how to prioritize homework assignments

How to prioritize homework assignments: 5 steps

Katie executive function, good habits, homework, productivity, time management

how to prioritize homework assignments

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

Knowing how to prioritize homework is one of the keys to not feeling overwhelmed and falling behind in school.

There are some basic steps to prioritizing homework, which I explain below. But first, let’s get clear on the definition of prioritization.

Prioritization Definition: ranking tasks in order of importance and/or urgency for the purpose of determining which items to give primary attention to.

The goal with prioritizing homework assignments is to figure out which assignments to do first, on days when there’s limited time to begin with. Of course, the expectation is to complete all assignments eventually – but sometimes it really is impossible to complete everything within the time we have available. (Are you doing too much?)

If you have fallen behind in your homework assignments and feel overwhelmed with getting it all done, the following homework prioritization tips can help you climb out of the hole.

Once you’re in the clear, though, it’s critical that you improve your time management skills so that you don’t end up in the same situation again. At the bottom of this post, I list my top time management resources to get you started.

How to prioritize homework assignments in 5 steps

1. Find clarity

You can’t prioritize what you don’t know. Here’s how to get clarity:

a. Get absolutely clear about everything you need to do. Gather all the information from your various sources (Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, emails, classroom whiteboards, assignment notebook, syllabus, teacher, classmates, etc.).

b. Write all of the assignments down on a piece of paper and include the due date of each assignment. Don’t worry about organizing the list right now – just write things down.

2. Sort assignments by due date.

a. Organize your list by putting assignments in order of the earliest due date (at the top) to the furthest due date (at the bottom of the list).

b. Put all overdue assignments in another list on the same sheet of paper.

c. Highlight or star all the assignments due the earliest (most likely tomorrow)

3. Start with the assignments with the earliest due date.

You should start with the assignments due first, which you highlighted in step 2. If you don’t know whether to start with the easy ones or the hard ones, read this.

The reason you should start with the assignments with the earliest due date is so that they don’t become late assignments; we have to stop the bleeding at the source. Also, if you “can’t find time” to work on these assignments, read this.

4. Move on to late assignments.

After you’ve completed all the assignments that are due today or tomorrow, move over to your list of late assignments, which you created in part b of step 2. 

a. Start with the assignment worth the most points. Late is late at this point, so we should prioritize this list by IMPORTANCE instead of DUE DATE.

b. Chip away at this list, one or two assignments at a time, until you’ve completed all the assignments, even if it takes you a few days. Try your hardest not to add any items to this list.

5. Chip away at assignments with further-out due dates.

I suggest alternating step 4 and step 5. In other words, go back and forth between completing late assignments (1-2 at a time) and moving forward on upcoming assignments. Focus on the ones that have the most weight, are the most complex, and will take the longest. This includes assignments like essays and projects.

Final notes on how to prioritize homework assignments

Here’s a quick summary of the 5 steps above:

  1. Figure out exactly what you have to do, and make a list of all your assignments.
  2. Organize the list by due date, and make a separate list on the same paper of late assignments.
  3. First, complete all your assignments that are due today or tomorrow.
  4. Next, move on to completing late assignments and making progress on forthcoming (not due yet) assignments. Alternate between these two lists until you’re done.

Of course, to ensure that you’re not in a situation like this again, tighten up your time management skills with the following resources:

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