My friend Peter Krol loves the Bible, he loves college students, and through the ministry DiscipleMakers he loves to bring the two of them together so college students can better understand, appreciate, and obey the Bible. I recently spoke to Peter about some of the challenges faced by college students today and asked whether the principles I lay out in my book on productivity might be helpful to them. In response he kindly wrote this article telling why productivity is for college students, too.
God Almighty’s intention to bless every nation has always included young adults and students.
Remember Joseph? Kidnapped and sold into slavery at age 17, he spent the twilight of his teen years serving, and then managing, the household of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Unjustly accused, he found himself in prison for a few more years. But “the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed” (Gen 39:23). These years became his training ground, preparing him to manage Pharaoh’s food stores and rescue the world from disaster. Facing his kidnappers, he could later say with confidence: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5).
Remember Daniel? Also kidnapped and enslaved at a young age, he was forcibly enrolled in Babylon U to study the literature and language of the Chaldeans. After three years at this indoctrination center public institution, he outshone the civil servants and imperial advisors of his day by a factor of ten (Dan 1:20). He outlived and outwitted not only his royal captor, but that king’s successor, and the next as well. Daniel would see the empire itself fall and another take its place (Dan 1:21).
Remember Mary? This favored one, newly engaged and planning a wedding, would certainly have qualified for student loans, had such things existed in the days when Gabriel visited her with life-changing news (Luke 1:26-33).
Of course, these three twenty-somethings helped prepare the world for another young savior. A son of Joseph and Mary would be accused unjustly. And Persian magi, likely informed by the handed-down teachings of Daniel the Wise, would bow before the one born King of the Jews. The young Jesus would himself increase in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), thus preparing for his most fruitful years.
In short, God’s agenda to bless all nations has always involved motivated young adults and college students. Perhaps you’ll be one of them.
Do More Better
In his book Do More Better, Tim proposes a vision and a system for biblical productivity. The vision is to bring the greatest glory to God and the greatest good to mankind. The system involves applying good tools (calendar, tasks, and information) to your areas of responsibility (personal, family, church, work, etc.). The vision and the system work just as well for college students as for other busy adults; college students will just need to account for the seasonal nature of university life. As you prepare for the coming school year, here are a few suggestions to help you implement the system.
Establish Work Hours
Many students complain about how busy they are, in part because too few of them view their studies as they’d view a job. You can buck this trend. Your chief identity may be “college student,” but that doesn’t mean your studies should rule your life—any more than your future career would rule your life. If you plan to reserve time for hobbies, personal growth, church involvement, and family life then, you should begin to do so now.
In my previous post about the end of the semester, I suggested designating a workweek of not more than 60 hours. When I was a student, my work hours were 9-6 Monday through Friday (with an hour lunch break) and 9-3 on Saturdays. I avoided 8 am classes like an evil stepsister. A few semesters required evening courses, and I would adjust my work hours accordingly to buy back some personal time.
But establishing work hours is the easy part. The hard part is consistently treating them as work hours. This means that, when you are “on the clock,” you should be working. Strain out all distractions. Find good places to study. Always work on the next thing, even if it’s not due right away. Resist the urge to goof around if nothing demands your attention.
If you have a class at 9 am and another at 11 am, don’t squander the hour in between. Find a quiet lounge or unused classroom somewhere between the two buildings, and put the hour to good use. Someday, when you have many demands on your time, and children interrupting you at every turn, you’ll appreciate having learned the skill of squeezing the life out of your sporadic down time.
Here’s the beauty of having defined work hours: When they’re over, you don’t have to do any more work that day. Without a trace of guilt, you can set the schoolwork aside and do things you enjoy. Spend time with people. Get to know your hall mates. Attend or lead a Bible study. Join a small group at your church. Participate in a few clubs. Read something just for fun, or go for a jog.
Commit to a Few Extracurriculars, Including Church
This principle follows from the first one. If you establish defined work hours, you’ll be free to commit to other things in the off hours. You can keep your promises to attend extracurricular meetings. You can join and serve your church-away-from-home. You can disciple and be discipled. You can learn a new sport or promote an important cause. You can get to know your peers deeply and win some to Christ. You can get adequate rest.
Before the semester begins, define your areas of responsibility. Sample areas could include: church, campus fellowship, sports team, special interest club, or residential life. Create a “project” for each area, with a view toward developing as a young adult before the Lord.
As you organize your tasks within each area, you’ll be more likely to avoid some of the extremes:
- Recluses make Minecraft, Netflix, and YouTube their only friends.
- Resume-builders join every club while committing to none.
- Relational-types can’t turn down an opportunity to hang out, have fun, or go to a party.
What you do now sets you up for sustainable long-term service to Christ. What will help you grow into a mature, thinking Christian adult and a magnetic influencer of others? Give yourself to those things.
Blitz the Task Manager Early
On or near the first day of class, enter your complete class syllabi into your task manager (such as Todoist). It may feel costly to take 2 or 3 hours to do this. But when you combine these documents into a single task manager, you’ll know, on any day of the semester, exactly what is the next thing you should work on. You’ll save loads of time—and retain peace of mind—from week to week.
Don’t Give Up
In Do More Better, Tim recommends a daily and a weekly review of tasks, appointments, and priorities. If you set up the system before the semester begins, and stick to it week in and week out, your semester just might go smoother than a greased watermelon down a bowling alley.
But you’ll still have crunch times, tempting you to abandon “the system” in favor of “the urgent.” Some weeks will have three or more exams. Or your professors will conspire to overload you with unannounced assignments. Or group projects will involve fellow students who don’t pull their own weight. Or a family crisis will prevent you from focusing on anything for a few days.
During these crunch times, remember that God has given you this lot. And he makes everything beautiful in its time (Eccl 3:10-11). In other words: You are not God, and your life does not consist in the abundance of your pain points. Because God never sleeps, you can sleep (Ps 121). Because God is always working, you can get some rest (John 5:17). The world will continue turning, and life will go on.
Get some help to figure out the next thing, and do it. As soon as you can, get back on the daily and weekly reviews. But if you do abandon the system, you can always learn from the experience and try it again next semester. Don’t give up on it altogether. There’s too much to be done.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).
You don’t need to dedicate four years of your life to vanity. Productivity is for college students, too. May the Lord use these skills to prepare you for more fruitful service to him in the years ahead.