An exciting time of year is approaching for students and faculty at colleges around the country: fall graduation. Thousands of students will complete the final leg of their education journey. The crowning moment will be taking part in their graduation ceremony. Anticipation is rightfully high among soon-to-be graduates. They are the envy of nearly all other students at their institution for whom work remains to complete their degree.
A running joke in my classes this time of semester is to ask how long it is until graduation. Someone in class has a countdown clock (like the one pictured above) set to the scheduled time for Commencement. They can tell me the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the big event. Asking the question elicits laughs from students, but it also should serve as pause for reflection. Do we put too much emphasis on the countdown and not fully enjoy the journey that takes us to the end goal?
Be Careful What You Wish For
This week’s One to Grow On quote comes from boxing great Muhammad Ali. His words encourage us to focus on getting the most from each day instead of wishing away days in a countdown. Please do not misunderstand, I love the anticipation of counting down to a milestone or goal as much as anyone. What can get lost in the excitement of a countdown is finding joy and value in the days that lead up to the end result.
I learned not to get too consumed in the countdown several years ago. My youngest son was in preschool, and as his final preschool year dragged on I thought about how nice it would be to have him on the same school schedule as his older brothers the next year. In my mind, I was rushing him through preschool to have a more convenient schedule. On the day of his preschool “graduation” ceremony, it dawned on me that we were moving on from this stage of his life forever. As our youngest child, my wife and I would never have the opportunity to take one of our children to preschool again. I cried when realizing I had foolishly wished away a few months of time for the sake of convenience. In short, I counted down the days when I could have done more to make the days count.
Make the Days Count
Let’s modify Muhammad Ali’s point—you can count down the days and make the days count. The aim should be to create value while counting down toward reaching a goal. For example, a college student who is counting down the days toward the end of the semester should identify tasks that must be completed and schedule them. Have a research paper to write? Select the days you will work on the paper and follow through on the plan. Final exams have been scheduled for weeks; set a plan for studying and work toward that goal. The journey will be more enjoyable and less stressful than if you realize the night before a final exam that it would be a good idea to study for it.
Advice on project management (i.e., a countdown to completing a major task or responsibility) is plentiful. The point is do something so that you are managing time rather than time controlling you. Check out this article by Michael Hyatt on how to make time to work on an important project. Make days count by realizing most great accomplishments do not occur from one big action. It is small, gradual progress that moves us toward goal achievement.
You Can Count Down, But…
This post is not intended to be a bucket of cold water thrown on your countdown to a big event. Rather, it is a call to embrace the countdown journey so that we get the most out of the time we put into realizing a big outcome. Go ahead and count down the days; just make sure the days count, too.