“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
As the Psalmist reminds us, life is short. In the span of a lifetime (and eternity), four years come and go like a vapor, as do the opportunities that come in college.
With high school now in your rear view, navigating the opportunities ahead is likely exciting but daunting. As you anticipate finding your niche in the many clubs, organizations, teams, societies, and ministries on campus, I’d encourage you to develop a strategy for good stewardship. After juggling a lot in high school, you’ve likely figured some things out by now. But, whether or not time management is one of your strengths, know that there will be even more to manage in college—where greater freedom from parental oversight and increased freedom to get involved make for a thrilling yet overwhelming experience, especially at first.
From one Grover to another, here are five time-management strategies I found helpful throughout my four years on campus. If you want to thrive and not just survive, consider keeping these tips in mind as you develop your own strategy for stewardship.
1. Write everything down.
- From keeping a detailed planner to using Post-It notes, having a visual reminder (whether on paper, laptop, or phone) can keep you up to date. Having separate to-do lists for monthly, weekly, daily, and ongoing tasks can also keep you on track.
- In college, most due dates for readings, quizzes, exams, papers, and projects are typically assigned in the syllabus provided on the first day of class. So, at the beginning of each semester, sit down with your syllabi, calendar, and some colored pens, and map out the next four months, highlighting important dates you can easily see at a glance. Also be sure to include any extra-curricular commitments and events as they come up.
- Then, sometime over each weekend, create a to-do list for the week ahead with goals broken up into doable chunks. Give yourself grace when you don’t reach all your goals right away, and learn to set realistic goals up front so you won’t get discouraged. Also, don’t underestimate smaller, non-school-related tasks like laundry or working out—write ’em down, check ’em off!
2. Work ahead.
- That paper isn’t due until next month—I have plenty of time. Well, next month will sneak up on you before you know it (as well as other random to-dos that tend to pop up at the most inconvenient times). While keeping up is good, getting ahead is even better. Some practical ways to stay on top of things include:
- Being well acquainted with your calendar so you know what’s around the corner—tomorrow, next week, and even next month (that’s where the highlighting of important dates comes in handy).
- Value small snippets of time—that hour of free time between lunch and your 2:00 class, those 30 extra minutes gained from ending practice early, and the 10-15 minutes between lab and dinner. Even if you only get through five pages of your 50-page reading assignment for Friday’s discussion of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, it’s still five pages fewer you’ll have to read tomorrow.
- If you have a group project for organic chemistry, email your group to set up times to meet ASAP—don’t expect things to just happen organically. If you have to sign up for a Spanish oral exam, figure out a date that works for you and commit. The sooner you solidify your schedule, the easier it’ll be to plan and prepare. BUT, be ready to adapt when due dates get moved up or pushed back, or when a sick day throws a wrench in your perfect plan of attack.
3. Work hard, but also work smart.
- Prioritization is one of the hardest but most important skills to learn in college (and in life). Before you prioritize, have some goals in mind for each class and activity that demands your time. What do you want to get out of this class? If you can’t get it all done, are there any corners you can cut (with integrity)? When your Western Civ midterm is coming up, you may have to focus on preparation for that and settle for a less-than-stellar quiz grade in your Bible class that week. Or, say you’ve got an important interview tomorrow for an internship but you don’t feel prepared for lab. Best-case scenario, you conquer both. But when you have to choose, ask yourself what’s more important for the long run, and focus on that.
- Also, let yourself rest when you need to. Once 1 or 2 am hits, studying an extra hour for an exam might actually do more harm than good. And don’t underestimate the power of a nap—even 20 minutes can do wonders to get you through a long night.
4. Learn to say “no” so you can say “yes” with more gusto.
- While being surrounded by other Grover achievers can make it tough to choose from all there is to do, know that sometimes it’s okay to, for example, decline an invitation to hall dinner on an evening when grabbing a quick bite from the GeDunk allows you to cut to the chase and crank out that first draft of your research proposal.
- When you’re committed to working hard when duty calls, you can more freely play hard when opportunities arise to spend quality time with friends. So be okay with missing out every now and then so you can fully enjoy a well-deserved night out (or in).
5. Carve out time for the Lord.
- On Martin Luther’s busiest days, he would “spend the first three hours in prayer” (compared to two hours on his average morning). Using that as an example, don’t let busyness keep you from digging into the Word and seeking wisdom through prayer—both of which tend to provide the extra boost needed to overcome the stress, exhaustion, or frustration of a hectic week or season. Easier said than done, I’ll admit, but keep in mind that God is the one who created time, and He can redeem it too.
Being a good steward of your time is not merely some ticket to success—it’s actually something that God commands us to do, as he commanded Adam and Eve at the dawn of time to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and take dominion over it. Likewise, we’re called to take dominion over our time, talents, and opportunities to produce fruit—for God’s glory and the common good.
So take the time you’re given seriously. Consider it a gift. Beware of procrastination. And pray for wisdom and direction as you face daily decisions about how to spend those precious moments that come and go more quickly than we expect.
Thanks for your time.