I have a confession: I’m great at BSing. The polite way of describing this is that I’m very clever. An awesome way to describe this is I’m resourceful. But at the end of the day, I’m good at making stuff up on the fly. I accomplish this because I’m able to absorb a lot of facts and data in a short amount of time. The result of this is that my output and achievements are not always reflective of the amount of effort that appears to go into a result.
This habit started in high school. Until this point, I worked hard on my home work. My parents were very good at instilling (and monitoring) the discipline in me to do well. In 10th grade, I was given the option to move to an enriched mathematics course because I had performed well the year before. However, it was the beginning of the end in terms of my mathematical achievement for one very simple reason: there were no homework checks.
You’d think this shouldn’t be a problem, but it was my Achilles’ heel. No homework checks meant I didn’t need to do my homework every night. My young mind had missed the connection between progressive practice and performance during assessments. My grades slipped. I still graduated high school with good marks; marks that gained me entry into a good Canadian university. But my work was less perspiration and more inspiration.
I bring this all up because I had an insight last night while studying for my respiratory system test. Until now, I’ve been progressing through the course at around two chapters* every week. That performance, comes with a footnote:
- I registered for the 12-week course for a January start, but I found a loophole that my time wouldn’t start until I wrote the first test. I spent 3-4 months reading the textbook at the public library and was able to get ahead by 4 or so chapters before I “started the course.”
What appeared to be a reasonably diligent pace came because I was ahead of the game. But, because I didn’t keep pace with the rate at which I was writing tests, I eventually caught up and now I’m trying to read two chapters per week and write those tests the following week. In principle, this shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s proving to be a challenge.
In a real sense, I’m becoming a victim of my success. Thus far, I’ve done well writing tests, and so when it comes time to prioritize study time, I’m finding myself placing its priority lower than other, seemingly more pressing concerns. My rationale is “I should be studying, but I’ve done well so far and this other thing I’m stressed about requires my attention to get on track.” And so, the other thing (relationship time, my two jobs, my volunteer activities, and yes, relaxation) will take priority over studying. It’s the old Important/Unimportant/Urgent/Non-Urgent matrix. I’m letting the things that are Urgent take priority over the things that are, arguably, more important. This matrix could be the topic of a future article.
What does this look like?
- Friday – “I work tonight at my other job, so let’s relax because it’s the weekend.”
- Saturday – “I should study, but today I’ll run errands, spend time on my relationship, indulge in R&R, etc.”
- Sunday – “I should study, but I’m squeezing more long-distance relationship time in, spending time with friends that I don’t see during the week, dreading the work week, etc.”
- Monday – “I should start studying/reading chapters for Monday’s test, but I also have commitment x/y/z.”
- Tuesday – “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, so how can I squeeze more efficiency into studying?”
- Wednesday – “How many times can I review my notes during the work day before I write my test, grab a bite to eat, then go to my night job?”
- Thursday – never used efficiently…
- Rinse and repeat.
Because I haven’t had to rely on a structured 7-day schedule for studying but am now 70% through the course, that lack of planning has finally caught up to me and is putting me in a crunch. I’ll have to grind out the last three or so weeks of the course, but this unsustainable practice is a lesson in why it’s important to work hard while also working smart.
PS – after drafting this post, I read an excellent, short meditation on the difference between IQ and DOT (discipline, organization, and thoughtfulness). I’m happy that I’m not the only person who wrestles with this.