Saturday, January 05, 2008

Just Do It!

The Nike tag-line might be seen as something to infuse aggressiveness in a person, possibly causing him to take to running, and buying their footwear. Over many years, I have looked at it in a different light, and have realised that it has got a message for people like me, who don't have any serious plans to do anything aggressive in their life.
I would like to recount a discussion I had with an ME student in CSA department of IISc about 6 years back. We were cycling towards the lab early one morning. Those were the days of doing piles and piles of assignments. I was struggling with three subjects. I was on the verge of giving up. The other guy had taken those three same subjects, and three more, all of them as tough. I put forth a simple and straightforward question: 'I'm getting a heart attack with 3 subjects. How the hell are you managing 6?' His answer was simple: 'Who's managing? I just keep doing what's right next in the queue!'

That discussion had a deep effect on me. And they started showing in increasing instances in my day to day life years afterwards. After that day, I started becoming more and more conscious of how much time and energy I spend in trying to schedule my day/life. Most of the times, the prospect looks daunting when I try to plan meticulously. Almost always, there's too much to do. To make things worse, there's often no real correlation between the importance and interestingness of things. Unwillingness to do boring chores, and the resentment over the lack of the correlation often used to paralyse me into complete inaction.

Slowly, I made certain observations.

First: there's indeed too much to do. So, there's no point in trying too hard to come up with a beautiful schedule.

Second: The amount of time that one has in coming out with a fairly good approximate schedule is also fairly limited. Most probably, with my kind of intelligence, the only scheduling algorithm that would work is first come first serve.

Third: Life is not a hard real-time system. Deadlines can be broken. They will be. It's good to be ready for that.

Fourth: With increasing business, the feeling of enjoyment diminishes and a numbness sets in. There's a point where the numbness starts eating upon the joy of completing a task. That's where, slogging any harder becomes pointless. Moreover, numbness opens the gates towards dying of heart-attack sooner and sooner.

Fifth: Thank your stars when you have too much to do. Having too much to do is far better than having nothing to do.

Sixth: Concentrate. That's the only way you can enjoy what you are doing, and that's the only way things get done. Concentrate even when you are doing the most insignificant work of the world. Concentration also takes your eyes off such questions like what's the use? which more often than not kill the enthusiasm to do most good things. Concentration is the magic potion of enjoyment and often an effective substitute to brute-force discipline.

Whichever scheduling algorithm we use, it is rather important that we do what gets scheduled next. There we could say: Just do it! But there, the name of the game is not aggressiveness, but discipline. As I am not very good at it, I have found a particular reward-system pretty helpful. I use one task as a respite from another. When, while doing the most urgent thing, we get bored and fatigued, we can take up another lower down in the priority, and do it for a while. That has double benefit. It reduces stress caused by monotony and boredom; and it also gives a sense of satisfaction in that we are actually reducing backlog in the future. I have a peculiar dread towards concentrating for a long time. This automatically results in my finding every other work look more interesting than the one I am currently doing. Therefore, the chance to do anything apart from what I am currently engaged in, appears like a reward. So, I reward myself with this indulgence whenever I make a designated progress in the thing I doing. The rewards usually ring this way in my head: 'Get rid of this bug; then go for coffee.' 'Implement this feature, then write a paragraph in the report.' This reward system, which builds upon an essential cowardice I have, helps me in fooling myself into viewing a work as a fun activity, as a reward, or respite. On the other hand, this habit also helps me turn an otherwise frivolous things into some productive. For instance, going for a coffee may get clubbed with catching up with a friend, or having a technical discussion that's been pending for long.

At the end of it, I have found a kind of fatalistic approach towards many things very helpful. As in: Do your best, and leave the rest on God. At most points, I don't find myself in a position to answer the question: How am I doing? We all have a particular style and speed of handling things. It's not easy to bring about drastic changes in these things. If one wants to get a clear estimate about how one is doing, one should look at life in its totality. For example, if I try it, I get both a reassuring and a humbling feeling about myself. I feel, overall, I haven't been doing too badly. The panic that I feel when I fret about my slowness in doing things looks pretty much unnecessary. It's almost surely true that I am slow in most things. But it's just a disadvantage; not an undoing. I keep losing miles due to that. But there are other things which also put me a couple of miles ahead. All in all, it looks like I am a fairly above average person, possibly brilliant, but definitely not a genius. The most rational answer to the question: 'How is the future going to be?' seems to be: 'Most probably not very different from the past.' So, I seem to be safe. But if I am looking for an extra-ordinary life or something, possibly I am not on my way. At least, there's no way to know now. So, why worry?

To conclude, the central point here is not to imitate Dale Carnegie or Steven Covie. It's just trying to document some realisations, and the following advice is not to someone else. It is to me. Here it is. Just keep doing it. Don't make too frequent assessments of yourself. You are probably doing okay. Be disciplined. Sometimes, numbing the sensations for the sake of getting over with some chores is good for health. It lets you defy fatigue which is often laziness in disguise. But don't do it too often. Then, you may get a heart attack. Mostly, it's a good investment of your effort to learn to enjoy the work. That makes your efforts effective as it's easier to concentrate when you like doing something (converse is also true). It saves you from numbness; hences it's good for your heart.

Ah! A predictable preachy preachy post! :)


Sambaran said...


ruSh.Me said...

well, i cud take a lesson and 2 and 3 from ur words on Doing It...u being a researcher, manage to write and emplore...n me being me, living life at my pace shud have fared much better..!!


1-800-GO-GOVINDA said...

Hi Guru was fantastic. after a long time..... much more to come. keep up !