Time when you had too many things to do–I almost feel it is the case always 🙂, in the fast-paced era we live today. And I do not talk only about a corporate environment. Imagine a typical life–family, a job or two, household duties, perhaps a hobby or two. The days should have 28 hours at least, but the laws of physics cannot be broken. We struggle to get things done, and have to prioritize our tasks. Hiring managers wonder how do you deal with such a situation, and how it impacts you. What do they want to hear from you?

First and foremost, they want to hear that you do not panic. You stay sane, and try to get at least something done, ideally the most important thing. Secondly, that you know how to prioritize your tasks, and actually do not jump from one task to another, without finishing anything at all. And last but not least that you accept things as they are in a typical corporate environment, and do not fight against all the pressure and deadlines. They are present in the workplace, they will ever be present, and you simply try your best to deal with them.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. I tried to include on my list answers for all demographic groups–students, young people, older people, people with two jobs, etc, including people who have never faced such a situation before. You will find a couple of philosophical answers on the list as well, and perhaps you may use them in some competitive situations, when your main goal is to say something different, something the interviewers will remember. Enjoy!


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you had to prioritize your tasks” interview question

  1. I had experienced such a period last fall, when I was preparing for my finals, and at the same had to take care of my younger brother and one part time job I needed. The days seemed almost insane, and I immediately understood I had to prioritize my tasks, unless I wanted to experience a burnout, or do not really get anything done. So I set my priorities clear–graduation was no.1, income no. 2, and everything else went after that. Making a clear schedule for each day, I followed it to the point, and had to forego my hobbies and leisure time activities for a few months. But I eventually managed to pass the finals, keep my part time job, and help my parents with the younger brother. It wasn’t easy, but the experience showed me that one can get a lot of things done if they try hard and plan their days carefully.
  2. It was my daily bread in my last job in retail. The shop was understaffed, and due to the situation in the economy the owner couldn’t afford hiring more people. In normal circumstances, we would keep the shop spotlessly clean and organized, but then, with one person less onboard and a period before Christmas, we just had to let go certain duties, and prioritize the most important task–the interactions with the customers. Because that’s the activity that generates income for the store. It was still stressful, but we managed to meet our sales goals for the holiday period, and things got much better afterwards.
  3. I remember such a time from my last corporate job, with a deadline for an important project looming. Somehow we were behind with schedule on that project, and the time at work just wasn’t enough for us to get things done, and to also progress with other projects. So we put everything else on hold for the week, stayed overtime daily, and worked on this single project only. Eventually we managed to meet the deadlines, but it was also a hard lesson. Since we let the other projects idle, then we fell behind on them, and the entire cycle repeated. To tell you the truth, the heavy workload was the no. 1 reason why I left the job. I know it is hard everywhere, but in my last job it was simply too much. You cannot do 20 hours overtime each week, can you?
  4. Well, I am very young and do not exactly remember such a busy time. But I understand that today virtually all workplaces are fast-paced, and I will find myself in a situation when I need to prioritize my tasks. When it happens, at the start I will consult the mangers and my colleagues with more experience, to help me with my schedule. In some time I should be able to prioritize the work on my own, and make sure that I take care of the most important duties first.
  5. Best experience is from my 12 years old freelancing career. Working as a content writer, I sometimes accepted more clients that I could realistically handle. But I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass, since in this business you never know. A one-time client can easily turn into a repetitive client who will give you a lot of business over the years. In such cases, first thing I did was extending my working days, and working for 4 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. I was ready to make this sacrifice for my clients, and with 4 hours of work on weekends I still managed to have a decent life-work balance. And then I personally approached each client, trying to find out more about the deadline, and whether it was really that hot, or I could deliver the work a bit later. At the end of the day, it is all about planning, and communication. I always eventually managed to deliver the work in a timely manner, though I have not always met the initial deadline. But since I talked with the clients, and we agreed on slight delay, people were satisfied with my work and I managed to successfully freelance for 12 years.
  6. It has never happened to me, because time management and planning are my greatest strengths. I never bite more than I can chew, or accept tasks or projects I cannot handle, considering my existing workload. What’s more, I can plan my days extremely well, making sure I won’t waste more time than absolutely necessary with tasks like emails and meetings. 90% of time at work, I focus on the core of my job, and get things done. Basically at 7 in the morning I already know what I am going to do every minute at work until I leave the office. When you plan your days precisely, and limit all distractions to minimum, you can avoid stressful situations, tight deadlines, and other things people who struggle with planning and discipline often face at work.
  7. I feel like I live such a reality 24/7. Not that I struggle with planning or something similar. Just with kids, two jobs, and a desire to continue working on my skills and education, I just always have to make choices, and often prioritize one thing to another. What I do is trying to find some balance, and make sure that I do not fail in any of my roles. To explain it better, I know I am neither a perfect employee, nor an amazing parent, nor the best student. But I try to be a good father and husband, a responsible employee, and a decent student. And in this way I prioritize my tasks, making sure that I do not neglect any of my roles, just because I try to be perfect in other roles…


Final thoughts

Life’s not easy, and everyone is busy. And while you can try convincing the hiring managers that with your excellent planning and time management, you never fall behind with schedule, or had to prioritize your tasks (check sample answer no. 6), it is more realistic and authentic to actually admit that you struggle at times, and have to prioritize. As long as they see that you can handle it physically and mentally, and have at least some system in your work, they will be satisfied with your answer. I hope at least one of my sample answers resonates with you, and will help you to come up with a great answer when it matters the most. I wish you best of luck in your interview!


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Matthew Chulaw
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