A Black businesswoman multitasking on a park bench

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How to Decide When to Work on What: 3 Simple Tips for Balancing Responsibilities

Life is full of responsibilities. Whether your young or old, gainfully employed or on the job hunt, a student or a recent graduate, there’s no shortage of people and tasks vying for your time. And in a world where it’s commonplace to juggle multiple jobs or school and work, let alone family commitments and other relationships, it’s also common to struggle with balancing everything. It’s common to struggle with prioritizing responsibilities. With deciding when to work on what.

So, keep it simple.

If you don’t overthink it, figuring out when to work on each thing on your to-do list, and for how long, can become easier than anticipated. Here are three simple tips to help you decide when to work on what so you can better balance (not just juggle) your responsibilities.

1. Focus on what’s fully in your control

You can only control what you can control. It’s a simple fact, but it’s also easy to forget, especially when school due dates or workplace deadlines draw closer. Yet keeping this fact in mind can make it easier to decide when to work on what by narrowing things down. After all, it’s extremely rare that everything will be fully in your control. 

If you’re waiting on a coworker to send you the latest data so you can complete your quarterly report, do what you can without that data, then move on to something else until you receive it.  Waiting for your roommate to arrive with the dishwasher pods? Load up the dishes now so you can start a cycle as soon as your roommate gets back. At work, at home, and everywhere else, focus on what’s fully in your control. 

2. When you’re in a zone, stay in the zone

In team sports, if someone gets going, you feed the hot hand. You let them cook. The same can be true for how we handle our own responsibilities, only it’s up to you to let yourself keep cooking.

In the zone preparing for one presentation but also need to complete a report for another project? As long as you’re flowing, and you’re not already crunched for time on the report, keep preparing the presentation. Both things need to be done, but stopping while you’re in a zone may prolong the total time it takes you to complete all your work. 

Think about it. When you’re in the zone, you’re performing a task with great efficiency. Pull yourself out of the zone, and by the time you get back to that presentation, it might take two hours to do what you would’ve been able to do in one. Worse, it might take you longer than typical to complete your report too as you struggle to shift your mind from focusing on the presentation prep you were locked in on. So, if you let it, being in a zone can make it easy to decide when to work on what. When you’re in the zone for one project, keep working on that project.  

3. Plan your work and work your plan—don’t get sidetracked

Whether you use a digital calendar, a spiral-bound planner, or some other system, it can be helpful to plan your work in advance. Right down when to work on what, and what you need to do for each thing you’ll work on. Then work that plan.

When you finish whatever it is you needed to do for something you’re working on, move on to the next thing. (Unless you’re in a zone, in which case it may be best to keep cooking until you’re out of gas.) Don’t linger on a project longer than you need to. Don’t waste time—it’s your most valuable asset. Keep things moving. 

Plan your work. Work your plan. Don’t get sidetracked. Do that, and you won’t waste time struggling to decide when to work what when your day is already underway. Do that, and you’ll start balancing your responsibilities instead of merely juggling them.

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