8 Things for Civils 2020 – The Importance of Doing One thing at a time

A young man, strolling on a beach, saw an old man drawing circles in the sand, with a stick.

The circles were perfect and the old man was drawing them with ease.

Intrigued, the young man tapped on the shoulder of the old man.

The old man turned back.

“Hey old man, how can you make such perfect circles in the sand?”

“I don’t know. I just tried again and again. Here, take this stick and try doing it yourself.”, replied the old man, handing over the stick to the young man.

The young man took the stick and tried drawing circles, but they were just not perfect. He kept drawing them again and again, aiming for the perfect circles, a little frustrated.

Until someone tapped on his shoulders.

He turned back to see a young man behind him. The man said to him,

“Hey old man, how can you make such perfect circles?”.

The above anecdote from Zen has a lot to teach us if you know what I mean.

I have this whole bunch of people, whose Interviews are pending, and have little time to write something for them, given that there are much larger number of people who are to appear for Prelims, and face equal problems.

Some mails and messages have been from old students, community members and simply people who became friends in this journey through this website.

This is for them.

My point in this story is not to ask you to grow old preparing for Civil Services. My point is that it is doing the same things again and again that makes you good. And successful.

In fact, this blog post is for everyone who is in the Civil Services Preparation Cycle – especially those who are writing Prelims 2020.

Here are my 8 things for you.

#0 Revision is what will make you an IAS officer.

I was going through an excellent article on Medium by  Megha Arora, now serving in Indian Foreign Service.  She wonderfully puts it this way.

I bought a test series with 32 tests. I was really tempted to do all 32 tests but due to paucity of time, I could finish only 18 comprehensive tests. It is better to do 18 tests and revise that 3–4 times rather than doing 32 tests twice.You don’t have to attempt the papers because that will drain you and not leave enough time to do the other things.

So those of you who are planning to jump into every new initiative that every damn website ( including this one ) comes up with, remember that revision of what you already have is what will make you an Officer.

You will end up making perfect circles by doing the same things again and again, and not trying making traingles, squares and rectangles each time. Do less, and do it more number of times.

#1 Do one thing at a time.

A lot of you have pinged me asking me, given the extra time for Prelims, what should we do ? Should we dedicate more time to prelims? Or should we focus on some subjects of Mains?

And for Interview people, there is this huge state of confusion over what to do. Preparing for next year’s exam even before this year’s Interview looks like a defeatist attitude – which may even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want you to hear me out, having seen things over the years.

Do one thing at a time.

Do not prepare for Prelims AND Mains AND Interview at the same time. In fact, don’t even prepare for PRELIMS AND Mains at the same time.

In the book Life of Pi – Pi, the protagonist, raised as a Hindu,  begins to follow teachings of Christianity, then Islam to discover God. His father, sits him down one day, and tells him –

If you believe in everything, you believe in nothing.”

So those of you who are thinking of doing EVERYTHING – take a step back, think over what you really need to do. And read on.

#2 Take up Things in a Block and finish it.

We live in an age of distraction. An average reader reads only one third of my blog, before navigating to the comments and maybe leaving with a “Great Post” Comment.

It is important that you take up whatever the heck you want to – and give it 5/10/15 days and get done with it. So if you want to do Ethics, give it solid 5/10/ days and finish it off. Don’t leave loose ends. Neither in studies, nor in relations. Because then you get caught in cobwebs later.

Take things to their logical conclusion.

If you are fed up with Prelims, write your Ethics Tests, do some Essay, do your Optional, but do only that and get done with it. Do not extend the duration of your agony studying anything for a long time.

The law of diminishing intent tells us that the longer something lingers on, the more difficult it gets to do it with equal passion or enthusiasm.

So, if you want to do your Optional, block 15 days, just do optionals, don’t look at Prelims – and have that immense guilt and fear that comes with not looking at Prelims for 15 days. This fear should be such that, when you get back to Prelims – you actually have better productivity.

#3 Build your own study plan. Don’t switch too many things.

I was seeing some popular IAS guidance websites and apps giving suggestions like study for 20 minutes and take a break, and again study for 20 minutes and take a break. Some fancy techniques.

But I can tell you from the experience of a few hundred people – and spanning a decade that most people start to study better after the first 3-4 hours. Then you get in the zone. Once you are in the Zone, you need much less effort to study ( or do any other work ).

Make sure that you pursue something for a decent amount of hours if not very long hours – to get into the zone. Taking breaks after every 20 minutes can be good for health, ( which is a good reason to do things, if you are already  30+ or have some diabetic / cardiovascular / spinal issues).

But if you are an ordinary mortal, make sure you study things for 2-3-4 hours at a stretch – uske upar apni Aukar / Shradhdha ( in the words of @yo_yo_choti_singh )

#4 Perfect is the enemy of good.

If you are looking for guarantees on this planet, then it does not exist. All human efforts can be aimed at best to maximize your chances.

Even if it is the Olympics, and you are Michael Phelps, you could be beaten by a younger Joseph Schooling.

So if you are waiting for that ‘perfect’ moment to do a good thing, or write a good test, now is the second best time to do it.  I e-met a kid this evening who said – Sir, I know that I won’t remember everything even if I do Laxmikant  10 times.

I asked her, so what is the way out?

Probably not doing it?

The key is, you don’t have to do 100% (You have to aim 100%, however ). You only have to aim 100% and even if you end up with 70% you are good enough to crack the exam.

Seek perfection, but settle for progress. Perfection does not exist in Nature. In the pursuit of ‘perfect’ do not miss out on things good enough. Just because you can’t do something 100% does not mean you won’t do it at all.

#5 Do the best you can.

Whenever you are in a dilemma, over

  • how many times should I revise
  • how many hours should I study
  • how many tests should I write
  • how much … ( fill in the blanks )

The answer is not in a magic number. The answer is in what is the best you can.

If you can revise 10 times, revise things 10 times. If you can do it 5 times, do it 5 times. if you can study 12 hours a day, study 12 hours a day. If you can study 5 hours a day, study 5 hours a day.

Whatever you do, you do it well. Thats where the magic is.

#6 You become better everyday by doing things. Not thinking about doing them.

Earlier in this post, I asked you to do one thing at a time, in a block and finish it off to the best of your abilities. I also appealed that you could leave prelims for 10 days straight and focus on GS Mains or Optional.

The point is a lot of people will be doing Prelims for 2 hours everyday along with the optional.

In my opinion, when you do something not-so-properly, you have a semblance of “doing it.” So you have a false sense of gratification, without it corresponding to any real progress.

On the other hand, what would happen if you left Prelims for 10 days?

You would have a fear of not doing enough for the Prelims. You would also not have a false sense of satisfaction with respect to your Prelims preparation.

In fact, the fear of having left Prelims would be so strong that when you actually reach of the end of study block, you would hungrily go and study for Pre. You would also have much better productivity.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has killed less than 6,000 people in a country with population 1300000000. And yet, the fear of contracting it is so high that the entire nation is under a lockdown.

Fear, is a great motivator.

In a not so popular movie, the Dark Knight Rises, an exasperated Bruce Wayne, is caught in an underground bunker, whose only exit is through an open well with steep walls.

Anecdote goes that no one expect a child long ago has been able to escape the hellhole the bunker is.

Bruce Wayne tries again and again, but fails.

An old man tells him –  ‘You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.’

Bruce: ‘Why?’

‘How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit? The fear of death.’

Bruce:‘I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns. And there’s no one there to save it.’

‘Then make the climb.’

Bruce: ‘How?’

As the child did – without the rope. Then fear will find you again.”

It is normal to be a little afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than the fear, said Roosevelt about a Century ago.

#7 Have faith in yourself

If you ask me- “What would you have me do, Alfred?”

I would tell you just one thing – Have a little more faith in yourself. As much as I have in you.

In this age of confusion and infodemic we will be forced to make decisions. Decisions, we wish someone else made for us.

Sometimes, we are afraid what if the decision is not right.

Decisions are never right or wrong when we make them. They are always right or wrong in hindsight. We have to make those decisions right.

When you grow older, you will realize that life is lived forwards, but understood backwards.

And a little pain in life is good. It keeps you awake. It makes you human. It  keeps you humble. So if you have a little pain in your life, channelize it to get things that you really want.

The path you have taken is your dream. And let me tell you with the benefit of hindsight that do not expect absolutely anyone to fully understand your dream or vision. Don’t try explaining it to the world. You owe no one an explanation.

Have a laser beam focus on what you really want. Work towards it.

And success will be yours.

Until next time,






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By Neyawn

Neyawn is an anonymous member the founder of ForumIAS. He is a coder Mentor & Teacher by profession, and often writes for ForumIAS. You can buy him coffee , if you really really like his work. He has built ForumIAS - the community - twice. You can say Hi to him or ask him a question on ForumIAS, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn . You can also write to him at RxAxVxI@FOxRUMxIAS.COM ( remove the small "x" from the email ).