When you come across someone with a set of letters after their name, it shouldn’t automatically lead you to believe that the person is smart. What the letters actually signify is that they are persistent, and even more, that they have found a way to conquer the demons of unscheduled time.

Children go to grade school and their day is programmed for them from the moment they arrive until they are picked up at the conclusion. No choice in scheduling, no free periods with which to wander. In high school, there is more choice and more freedom, but the assignments all have due dates and the classes are all offered in the same time periods. 

Students who go to college often struggle with the “free time” they suddenly find themselves having. There isn’t a rigid “must-do-this-today” mentality or a severe penalty for skipping classes. Those who succeed are those who figure out a way to discipline themselves to do the small steps that accumulate to complete the big projects that are due in the end.

Graduate school is even more unstructured. Many students never complete that elusive dissertation, not because of a lack of ability or brains, rather simply because they did not create a way to accomplish that which did not have a deadline. Something more appealing or urgent always took precedence, and the paper remained unwritten.

I have found myself relying on those skills from my dissertation days as I transition to work as a consultant. In the office, my calendar was chock-full and I went from one meeting to the next. But now the important things I need to do don’t make it to the calendar unless I put them there. I have whole days with nothing “scheduled,” so need to create my own urgency that there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.

And so it is the case with everyone in some aspects of their life. The really important things don’t come with a deadline or to-do list. No one says that you have to be in touch with friends by 2pm Tuesday or puts healthy eating on your to-do list. The community college doesn’t send you a meeting request for that personal development class and no one tells you that the home inventory video must be submitted by 5pm. There isn’t a deadline to write a proposal for your new idea or to create that piece of art. 

Only you can add structure to the important, unscheduled aspects of your life. It’s a skill that schooling doesn’t teach, yet success doesn’t happen without.

beth triplett

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