This article by Bill Johnston is intended to help nervous First Term newcomers to universities and colleges, and slightly apprehensive new 6th Form students. So many topics to research and write about, subjects to research, read about, give your valuable time to – you may not be great at self-organising, and it is possible to quickly feel overwhelmed. How to prioritize and work through that A-Z list more efficiently? It would be good if senior tutors had the time to explain prioritizing to new under-graduates; even better if teachers could introduce much younger pupils why and how to value it.

I was untroubled and unfazed by ‘prioritizing’ when I started work at 17. I’m 81 and remember that as a young trainee reporter, I had mostly one job at a time, one story, one interview, one write-up. Much later as a busy and multi-tasking Press and Public Relations Officer person, it did arise, constantly, but for a long time I never ‘got a grip’. Lists, yes, I made them all the time. One had a dozen ‘need for action’ subjects and topics running down an A4 page. No real priorities presented themselves so I just struggled through. Then stalemate arose when I was once faced by a list of 49 ‘jobs, ‘tasks’, ‘projects’, ‘problems’ or ‘people’ to deal with. Prioritizing was essential. I shilly-shallied and gave myself a headache. I talked it over with my smart South African boss and he offered two solutions that worked for him. Here was my breakthrough. First you might use make disciplined use of the squared off A4 ‘Jobs page’. Better still, from his experience, he recommended the more highly visual ‘Jobs Tree’. First, let’s look at the squared off, vertical A4 page. Draw a line DOWN the centre of the page. Then draw a line ACROSS the page say an inch and a half from the top (1.5 decimal or 4 cm metric). Repeat this, going DOWN the page, so you end up with a total of say SIX rectangular boxes, each side of the centre line, 12 in all. I’m sorry if this sounds as though one is talking to a dunce, I’m sure you get it! Each job or task or whatever gets one box, outlined briefly. You then study the page calmly, allocate priorities, and mark one to 12; today, tomorrow; morning, afternoon, evening. Bob’s your uncle -or there you have it, as the phrase is. You’ve got a helpful quick-read visual which makes prioritizing easier. And thinking it through, decision-making, as less time is wasted through indecision, deferring or postponing. That goes for the ‘Jobs to do’ Tree – it becomes a visual which encourages a helpful calmness when faced with what to do next. The Tree is drawn in the centre of the page, which can be A4 positioned horizontally or vertically – I prefer horizontal. Whichever used, the Tree rises from the bottom, goes up three-quarters of an A4 page. A dozen or more branches spread out left, right and top. At the end of each branch, instead of a leaf, you briefly write the job or task. Today we have to add all those arising from laptop work, emails, phone calls, Skyping, social media, and more.

How to use this Tree (below): shown here are Key Subject heads you might have to approach or work with. You DO NOT put them on your Tree you are drawing up – just the ACTUAL jobs, tasks, projects, problems, or people relevant at this time. Next to each leaf you put a brief note on one (or related small group of) job, task, project etc. Then calmly consider Priorities – 1, 2, 3 and so on. Keep it simple. Keep calm. Good luck !


To download your own tree, please click here and save the image and print it out.

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