Dear Freshman: Time

The series is finally back, with a few more letters before I graduate. I know it's been a while, so you can go back and read the beginning of the series if you'd like.



Dear Freshman,

There are a lot of sayings out there about time. Trust me, I'm as sick of them as you are, so let's skip the mottos and platitudes and get straight to the point.

In college, your most hoarded resource, possibly even more than money, will be time. So if you know how to budget it from the start, life will be a whole lot easier as you go.

Everyone in college talks about time management, but what does that really look like? Honestly, an effective system is different for every person. There is no one-size-fits-all. But there are a few common factors to successful time management and fitting your needs and your wants into a realistic schedule.

1. Priorities
Everyone has priorities, whether you think about them consciously or not. There are things in your life you value more than other things. At the beginning of every semester — or at any point when you need or want to reorganize your schedule — it's a good idea to start with your priorities. They're different for every person, and you need to be honest with yourself about them. Your list can be as long or as short as you need, with general statements or really detailed items. Whatever works for you. But do make this list and write it down somewhere.

For me, this semester, the top of my priorities list went something like this:

  1. Health 
  2. Classes
  3. Time with my significant other
  4. The student group I lead
  5. Time with friends

My priorities have shifted since making my list. You can adjust the list whenever you need to. Your priorities will also probably look different than mine. Many students, unlike me, play sports. Some people prioritize time visiting nearby family over time with friends from their dorm. You might have a job on campus or a position in school government. Think through all the people, academic activities, extracurriculars, and other commitments in your life, and put them in order.

2. Self Care
This may seem more like a conversation about health rather than time, but self care is a huge step toward successful time management. You can't write your paper in 90 minutes if you're running on three hours of sleep. You can't focus on the reading assignment in front of you if you haven't eaten all day.

Tasks that you have to do, like homework, will take more time when you don't take care of physical needs first. And things you want to do, like going to the on-campus movie screening with your dorm friends, will get squeezed out of your schedule when you haven't finished your homework or you're too tired to keep your eyes open. Stay in touch with your body, and be honest with yourself about what you need. If you need a reminder, when you're filling in your calendar (see the next point), schedule some alone time to take care of yourself.

3. Calendar
A calendar, a schedule, a planner — whatever you call it, use one. Whether you prefer a Google calendar, a handmade bullet journal, or a monthly planner from the bargain bin at WalMart (that would be me), make a system and use it. Record everything in some way: your classes, meetings, events you want to attend, homework due dates, field trips, weekend plans. You don't have to use a ton of detail, just whatever it takes to help you remember everything.

If you have a particularly bad memory (like me) or love lists (also me), I personally recommend carrying a pack of Post-Its with you as well. I get a ton of mileage out of Post-It to-do lists. In the past, I also used a color-coded highlighter system to keep track of homework and activities for different classes. I don't use highlighters anymore, but they were especially helpful during my busiest semester.

Final Note
If I had to choose, I personally think these three things are the most important factors to keep in mind when talking about time management in college. I would also remind you to practice realism, respect, and patience. Be realistic about how much you can handle, and don't commit to more than that. Respect yourself and your needs, while also respecting the time of everyone around you. And be patient, with yourself and with others.

If you find yourself constantly irritated or in a hurry, you've probably slipped up somewhere in this process. Did you act in a way that did not honor your priorities? Did you not sleep as much as you should have last night? Did you skip breakfast? If you commit to a student club, a meeting with a professor, or coffee with a friend, follow through, or tell them you can't come and apologize. Don't keep other people waiting. And when something inevitably goes wrong, no matter whose fault it is, be patient and gracious. There's nothing you can do about it now except take a deep breath and move on.



  1. Self care is something that can be easy to put off when busy. But it can also take time away if put off too long!

  2. I remember back to being in college. I think it is important to have realistic expectations of yourself.


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