William Manchester