Just Starting Out! 7 Priorities for New Student Leaders (#5)

There is a valuable resource that each of us possess. In fact, everyone gets the same amount of it. But we don’t use or invest it in the same way.

The resource is time.

Time is a fixed entity. Everyone experiences 24 hours in a day. No matter how you measure it or market it – we all have the same amount of time.

I know time is valuable because of the way people talk about it. We describe our use of time with terms like spending, investing, making the most of, and not having enough of. Time is a resource as valuable as money.

As a student leader, you have one year. A certain and fixed amount of time. How you invest, spend, and make the most of this one year will be dependent upon how you manage your calendar.

The fifth priority is to create your timeline.

Your calendar is one of the best tools you have for managing and making the most of your time. Think of your student leadership year as one big timeline with a starting point and an ending point.

There will be a tendency and a temptation for you and your team to begin living from event to event. When this happens, every activity, task and project will seem like a race, with you and your team one step behind. You’ll be hanging on as you move from one thing to the next with no sense of connectedness or purpose. You’ll simply feel busy.

A leader doesn’t have to fill in all of the dates on the timeline him or herself. But he or she does have to monitor it and manage the highs and lows that inevitably come during each student leadership year. Here’s some of the ways you will benefit by having a timeline:

1. Work from one timeline.
I’ve been using the terms calendar and timeline interchangeably. A timeline is simply a linear calendar that has a beginning and end. A timeline helps you put things in order chronologically. You can create your timeline in a planner or in Google Calendar or on a giant whiteboard. The important thing to remember is to have only one. Don’t piece your timeline together from multiple places. Keep one timeline in one place. Let me say it again – create, correct, and edit one timeline throughout your student leadership year. Pick one format and stick with it.

2. A timeline gives you perspective.
People fall prey to the event-to-event lifestyle when they lack perspective. A timeline helps you to see what’s next. It also helps you to see what’s coming. A leader knows what needs to happen in the present moment but can also see one to three months ahead. If you don’t maintain this type of Big Picture  perspective, your team will get blindsided at some point during the year. A lot of calendar crisis moments can be averted if you help your team view the timeline from a variety of perspectives.

3. A timeline helps to create space for excellence.
Your most creative and quality work occurs when there’s some space in your schedule. It happens when you’re able to carve out some time to focus. A timeline helps you to set aside creative space to do your best. As you’ll see with #5, putting on an event may require you to plan for this creative space a few weeks before the event occurs. If you are always waiting until the last minute to pull off an event or plan an activity, you limit your options. Just getting things done is not excellent work.  While there may be moments where everyone has to jump in and put something together at the last minute in order to make it happen, that should be the exception and not the norm.

4. A timeline gives you a reason to say no to certain things.
It’s important to put all of your big events and most time-consuming activities on the calendar first. Make sure to add in the traditional events everyone is counting on. Then, begin to add in some of the extra things you would like to accomplish throughout the year. But make sure you don’t overload your team with busy work. Once the priority events are on the timeline, ask yourself if your team realistically has the time (with everything else they’re involved in) to accomplish something else. There are so many great things you could accomplish, but not all of them can be accomplished. I encourage my students to focus on providing four activities that score an “8” (on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being excellent), than to provide eight activities that score a “4.”

5. Your timeline should contain all of your deadlines.
An activity or event will occur on a certain date and at a certain time. But you and I both know there is a lot that needs to happen before that time in order to pull this thing off. This is the beauty of deadlines. I encourage our student leaders to “plan backward and implement forward.” That means we start with the date of the event on our timeline and then work backwards. There are certain tasks that need to be accomplished one week, two weeks, three weeks, etc. before the event. We put those on our timeline. We ask questions like: How soon before the event do you get publicity out? When are deposits due? Have we reserved the space and equipment? These are the types of deadlines that need to be placed on your timeline.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to managing a timeline than simply putting due dates and deadlines on it. It requires an almost daily awareness of the leader to know where the team is at and constantly remind them of what’s ahead. The timeline is a tool every student leader needs to manage and maintain through their student leadership year.

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