Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Craftsman at Work

The Craftsman at Work

A weekend of continuous work leaves me quite exhausted indeed. I hope to find some time to go jogging again this coming week--it's something that I haven't been able to do very regularly these days.

Come to think of it, it has been a long time since I had the time to go for a long and unhurried breakfast with the morning papers. I used to do that a lot when I was working in Singapore. At that time (and like now), I was working mostly from home.

When you work from home, it usually means that you are virtually working the whole day. The good thing is that your time is more flexible and you don't have to join the mad rush to work every morning. However this flexibility can also be easily abused if one does not have the necessary self-discipline.

Self-discipline is so critical to anyone who wants to accomplish any kind of job. But how does one supervise oneself? Isn't that close to an impossible task?

I use my favourite pain and pleasure technique again. There must be enough push (pain) and pull (pleasure) factors to drive one forward. I constantly remind myself of all the pleasure that I could enjoy once I accomplish something. It is important that this pleasure is made vivid and real in one's mind, so that it is enticing enough. The pleasure could be material (money), emotional (sense of pride and accomplishment) or spiritual (success in subduing one's negative impulses).

The push factors are usually pretty clear: pressure from the customer or your boss, plus the ever-present need to make ends meet. For some, the fear of failure (resulting in loss of face or pride) is another big push factor.

But once the twin forces of pain and pleasure are set into motion, you are quite assured of not remaining static. It is as if you are on auto-pilot, provided that you remain in conscious contact with the push/pull forces.

Because work usually means making sacrifices for some future pleasure, the immediate "pleasure"--such as procrastination--can often be a much greater pull. One can counter this by organizing small rewards--like allowing yourself to watch your favourite show on TV--upon finishing a chunk of work. Break up a huge job into small chunks of tasks, with rewards thrown in upon their completion. That way the long journey to completion will not feel so tedious.

I also like to see work as a spiritual cleansing exercise. In a previous posting, I used the paradigm of a "workout" to describe the benefits of working. That way, work is never a pressure-filled experience. It is an act of meditation. How is that so?

If you watch a skilled craftsman at work closely. say an engraver or even a cobbler, you will find that his motions are never hurried. He works at a steady pace and there's a certain harmonious ease in the way he moves. He is completely at peace with his surroundings.

This is what I mean by work being an act of meditation: the worker and the work fuse into one. That's the state of mind that I want to achieve whenever I'm working--the mind of a craftsman deeply and happily engrossed in his task.

Well, I must confess that I don't always succeed. I'm definitely not a craftsman yet in what I do. But I'm working on it.

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