When I look back on life, one of my real regrets is not making more of my college experience. Those years offered unique opportunities to grow in knowledge and wisdom but also to grow in character and godliness. Unfortunately, I was unfocused and immature. I wasted many golden opportunities and excelled only at euchre and finding ways to get by with as little work as possible.
Recently I spoke with my friend Peter Krol, president of the campus ministry DiscipleMakers, and spoke to him about productivity principles for college students. What principles could help students avoid the mistakes I made? Could the kinds of principles I lay out in my book Do More Better provide structure so students could not only make the most of their studies but also make the most of the other opportunities afforded by these unique years? A few weeks later we enjoyed a long lunch meeting and he told me that yes, he thought they could. He offered feedback so helpful I asked if he would write it out for me and for you. I’m grateful that he was willing to do so. Here, then, courtesy of Peter, are “3 Ways College Students Can Do More Better Through Finals Week and Into the Summer.”
According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, almost 75% of American college freshmen consider it “essential” or “very important” to help others in difficulty. Almost 40% want to become community leaders. And both of these figures are at 50-year highs.
Seventeen years of student ministry have shown me that, for many Christian students, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh, as they say, is weak. Or busy. Or swamped, crushed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. And with less than a month remaining in the semester, bare survival has long since snuffed the smoldering wick of idealism. It may be “essential” to help others in difficulty, and it may be “very important” to become a community leader. But right now, we’ve just gotta get by.
Now what if I told you it didn’t have to be that way? What if Ecclesiastes got it right? “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth. … Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). Yes, your youth is vanity. That means this next month will be but a breath, long forgotten by the time you’ve clocked any serious life experience. But the way you handle this breath, this season, could set you up for greater success in the next. And the next. And the next.
With a little effort, we can remove some of your heart’s vexation and some of your body’s pain so you actually can rejoice in your youth. You’ll give God greater glory, and you’ll do more good for others. Here are a few tips.
1. Make a List and Stick to It
As a place to begin, I propose a discipline so simple, you may be tempted to disregard its usefulness. But hear these words of wisdom from my 7-year-old daughter, who included the following in her first self-published masterpiece, the Book of Lists:
What I Do When I Wake Up
- Wake up.
- Jump out of bed.
- Get dressed.
- Go downstairs.
- Do your schoolwork.
- Eat lunch.
- Ask to be askoozd [Editor’s note: excused].
- Hop out of your seat.
- (On Tuesday and Saturday take bath.)
- Play with small toys.
- Eat dinner.
- Get ready for bed. (Get your peejays on and brush your teeth and yous the potty.)
I confess she’s rather extreme. She gets it from her mother, whose first reaction upon reading Confessions of an Organized Housewife was, “I can do better than that.” But don’t miss my point here: A list will streamline your life, and it can do some of your thinking for you. Take 30 minutes to create a master list of every assignment yet to be completed. To do this, gather your syllabus from each course and enter your final exams, papers, and projects into Todoist (or another task management program—learn to use this kind of software!). Assign each task with the proper due date, and order the list chronologically.
Now try an experiment with me. Give yourself no more than 60 hours per week for your work time. Enter those hours on your calendar. During those 60 hours each week, do the following:
- Work hard. No social media, streaming video, or other distractions; only classes and true work time.
- Do the next thing on your list, even if it’s not due for a few more days.
Outside of those 60 hours, don’t do any schoolwork. Spend time with friends, work out, invest in extracurriculars, catch up on social media, and do whatever you find restful and enjoyable in the sight of God. Don’t forget to spend time helping others in difficulty and developing as a community leader. “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). And of course, your options for personal time are not without bounds. “But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
Make your end-of-semester list and stick to it. If you pursue this discipline, I am willing to bet you will not only have a reasonably painless end to your semester, but you’ll be able to get more sleep, beat deadlines, and do greater good for your community. I dare you to try it and prove me wrong.
2. Set Goals for the Summer
Don’t waste your break. Though it may not feel like it, you probably have more discretionary time and money right now than you will have in the next 4 decades. But without thoughtful intentions, your summer will sprout wings and fly to the moon. Come August, you’ll wonder how it went by so fast.
The easiest way to plan for the summer is to set a few goals. Consider:
- What parts of the Bible do you want to read for the first time or study more deeply?
- What books would you like to read?
- What people would you like to meet with for outreach, encouragement, or discipleship?
- What would you like to learn, and from whom? How can you get yourself around people who live the kind of life you would like to live before Christ, so they can rub off on you?
- Where can you volunteer your time?
- How can you get more involved in your church?
- What other projects would encourage you?
I majored in music and minored in classical Greek, so my sort of fun was along those lines. After my sophomore year, I spent the summer transcribing a brass quintet piece from a recording, all for a friend’s wedding the following September. Because the sheet music wasn’t published or available for purchase, I had to spend dozens of hours generating it myself. This project shaped me into both a better friend and a better musician. The following summer, I wrote my own translation of Matthew 1-7. It wasn’t very good, but it strengthened my passion for the ancient language and for God’s word. [A note from Tim: I began a business, hired several fellow college students, and learned how to be an entrepreneur.]
Whatever your lawful passions, find a way to put them to use this summer. Picture yourself four months from now and looking back on your break. What would you like to say you accomplished for the glory of God and the good of others?
3. Create a Productivity System for Next School Year
Your list of books to read this summer should include Do More Better. [Full disclosure: Tim may have threatened to plagiarize my daughter’s Book of Lists (see above) and claim it as his own if I didn’t say this. Or, I may simply believe it to be true. You decide.] The summer provides an opportunity to both reflect on the past school year and prepare for the coming one, and Do More Better describes a vision for productivity and a system of tools that will help you to thrive through the challenges. But you’ll want to get the system in place before the new semester hits. Once the busyness sets back in, you’ll be tempted to slide back into the old ways of doing things. And you’ll be right back where we started this post (willing spirit, weak flesh). [From Tim: If you read the book and have questions or concerns, please get in touch; tell me Peter sent you, and I’ll make sure I provide a personal reply.]
I’m praying for the next generation of students to profess Christ and do more good for the world better. With a dose of courage and discipline, you’ll become effective community leaders, well equipped to help others in difficulty.
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