Sunday, July 06, 2008

The several Avatars

Somehow we allow ourselves to be driven in our fancies about what we shall be doing by following the lead actors in the tinsel world of cinema. They have media and money at their command to capture the public eye. Even in a world that has mechanical lifestyles, with acquisition of wealth being the prime motivation, entertainment has been a healthy distraction. The philosophical theories that viewed human beings only as instruments of production and the history of mankind as a history of class struggles take a beating with the growth of entertainment industry that offers a striking proof that beyond hard labor and exploitative traits, the society creates temporary illusions that all is well around us. The hero’s girl is our girl; his wealth is our wealth; his songs are our songs; his happiness is our happiness – all at least for those 3 hours.

A popular movie captures the man in 10 avatars. He beat the earlier showing of another man in 9 different roles. There have been double roles, three’s and four’s also. Imagination has caught up with others to better this man. Suddenly a TV channel proclaims that their lead lady will appear in 14 different roles exhibiting 14 different traits. Yet another film proclaims that in one song sequence, the hero will adopt 20 different styles. The histrionics of individual performances get their sheen only by the aid of technology that fools the eye. Without technology, without fooling, several persons perform several things at the same time, don several roles all their lives and make the lives rich for themselves and for others.

An Ashtavadhani performs eight different acts at the same time. Have you witnessed these shows anywhere? Some body will be reciting a poem and asking a question which stanza of the Kural it was. A person in the audience will ask a question on science. Yet another will strike a bell in periodical intervals. Some person will be scratching his nose. One will be singing a song. The performer will himself be giving a speech on some topic and engaging in making knotty designs with a rope. At the end of it all, the performer will keep trail of every happening in the room. Recall what everyone was doing. He will not walk away with a boast that only he could do. He will assure you that human mind and body have immense capabilities and with training, it will be possible to replicate his fetes by everyoneelse also.

There is a good reason to believe in our own abilities to do extraordinary things. See how some judges (only some!) hear hundred cases a day, suffer long and short arguments, deliver judgments, advise lawyers to keep cool when they fight, attend evening functions and make speeches, read up case papers at home burning the midnight oil and still turn up cheerful in courts. Many lawyers turn out remarkable work. They play a caring head of the family; at the office, they counsel clients, make the pleadings, type them without the help of any typist, pin and stitch dockets, bank the money, do the driving, argue, fight and do umpteen skilled activities through out the day, each of which activity will be full time avocation for many an individual. Our own ladies have learnt the art of multitasking. From minding the children at school, to investment decisions, to taking care of the households, their task is stupendous. We take several avatars all the time. Only that we don’t apply grease and paint; we don’t have arc lights to capture our histrionics.

All this multitasking abilities shall not be for all times. There are those who claim that they are less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task, and the switch back again. They are more complicated and thus prone to stress and errors. They are crazy and in this already chaotic world, we need to reign in the terror and find a little oasis of sanity and calm. Lawyers and judges take on problems of others all the time and they call for qualities of emotional distancing from their problems without being indifferent. Here are a few tips that Leo Babauta, a Zen philosopher, suggests without claiming copyrights for its reproduction:
First set up to-do lists for different contexts (i.e. calls, computer, errands, home, waiting-for, etc.) depending on your situation.
Have a capture tool (such as a notebook) for instant notes on what needs to be done, things to be remembered. (Have you wondered at some lawyers, who will pop out a small note book from their shirt pockets to give you the case law that you want?)
Have a physical and email inbox (as few inboxes as possible) so that all incoming stuff is gathered together in one place (one for paper stuff, one for digital).
Plan your day in blocks, with open blocks in between for urgent stuff that comes up. You might try one-hour blocks, or half-hour blocks, depending on what works for you. Or try this: 40 minute blocks, with 20 minutes in between them for miscellaneous tasks.
First thing in the morning, work on your Most Important Task. Don’t do anything else until this is done. Give yourself a short break, and then start on your next Most Important Task. If you can get 2-3 of these done in the morning, the rest of the day is gravy.
When you are working on a task in a time block, turn off all other distractions. Shut off email, and the Internet if possible. Shut off your cell phone. Try not to answer your phone if possible. Focus on that one task, and try to get it done without worrying about other stuff.
If you feel the urge to check your email or switch to another task, stop yourself. Breathe deeply. Re-focus yourself. Get back to the task at hand.
If other things come in while you’re working, put them in the inbox, or take a note of them in your capture system. Get back to the task at hand.
There are times when an interruption is so urgent that you cannot put it off until you’re done with the task at hand. In that case, try to make a note of where you are (writing down notes if you have time) with the task at hand, and put all the documents or notes for that task together and aside (perhaps in an “action” folder or project folder). Then, when you come back to that task, you can pull out your folder and look at your notes to see where you left off.
Take deep breaths, stretch, and take breaks now and then. Enjoy life. Go outside, and appreciate nature. Keep yourself sane!

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