We have reached the point in our Prelims preparation which we call the “last leg.”
This part of your life is called sustaining the hard work.
This is also the point that a lot of people feel like giving up.
Just like that.
Putting the hard work of a year down the drain.
We are about a month from the Prelims, and despite all speculations, guided by the Commission’s calendar for this year and the next year, everything looks to go as per the plan. So set your focus right. Here are some suggestions.
#0 Sustain your effort – one just one more month
A wise man once asked me – “Who do you think wins in a battle?”.
“I don’t know. The strongest one? Or the smartest one?” said a decade younger me, about 10 years ago.
“The man who sustains in the battlefield. Because everyone else will give up at some point.” I refused to believe him then.
A decade later, having seen thousands of success stories around me, I believe in what the man said.
Every year, I see how successfully – not the brightest – not the smartest – but the one who is able to continue his struggle for a longer period of time ends up winning the game.
Sometimes people sustain their efforts because they have no choices. Sometimes they do it because they have nothing else to do. No start up ideas, no netflix, no relationships to eat into their time. Sometimes, success is a straightforward journey. But what looks straightforward at the end is often a tumultuous journey when it was undertaken.
Its just that only the traveller knows his journey. Sometimes the traveller shares his journey. When they share their journey with me, I write a blog post.
And here is, summing up a lot of journeys into this one blog post – and possibly a guide to best use the rest of your days till the Prelims.
#1 There is no ONE best way for the last days
To be honest, there are no rules for the last days. All strategies -no. of hours to study – planning the day – and what not – are for a point till this day. Proceeding forward from here, you need to just have three things
(a) Sleep well. Between 6-8 hours a day.
(b) Eat food such that you do not sleep too much.
(c) Study for rest of the time
Trust me, this is the time, where you have to only study. Do nothing else. No work – life balance – no netflix – nothing. Everything is a distraction. What matters is how much focussed you are in the next 30/40 days is for cracking the Prelims.
I was having a word with an old forum member “BeTheChange”. She was switching between Delhi and Odisha for her preparation for Mains last year.
When I asked her, how many hours she studied. Very defensively, she admitted – Sir honestly, I did study for like 12-14 hours a day in the last days before the exam. In fact, I only used to study in the end before the exam. I did nothing else. So I don’t even know how many hours I studied.”
The truth is, in these last days, the only thing you need to do is – study.
How many hours?
As many as you can.
#2 Be productive. Time is more than money.
We all want to complete things yesterday. We all are in a hurry. But being fast paced and being in a hurry are two different things.
Being fast paced, you perhaps have some control over things. Being in a hurry? Not so much!
Let me tell you one gospel truth. The last days before the Prelims is a battle of nerves. It is as much about time management as it is about stress management.
In these last days, as the stress takes you, it is likely that you will try to do everything at the same time. And in trying to do everything, we often end up doing nothing.
Plan what you want to do.
Make a checklist.
Like these folks  who decide what they will do today. Then, stick to your To Do List. Share it to have some accountability.
Do not do random things. Unless you are checking off things on your to do list, you are likely to be have more tasks and less time at the end of every week.
And in Civils preparation, its easy to see hours , days, weeks, and month go by without making progress. If you don’t believe me, ask people who have not cleared Prelims or have taken a drop without a plan.
Some people change the months of the calendar on the wall. Some people annually change the calendar. The choice is yours.
Make a list and start working on your list.
Because If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
#3 Make the most of the Golden Hour
If there is one rule you need to stick to, start studying within 30 minutes of waking up. Before the world / negativity / liabilities / fear catches up with you.
If you are the procrastinator kind, make sure you begin your day with solving questions so that by the time, half the day is gone, you have done something.
Like scribbled a few pages – solved and marked a few questions – everything with written proof.
If you wait too long to decide what to study today, and have not pre-decided it a day before – you are likely to squander the day. And the time. And while squandered money can be earned back , squandered time cannot.
#4 Avoid Tera-to-ho-jayega type of friends.
“I am sure you will make it.”
While the above are good to hear from a friend outside the preparation, from parents or your mentors, it is not a good thing to hear from your peers.
Trust me on this.
I meet candidates in their 5th attempt . Having secured selection 2-3 times , but not IAS. And all they want is IAS. Like a double digit rank.
And I can tell you that people who need to make progress, need to do away with peers who keep telling them tera-to-ho-jayega .
Even without doing anything.
Having peers and co-aspirants repeatedly tell you “you-will-make-it” does not boost confidence, it brings in complacency instead.
Complacency is the single biggest threat to one’s preparation.
Avoid UPSC friends / flatmates who say you-will-make-it all the time.
Don’t jinx your preparation.
Stay low key.
Don’t think of becoming an IAS.
Think of cracking the prelims with 15-20 marks above the cut off. The think of Mains and writing good answers. Then giving a good interview
#5 You are not hard working if you are doing this.
Every year, I meet people who say – This time, I am going to work very hard.
But what really is hard work?
Hard work isn’t only the things you enjoy. Almost anyone can do things they enjoy. Self Discipline and hard work is the thing that you do when you don’t enjoy what you have to do.
In short you have two choices in life.
(a) Ending up doing what you like OR
(b) Doing now what you like.
If you want to end up doing what you like, you must do what you should do now. Vice versa, if you do now what you like doing ( such as Netflix, or judging people on the Internet, or fighting random stranger to prove a point), you will end up doing what you must do – even if you don’t like it.
Many people tell me Hey Neyawn I can work hard. Only thing I can’t revise.
The truth is – revision is hard work and hard work is revision. 
Look, it’s damn easy to read a new book. The game is, how many times can you read the same book, so that you are so good at it, you can answer any question from it?
So make me a promise that if a question comes from that godamn common book – either you will answer it correctly, or no one else will – and I shall promise you that you will clear the exam.
Battles are won by courage.
But competitive exams are cracked by revision. Only revision. And problem solving. Nothing else.
#6 Study at odd hours. Don’t have a regular life.
I was speaking to a candidate last week.  He had cracked IAS with an under 20 rank. I liked his philosophy.
He said – I either used to study from 5am till 5pm or 5pm till 5AM.
Look, you are not in a 9-5 job. In fact you left that life when you chose to prepare for this exam.  The preparation is your biggest relief from such a god-forbid situation. Also your only escape from it. A few years later, in your thirties – about the middle of it – your life will be a 9-5 thing. But thats some time away from now – and you can hit me a mail how to deal with that mid life crisis later.
Right now, study like a crazy maniac. Lie on the floor and study – if your back hurts. Sit on the chair and study, if you feel sleepy. Get a chatai ( mat ) and lie on it and study. Walk and study. To rattofy things. 
Keep two bottles of water so that you don’t need to get up even if one is empty. But study. At a stretch – unless you have a medical condition.
And study at odd hours. Wake up at 2AM. Study till 8AM and then sleep. Gaze at the stars on the skyline sometimes. Perhaps make a wish.
The Sun is not the only star in our skyline. Make a mental note or a promise to yourself, that when you get through, you will write about these starry nights. For now the stars are your second best friends. 
( The skyline across the word is clear these days thanks to global lockdown. In fact global emissions have reduced by 17% )
So when you feel like crying sometimes, its okay to look at the stars. And cry. They won’t tell anyone.
And after the crying is done. Get back to studies.
#7 Don’t quit near the finish line. Most people do.
Some of the best people – most hard working people – often quit just about the time when they are going to make it.
Because they could not sustain the perseverance, the pressure or sometimes – the emotional resilience – sometimes losing a friend or relative or a family – needed to crack this examination.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that nothing else in life matters apart form the hard work that we do.
It defines us. It defines who we are.
Your study ethic is your future work ethic. There is no higher aim of life than that. If you want to serve the nation or the society, the best way to do it is – by just doing what you are supposed to do. Remember
Jo Log Mehnat Ka Saath Nahi Chodte Kismat Kabhi Unka Saath Nahi Chodti
And here are seven suggestions to sum up things.
#1 Study like a maniac. Prelims requires hard work. Think of it as the last time you have to study so hard 
#2 Be in the MCQ solving mode all the time in the next few days. If scores are not in your favour, screw the scores. Focus on solving, developing thought process, and learning new things through the MCQs.
#3 What should I do – solve Test Papers or Revise Books. This is a false binary. Not an either / or question. Read books. When tired, solve papers. When tired read books. Repeat it in cycles.
#4 Make 3 day / 5 days plans. Take up one subject at a time and finish it. Don’t have the patience? Do two subjects in a day – not more than that.
#5 Stop evaluating yourself and asking yourself if you will make it. You are in the battlefield now. Stop thinking and start fighting. The battle swords have been drawn.
#6 Stop thinking about yourself so much. Over what will be come of you. Whether you will crack or not crack the exam. Anyone will be stressed / depressed or lie in bed and sleep if they thought about themselves as much as you do.
#7 Don’t carry old baggages of past failure, if any. Every attempt is a fresh attempt. The OMR machine that evaluates your score does not know your Test Series Score or your last years performance. Only you know it. So keep quiet and don’t tell the machine your little secret.
#8 This is a race, not a morning walk. So run the fastest you can, and you shall have what you want. 
Remember that all success is celebrated in public but the hard work that is done is always private. And the journey to success is often a lonely one. Brace your loneliness. Celebrate the solitude. And silently work towards your goals.
Own your struggles. Rastrakavi Dinkar says in Rashmirathi
प्रासादों के कनकाभ शिखर,
होते कबूतरों के ही घर,
महलों में गरुड़ ना होता है,
कंचन पर कभी न सोता है.
रहता वह कहीं पहाड़ों में,
शैलों की फटी दरारों में|
उड़ते जो झंझावतों में,
पीते जो वारि प्रपातो में,
सारा आकाश अयन जिनका,
विषधर भुजंग भोजन जिनका,
वे ही फानिबंध छुड़ाते हैं,
धरती का हृदय जुड़ाते हैं.”
So go through your struggles. Your individual battles. You chose this. And these are what will make you.
Until next time,
 I happened to meet a 21 year young kid the other day. She cleared the exam in her first attempt and was an offline student. When I asked her what she did when she felt she would not make it, she said – Itna time hi nahi tha sochne ka. Papa retire ho rahe the, to socha ki achche se padhai kar loon.
 Its safe to just say “only NCERT-no coaching- everyone-can-crack-this-exam-doing-nothing-serve-the-society/nation” on Youtube/ Media to avoid being mobbed.
 Her journey has come to a happy ending. You can read her story here.
 The awesome folks who run this thread on the community.
 Like truth is beauty, beauty truth.
 I was interviewing candidates and speaking to so many people – both Forum and non-Forum folks to come up with an article I was working on Rank Improvement.
 The 9-5 job will come back to you. All of life ends up being a 9-5 job. When it does, call me and we will deal with that mid life crisis some other time. For now, let us deal with this quarter life crisis of yours.
 I have a small group of friends who compete with each other on how many books / month we can read. The last guy, who beat me was reading while walking in his sarkari bunglow. I plan to beat him next month.
 I like to believe I am your best friend 🙂
 No kidding. You may have been told the same thing before your 10th/12th as well. Trust me, this is the last phase of your life where you actually have to study so hard. True story!
 And when you have what you want, you will no longer want it. Thats how our minds are designed. When you reach there, call me and we’ll sort this out 🙂