It was a new year party. We were transitioning into 2009. Amidst intervals of taking tequila shots and merrymaking, it was time to do the ritualistic new year resolution announcement. Everyone had to drink to a resolution and make a resolution. Everyone laughed about how resolutions were meant to be broken and stood good only a couple of days into the new year. People eventually reverted to their old habits, screw resolutions! As usual, someone said (s)he wanted to lose weight. Someone said (s)he wanted to get married. Someone said (s)he wanted to be a better person. But someone said something I remember vividly till date. (S)he said (s)he wants to stick to the resolution of an 8 hour of work schedule every day.
That’s it? Short and sweet, isn’t it? What was the big deal about sticking to an “I will work for 8 hours a day” resolution? Or so I thought then. But trust me, I am reminded of the resolution every day. I am not sure if the person who made it was able to stick to it, but I haven’t been able to. We like to fool ourselves believing that we spend a large chunk of our time and energy working, but do we really? In class, we check Facebook messages in the name of multitasking. At office, we check personal emails a hundred times, put on music, read the news, comment on our favorite blogs, and speak on the phone. Every time we are given an assignment we do not like to do, we let ourselves get distracted, go out for a walk, drink a glass of water, feel hungry or feel the sudden urge to talk to parents in India, or quickly scan who is doing what on Facebook. And if that is not enough, there are youtube videos to watch, friends dying to talk to you online, and news feeds on who scored a century recently or how the economic policies of the world is affecting the automobile industry. We feel that dying urge to be a part of heated discussions, comment on topics, wish our friends a happy birth day, like status updates like “Life is good, having fun in Hawaii” on FB, and read gossip about others we are better off not knowing. We check the weather and check fluctuation in flight prices from Texas to Florida, though Heaven knows we have no plans of visiting either Texas or Florida for the next few years. Some go a step further and look for online shopping deals, scan for furniture ads on craigslist that they would never buy, or simply forward feel-good emails to others on the pretext that, “If you do not forward this to 15 goats in the next 5 minutes, everyone in your extended family from Ullhasnagar to Jhumri Talaiya is doomed.
On an average, if a person spends 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours relaxing at home (that includes cooking, eating, watching TV, taking a shower, courting, socializing, having and taking care of kids, writing blogs, making travel plans, etc.) and 8 hours at the workplace, no prizes for guessing what time slot we choose to sacrifice for our distractions. Sleep time is our “own time”, and so is the time we spend at home. How is the math of doing quality work going to happen then?
It’s not a preaching post, it’s a self-realization post. I realized (shamefully) that I know how many common friends I have with a certain person “X” over the top of my head, and might also be able to tell you that although I know a friend’s friend only distantly and have never been formally introduced to her, I could tell you where she works, her pet’s name, what car she drives, and where she shops. But if you asked me to name the top five journals in my field or the top research papers on a particular thing I am working on, I will be mumbling, stuttering, scratching my head, and having a difficult time trying to organize my thoughts. So for the last few weeks, I have resolved to reach the department by 8 am and try to be productive. I have tried working in close proximity to my advisor and my other colleagues to take advantage of the Hawthorne effect (people consciously improving their efficiency simply because they know they are being watched). I have tried clicking on non-academic websites for lesser number of times. I have tried not taking phone calls or replying to personal emails. Less FBing, no youtubing, no blogging, and no unnecessarily checking the weather of a place where I do not even live. I won’t claim I have seen outstanding results, but I am still trying to better myself. Every time I need a break, I try taking a walk by the campus instead of checking updates of people I have no business knowing. I am yet to go a long (really long) way before I achieve desired results. But it never hurts to try, does it?
I feel great at the end of the day when I have worked on something, finished something, or achieved a target (which doesn’t happen very often). But some days are wasted, meaning distraction sets in and by the end of the day, you feel horrible armed with meaningless knowledge of who is going where on Thanksgiving and who is drinking what kind of coffee at Starbucks. These are the days I feel most frustrated and useless. Building self control is an exercise that takes time, discipline, and motivation. Which brings me back to the resolution my friend talked about earlier. This is the only resolution I have felt true to its core, and most difficult to follow. “My resolution is to spend 8 hours at work every day just focusing on work”. Sounds very simple, but try doing it. You might perhaps not succeed fully, but you will definitely end up knowing a few things about your self-control (or the lack of it) that you might not openly admit to.