what homework to do first

What homework should I do first? The easy stuff or hard stuff?

Katie Azevedo good habits, homework, productivity, study skills, time management

what homework to do first


What homework should I do first?

This is the first question I often hear when a student feels overwhelmed with assignments. It’s also the first thought that pops into my own head when my to-do list runs onto page 17 of my planner! (Swapping out homework for tasks, of course.)

We all have things to do — whether homework assignments, work projects, personal goals, etc. But not all tasks are created equal. Not all tasks take the same amount of time to complete or have the same impact when they’re completed.

So how do students know what homework to do first — the big, daunting assignments? Or the small, quick ones?

The first answer: First do whatever homework is due soonest. Have trouble with procrastination? Here are some procrastination tips.

The other answer to ‘What homework should I do first?‘: It depends. (Least satisfying answer ever. I know.)

A classic Pros and Cons list reveals plenty of reasons to do the quick and easy homework assignments first, and plenty of reasons to do the harder tasks first. Oh … did someone just ask for a Pros and Cons list? Yes! Lists! Here you go:

Starting with Easy Tasks

PROS of starting with easy tasksCONS of starting with easy tasks
Build momentum and confidenceDon’t often have huge impact
Take less timeCan be distracting
Require less thought and energyGive false sense of progress towards larger goals
Require minimal planningCan wear us out over time
Clear the slate to focus on bigger tasksWe can run out of time for the bigger tasks

Starting with Hard Tasks

PROS of starting with hard tasksCONS of starting with hard tasks
Often has more impact on goalsRequires more energy
Feels good getting daunting tasks out of the wayRequires more time
Reduces stress upon completionCan make us feel overwhelmed
Can increase our confidence (If I can do this, I can do anything!Can wear us out before we get to the small tasks
All subsequent tasks will seem easyCan lower our confidence

Despite the above advantages and disadvantages of tackling the easy or the hard homework first, there really is a proper way to approach your homework assignments that will set you up for getting more done. And here it is:

Do what works for you!

How to know what approach works for you

We all work differently and we all respond to pressure differently. If you are easily frustrated and are quick to feel overwhelmed when things get tough, then perhaps you’re the type of person who should tackle the small, quick homework assignments first. In school, start your afternoons by completing the easiest assignments: doing so will motivate you to move onto the harder ones. This is called “grabbing the low-hanging fruit.” At home, same thing: pick up a few items off your bedroom floor before you dig into your deep cleaning routine. At the gym, start your workout with a short walk to warm up before you hit something harder.

On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who tires easily or who gets bored when things are too simple, then bang out the tough stuff first. In school, start with the biggest, most annoying looming homework assignments (even if they’re not due for a while) so you don’t exhaust yourself on the little assignments. At home, get the biggest project out of the way first (clean the garage!), and then pick away at the smaller tasks.  At the gym, go big or go home. (Or go big, go small, and then go home. Ha.)

What I do when I’m trying to figure out what “homework” to do first

Personally, I go back and forth when it comes to choosing which items from my to-do list to tackle first. Sometimes I start with the small stuff, and sometimes I “eat the frog” first. (I don’t really eat reptiles. “Eat that frog” is the title of an awesome book about time management by Brian Tracy. It’s an expression that refers to killing the big, gross assignments first.) It sort of depends on my mood on a particular day, how much free time I have (scattered moments vs large chunks), and what the task or project is.

So my final advice is this: If you’re constantly questioning what homework should I do first, try both ways.

Try starting with the small tasks and see how you feel. Then another time start with a big task and see how you feel. Compare how productive you were (or weren’t) and how you felt during each approach.

Another idea is that you could start with a small homework assignment, then do a hard one, and then take a short break. Do another small homework assignment, do another hard one, and then take another short break. Keep going until you’re done with all your assignments.  

So this homework strategy looks like this:

Small Assignment + Big Assignment + Short Break (Repeat as many times as you need)

You can use this strategy over the course of a single afternoon, or over the course of a week. Or, like, forever, really. So the next time you’re wondering what homework should I do first, try alternating between easy and hard tasks, while paying attention to how much you actually get done. And then you’ll find your answer!