Since I began my graduate course work four weeks ago, my amount ‘spare’ time has shrunk considerably. Still, I have continued to make time for daily reading outside of my course studies. I recently started reading again The Intellectual Life by the French Dominican priest A.G. Sertillanges. I am reading a page a day, but re-reading each page a few times throughout the day as the verbiage can be a bit dense at times. Today I read the following paragraph and its message penetrated something deep within me. Please read:
“What a difference, supposing equal resources, between the man who understands and looks ahead, and the man who proceeds at haphazard! ‘Genius is long patience,’ but it must be organised and intelligent patience. One does not need extraordinary gifts to see some work through; average superiority suffices; the rest depends on energy and wise application of energy. It is as with a conscientious workman, careful and steady at his task: he gets somewhere, while an inventive genius is often an embittered failure.’
-A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, page 8
I couldn’t help read this paragraph, written nearly 100 years ago (1920) and think of Anders Erickson’s concept of deliberate practice. One consistent truth I have gathered from studying deliberate practice and many books on productivity, is that it is not necessarily the smartest people that achieve their goals. Rather it is those who maintain consistent, regular focus of energy towards a skill, goal, or ambition who make real, significant progress.
To produce at an elite level requires an incredible amount of focus, consistently over a long period of time. Elite productivity doesn’t ask for great focus over a day, week, or even a month. The highest performers in their field produce gains in a skill daily, for months or years at a time. Genius is long patience.
Notice that Sertillanges focuses on two main themes – patience and wise application of energy. As I state repeatedly through my blog site, to be productive, focus on how you work. By constantly reviewing your work methods – time management, task organisation, goal setting, daily routines – you are wisely applying energy to your work life. You are directing your daily attention on working better, smarter, faster. Instead of letting your work day happen to you, you are happening to your work day. Throughout any given day, new demands of your time will arise. Through intelligent daily planning, and conscious thought of how you should allocate your time, you are positioning yourself to best handle all those new demands.
I will conclude on a current personal experience. As stated in the opening of this blog, I am in week four of my first semester of graduate coursework in computer science. The subject I am currently enrolled in – Principles of Programming – is hard. Very hard. Though I expected my studies to be demanding, the work load is a fair bit more than I anticipated. Already the thoughts of ‘I’m not smart enough for this. Everyone is so much smarter that me.’ are creeping into my mental space. While it may or may not be true (likely not), honestly it does not matter. Using the Sertillanges quote above, all I need to focus (intensely) on is my consistent, daily study. My goal is study at least three hours every day. A tall order yes, but doable. I believe if I stay ‘careful and steady’ at my task, I will make progress and pass the course with great success. Of course, passing the subject is a rather shallow extrinsic motivation. By applying my energy wisely over the semester, I will develop my Python programming skills to their time-bound maximum capacity. At a much deeper level, I am connecting with the internal sense of mastery.