Building Towers and Counting the Cost: Time Management at College

Posted On November 04, 2020

Written by Dr. Matthew Dudreck, associate professor of New Testament

One of the most frequently asked questions professors get from college freshmen is, “How do I manage my time more effectively?” After all, who would’ve thought that engaging in late-night milk drinking contests in the dorm or apartment the night before midterm week was a bad idea? Indeed, many would be surprised to learn that the place to engage in focused, time-sensitive, even contemplative work is not at the local hipster coffee shop closest to campus, where there is always live “almost good” music and everybody and their second cousin from school is there “studying.”

All kidding aside, time management can often be an elusive skill, even for the naturally gifted student or seasoned scholar. A key aspect to managing one’s time effectively in the unique context of college often comes down to one’s skill in goal setting. A helpful acronymic way to describe and develop this skill is to set “SMART” goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). The following briefly breaks down what this may look like in the college context.

Goals must be specific. It is not enough to have the general intention to do well or work hard. The best asset for the student here is the course syllabus. There is likely nothing more effective in setting specific goals than having a thorough knowledge of each course syllabus. All assignments, exams, and other course requirements are explicitly laid out, both in their order and timing, in the syllabus. Mastering this content at the same level as your required reading will pay dividends in spades. In short, study each syllabus closely. Your professors will love you for it!

Once you know your specific goals (because you studied the syllabus), you want to make sure they are also measurable. The course syllabus is a valuable asset in this area as well, since every good syllabus will list “course objectives and outcomes.” These measurable goals help you identify and describe what the concrete, objective evidence will look like if you’ve successfully completed the course. More than simply executing tasks, effective time management involves being able to evaluate whether you’ve reached your goals, enabling you to move on and advance to the next.

You can’t do everything. So, you need to ask yourself, based on your current knowledge, resources, abilities, and time, whether your current goals are attainable. If not, you need to develop the healthy habit of saying “no” to otherwise good and worthwhile things. This is hard to do when a flood of new opportunities rushes at you for the first time at college. It is better to readjust the amount and nature of your goals and succeed than to become overwhelmed and fail. Along similar lines, you need to ask yourself whether a particular perceived goal is relevant to your big-picture goals and objectives at college.

Finally, goals must be timely, and there is a twofold dynamic to this. First, goals need a completion date—they need to be “on-time.” However, it is often the case in college (and life) that many obligations and tasks share formal due dates. One must plan to create a personal schedule to spread out all of one’s goals so that completing them is manageable. Second, in order to achieve manageability, goals must be “time-based.” If one is unsure how long it will take to accomplish a particular task or goal, ask older students and professors how long a particular assignment or task typically takes. Don’t even be afraid to ask your professor what a hard time limit would look like for a particular assignment. They understand you can’t spend every waking hour on their individual class…except for Greek. Spend every waking hour on Greek.

Dr. Matthew Dudreck is associate professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College.