Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Help Students Organize by Prioritizing

Clients and friends have approached me this week about their concerns for children leaving for college. They are understandably proud of their children’s achievements but worry that they won’t be able to handle the demands of college life.

“How do you tell them what they need to do, when they won’t listen?” one father asked.

I think the answer is you don’t tell them. You show them, and you give them the tools to handle stuff as it comes up. The basics of deciding what is most important and managing time are two of the most useful skills for college students-as a matter of fact, for anyone at anytime of life. Skill building can start as early as two-years-old, with parents offering choices and praising good decisions. The longer you have to practice the skill, the easier and more intuitive it becomes

Older folks can exercise some discipline and implement a few tricks to keep them on track. One of my favorites to impart to students (and clients) can be remembered by saying, “Let problems arise; I’m ready.” The first letter of each word reminds the student of the steps to take when trying to balance a lot of priorities or even when needing to complete a project.

The letter “L” stands for list. List everything you need to do.

The letter “P” stands for prioritize. Priorities are a very personal thing and reflect what is most important to the individual. They change with circumstances. New college students want to get settled in their living space, learn their way around campus, meet new friends, line up classes, get books and learning tools, before settling down to getting good grades and finding where they fit in. One of the most challenging things is finding the time to get things done while meeting schedules and deadlines. This step requires some deep thinking, so each person can set up a system that really reflects what he/she wants to accomplish. Most priority setting involves striking a balance between what I have to do and what I want to do.

The letter “A” stands for assign a priority number. Give each item on the list a number for importance. If dealing with a timeline, 1 might be “needs to get done this week.” 2 might be “needs to be done this month”, and 3 might be “needs to get done when I have time.” Priorities do not have to be time related, but this is one of the biggest challenges for students.

The letter “I” stands for integrate new tasks. It would be nice if nothing else came up from the time we set priorities until the time we accomplished them, but that is not the way it happens in the real world. New tasks get assigned, invitations are extended and neat opportunities arise. They should be added to the list and given a priority status.

The letter “R” stands for re-evaluate. This should be done at least weekly to make sure you are getting things done as you need to, and to see if your priorities have changed and need to be re-aligned.

Initial implementation of this system may take a couple of hours, but using it routinely takes only a few minutes a day. It fits nicely in a portable electronic device and it really does keep you on track. I haven’t been a student for a long time, but this worked for me through eighteen years of education and I still use it today to balance personal and business demands.

Maybe the entering college student could give the system a try as they get ready to leave home for the campus. That preparation is a great test for getting things done in a specific timeframe- and family is right there to help and support.

Beverly & Kristen

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