Managing your workload

Semesters are short – just 12 teaching weeks long. Many students find that the first semester (September to December) in particular goes by in the blink of an eye: just when you feel that you are starting to find your feet, exams descend upon you! You have a lot of work to pack into those 12 weeks and you need to ‘hit the ground running’ to stay on top of it. Just like an athlete, you will need to develop some kind of a plan in order to achieve your goals. Start by checking out the academic calendar to be clear about key dates in the academic year. 

Planning and prioritising

Being able to plan and prioritise your work are key skills for success. You may find that a number of important deadlines fall around the same time, so it’s important to plan ahead to avoid last-minute panic. Use a monthly or yearly wall planner to note key deadlines and work back from them (the Students’ Union have a useful wall planner that is distributed for free and there are plenty of free templates available online as well). Take note of public and university holidays. You might like to use our assignment planner to record all of the assignments due in each semester as they are given to you.

To get a handle on your workload, jot down everything you can think of that needs to be done (whether related to your study goals or not), how long you think that each task will take, and when they need to be done by. Use our to-do list template if you find it helpful.

Now that you have a list of ‘things to do’, how will you prioritise these tasks? One simple way is to assign the letter A to those tasks that are both urgent and important, letter B to those tasks that are either urgent but not important, or important but not urgent, and letter C to the tasks that are neither urgent nor important. Now you have a good idea of which tasks need to be prioritised (that is, your A tasks).

Note that the status of particular tasks may change over time. So what was a B task last week might become an A task this week, and so on. You might find it helpful to complete this simple planning and prioritising exercise on a weekly basis, but with an eye to key deadlines over the next number of weeks. 

Task analysis

Task analysis involves breaking a task down into its constituent parts. Most tasks require completion of a series of steps or sub-tasks. Breaking tasks down in this way can help to make a seemingly overwhelming task more manageable. Use our guide to task analysis if you’d like to have a go at developing this skill.

If it gets too much

If you feel that your workload is becoming unmanageable, and this is causing you distress, ask for help. Contact your academic advisor or your  lecturers or tutors (see our email templates in the Communication Skills section of the Academic Skills Hub if you are unsure about how to phrase an email to academic staff). Have a word with your student mentor or CÉIM/PAL leader. Try the Library’s Academic Skills Hub desk, attend the drop-in service offered by Student Counselling or arrange to talk with one of the Chaplains. Feeling that your workload is getting on top of you can be a signal that you need to work on improving your organisational skills. Remember as well that these skills, like all skills, will improve with time and with practice. 


  • Goal-setting activity sheet

    Goal-setting activity sheet PDF (116 KB)

  • Tips for Note-Taking

    Tips for Note-Taking PDF (123 KB)

  • To-do list template

    To-do list template PDF (106 KB)

  • Guide to task analysis

    Guide to task analysis PDF (118 KB)

  • Weekly planner I

    Weekly planner I PDF (121 KB)

  • Weekly planner II

    Weekly planner II PDF (124 KB)

  • Weekly planner III

    Weekly planner III PDF (108 KB)

  • Addressing Procrastination

    Addressing Procrastination PDF (122KB)