‘Time waits for no one,’ they tell us. And as my years slip past, they speed up. College is no different: Time is at a premium, with too much to do.
If you are one of those few for whom time management comes easily, then the rest of us could learn from you. But for many of us, time is a perpetual challenge. But take heart: We can learn new habits, skills, and strategies. We can grow in character.
So how to grow in character regarding time management? Proverbs reminds us that ‘He who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys’ (18:9). That is good, but without help, it may leave us hopeless and feeling guilty. But Proverbs reminds us to look beyond our own wisdom and to seek wisdom from others.
It’s taken me a long time, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from others. They’ve helped me, and I hope they help you.
Eat that frog!
This is the title of an anti-procrastination book by Brian Tracy, who seems to have made a living from it. It’s simple: Procrastination is about putting off unpleasant things. So do first the thing you dread most. For some of us, that simply means getting out of bed, but for most of us, there is some task today we do not look forward to. Do that one first.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. And the technique goes like this:
Knowing my time is limited makes it easier to stay focussed for just 25 minutes – especially if I give myself a small reward at the end.
(Thanks to the student who recently mentioned how much the Pomodoro technique has helped him!)
I have learned that if I work more than 90 minutes without a break, it takes me much longer to recover than if I had taken shorter breaks earlier. Pomodoro has 25-minute blocks for a reason. You are no machine. Good breaks make for more work.
Salami: one slice at a time
Similar to Pomodoro with an Italian food name, this is different: You wouldn’t eat a three-kilo salami in one sitting. You eat one slice at a time. After a week, you’ve made a dent in your salami. Likewise, avoid writing your sermon, essay, or reflection in a single sitting. And you write a sermon, an essay, or a reflection one slice at a time.
Expecting too much of yourself is a sure road to discouragement. But setting modest goals, and rejoicing in meeting them, cheers the heart. It just requires starting early.
Hold out for a reward
If you have trouble focussing, then promise yourself a reward if you can keep your head down just a few more minutes: I might make myself a coffee (only a couple in a day, though), or have a piece of (dark!!) chocolate.
Likewise, Written? Kitten! is an effective bit of silliness for when you find it hard to write. Type 100 words in the box, and Presto! You are rewarded with a picture of a kitten. Of course, if you are like me, you will change that to a beagle or some other noble animal.
(And thanks to Katherine Firth of Melbourne, who writes, “I know a serious Biblical scholar who finished a difficult book in a really busy semester by ‘just writing one more puppy before lunch’.”)
Grab a few minutes as you can
Don’t wait for the perfect hour. Rather, if you have ten minutes now, do a ten-minute task. Use your marginal times well.
Go for best hours, good sleep, and sunlight
Know your best hours. For most of us, those are the morning hours to early afternoon, when you are in lectures. So you can’t often use those. But find and use your best other times. And try to do other work (laundry, anyone?), exercise, or business in your worst hours.
Increase your good hours by getting enough sleep. Besides, good sleep is vital to consolidating knowledge and improving analytical thinking.
And sunlight early in the day helps the mind, mood, and learning.
Limit your hours
Seriously. Yes, the workload at College is huge. But leaving every night open-ended and working till you drop, is unsustainable and inefficient.
Research shows that workers who restrict their work to, say, 40 hours per week, tend to get much more done than those who work longer hours.
Why? Well, my suspicion is two-fold: First, these ‘restricted workers’ have a life, and they have life to look forward to outside the office. But second, they know they have to focus during their work hours. Work is no longer open-ended.
Expect to get it done, but don’t expect utter brilliance always
I know of a very good preacher who exited to a (Presbyterian!) church years ago, preached well, but then tried bettering that each Sunday. He soon realised that this ‘skyscraper syndrome’ was a terrible burden and unattainable. And so he aimed instead for faithful, steady, good preaching. And he has reportedly remained a very good preacher ever since.
So too with our studies (or with your future ministries): Aim to achieve a steady level. Aim to be faithful.
Remember your big goal
That is, to grow in skills, knowledge, and godliness. Not to earn the best grades, nor to be admired by others. But to love and serve our Lord faithfully, as he has made us.
Work to your personality
Our Lord has made us different, and you will not work the same as your neighbour. Figure out what works for you. Learn from the wise and apply it with discernment. (We all have to.) Hopefully, you’ll end up a bit less harried, and a bit more relaxed, and not always ‘just putting out the next fire.’