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Prioritization is a key tool in the arsenal to organize your life. Doing it all is impossible; prioritizing what’s crucial is within reach. By declining what doesn’t serve your highest goals, you can give your laser focus to what matters.

Image of cute girl with glasses and a book on top of her head.

How to structure an essay

Essay writing is a key component to academic success at every level. It is, essentially, the way in which people within the academic community communicate with each other. Thus, there are fundamental ways in which academics structure their work and formal ways of communicating what they have to say. Writing essays is not simply a hoop for students to jump through. The vast majority of instructors and professors also write essays at a professional level, and they do not ask of their students anything less than the standard that is asked of them.

Where too many students go wrong in writing their essays is in either failing to plan ahead (not giving sufficient, care, thought, or time to the process) or in not understanding the expectations of essay writing. Of these expectations, appropriate and effective essay structure is critical. Students often lose valuable marks by failing to structure their essays clearly and concisely to make the best of their ideas.

First, consider what an essay is. What is it supposed to do? At its core an essay is simply an argument. Now, by argument we don’t mean a slanging match between two angry people. Rather, we are talking about a formal argument. An idea or a claim, which is supported by logic and/or evidence.

Imagine the following scenario: you feel the time has come to approach your boss about getting a raise at work. Imagine yourself walking into your supervisor’s office and requesting that raise. Almost automatically, your mind formulates a rhetorical structure. There are effective and ineffective ways of asking of making such a request. The effective strategy will have a logic and an order. You will firstly claim that you deserve a raise. And you will give evidence to support why you deserve that raise. For example: you are a hard worker, you are never late, you have the admiration and respect of your colleagues, you have been offered another position elsewhere and you want the pay matched. And so on. And you would probably wrap up your discussion with an overview of of why giving you more money is important.

Step 1: Let your priorities lead

When the future is uncertain, we need our priorities to be blazingly obvious to us all the time. Otherwise, we spin our wheels on tasks that might be priorities for others but not for us, or that might be easy to do but not that important. Without clear priorities, we often become overwhelmed by all there is to do. To avoid that, we need to decide on our top priorities and then spend 95% of our time doing only those activities, saying “no” to everything else as much as possible.

Spending 95% of my time on these top priorities leaves only about five hours a week for other things—the other 5%, the things that aren’t real priorities, but often need to be done. Most days, my 5% time is mostly spent answering emails and doing administrative work that is unrelated to the above priorities.

Organize work and life.
For good.

3. Embrace your natural inclinations

“The best book is the one you can’t put down. The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing every day. The best health food is the one you find tasty. The best work is the work you’d do for free.” – Naval Ravikant

The only problems? You’re a night owl who does your best work at 12AM, you love a good steak, and a good film is how you unwind. To organize your life, opt for habits that fit with your natural inclinations. Be realistic about yourself and embrace what you can conceivably commit to for the long haul.

4. Consistency over perfection

For many of us, an “all-or-nothing” attitude can be a source of self-sabotage. When we fail to meet the unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves, we throw in the towel altogether. By understanding the impact of incremental progress and the power of compounding effort, we can be more realistic and get more out of life.

Organize Your Life Opt out of unrealistic plans that set you up for failure

Opt out of unrealistic plans that set you up for failure

Unrealistic plans set us up for a spiral of shame and regret when we ultimately fall short of our goal. Make consistency a part of your life and get used to imperfection. By opting for continuous effort towards a realistic aim we create more room for everything we want to do in life.

5. Find balance

In our attempt to do it all and organize our lives perfectly, balance is often a casualty. Instead of getting to bed, you stay up coding deep into the night. Rather than meeting with friends, you study all weekend for an upcoming midterm.

Examples of Structure

So how can all of these pieces be put together? Again, the form a community group takes should be based on what it does, and not the other way around. The structures given are simply meant to serve as examples that have been found to be effective for some community-based organizations; they can and should be adapted and modified for your own group’s purposes.

A relatively complex structure

Image depicting a complex organization showing a large circle entitled Community Trustees. Outside this circle are three smaller circles with bidirectional arrows leading to/from the larger circle: “Community members; Collaborators; Supporting Organizations (funders, TA orgs).” Inside the large circle is a small circle entitled Coordinating Committee. Four other circles connect to this central circle: Support Committees (e.g., financial, media) and three Task Force circles, each with smaller Action Committee circles connected to them.

Image of a diagram depicting Mid-size Structure. A large circle entitled Community Trustees contains three smaller circles: One Coordinating Council and two Action Committee circles connecting to it.

As smaller size means fewer people, these groups are usually less complex, as they have less need for a formal hierarchy and instead have governance that is consensus-based. A diagram of such a small group might look something like this, with each of the circles representing an individual member:

Image of a Small-size Structure with no text labels, just six circles interconnected to each other.

What type of structure should you choose?

First, decide upon the formality your organization will have. The following table, adapted from The Spirit of Coalition Building can help you make this first decision.

Now, relax

Have you ever woken up worrying about an unfinished project, an email you forgot to send, or a meeting you didn’t have a chance to schedule? Lingering to-do items drain our energy and interrupt our focus (and, sometimes, our sleep). It turns out, we just need to tell our brains when we will do what we need to do so they don’t nag us.

Researchers used to think that this low-level worrying about unfinished tasks was our unconscious mind trying to get things done by reminding us of what we still needed to do. The belief was that the reminders—or distracting thoughts and worries—would persist until the task was complete.

But research suggests that simply making a plan to deal with an unfinished task makes a huge difference in our ability to focus. It’s not so much about knowing what needs to be done as it is about deciding when to do it. When we don’t know when or how we will finish the things on our task lists, our thoughts will typically wander from our current task to our undone tasks; this is called the “Zeigarnik effect.” As it turns out, our unconscious mind isn’t necessarily nagging us to do that undone task right now, but rather to make a plan for when we will get it done.

To handle this, you can either schedule a task on your calendar, or designate it as an action item or quick task. This is all, it seems, that our brain needs to let something go.

When we don’t have a structure, blazingly obvious priorities, and a plan, distractions inevitably take over. Other people (and email) dictate our to-do lists. So instead of keeping a neverending to-do list of things you really (really!) hope to accomplish in a given day or week, this simple system can help you start each day with a concrete plan for what you’ll work on and when.