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How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to just get things done? They don’t need “productivity hacks” or GTD and procrastination is a foreign word to them. These people have a reliable work ethic.

A work ethic is a set of values based on the ideals of hard work and discipline. Building a reliable work ethic means training yourself to follow these values. Training yourself so that work becomes automatic instead of a struggle.

Constructing Habits

A work ethic is based on habits. Persistence, focus, “do it now,” and “do it right” are the key habits in building a dependable work ethic. Here are some steps for building those habits:


Forming the Persistence Habit

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The first part of a reliable work ethic is persistence. If you quickly burn out after only a short period of work or you can’t stay focused on a task for long, you lack persistence. Building persistence is like building endurance for a race, slowly training yourself to work harder for longer periods of time.

Persistence should always be balanced with periods of rest. Working twelve hours straight won’t usually be the most effective strategy even if your work ethic is strong. But training yourself to work longer can help you if you need to and it makes working shorter periods of time easier.

Here are some tips:

  • Measure Yourself – Figure out how long you can work effectively. Measure how long it takes before you slow down or give up. Measurement can be a source for improvement.
  • Run a Burnout Day – Try working longer for one day, following it with a lighter day afterwards. By stretching your focus for longer periods once in a while you can boost your persistence for normal days.
  • Do an Extra 20% – When you feel like quitting, go an extra 20%. If you’ve been working intensely for three hours but are feeling the desire to stop, try another forty minutes before taking a break.

Forming the Focus Habit

Even more critical than persistence is focus. A car going 70 mph for one hour will go further than a car going 10 mph for six. Focusing all your energies for even a short period of time can be tiring, but combined with persistence it is a powerful ability to have.

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Here are some tips for forming the focus habit:

  • Timebox – Give yourself 60-90 minutes to work on a particular task. During that time you can’t rest or engage in any distractions.
  • Accelerate – It can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to build up a concentrated focus. Give yourself time to accelerate into a focused state.
  • Cut Distractions – Practice the habit of turning off all outside noise. Phones, e-mail, RSS, Twitter and visitors should be shut out while trying to focus.

Forming the “Do It Now” Habit

Don’t let yourself procrastinate. Having a strong work ethic means having the phrase “do it now” as a constant hum in the background. Time for leisure is fine, but if you are trying to work make sure the only thing you are doing is work. Don’t let yourself procrastinate when you still have an unfinished to-do list.

Do it Now for 30 Days – Kill the procrastination bug for good. For the next thirty days define periods of your day you want to devote to work or personal projects. During those periods of time, remind yourself of the “do it now” phrase and get working whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate.

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Forming the “Do it Right” Habit

The final aspect of getting things done is doing them properly. Sloppy work, hastily finishing things or spending too little time working out details leads to poor quality. If you aren’t going to do something properly, it’s probably not a good idea to do it at all.

Perfectionism isn’t necessary for many tasks, but most things require a minimum standard of quality. Writing code without useful variable names or documentation. Graphics with merged layers. Articles filled with spelling and grammatical errors. The “do it right” habit means actively slowing yourself down slightly to fix problems before they occur.

Here are some tips:

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  • Separate Creation and Criticism – Ideas require mess. Solving a programming problem or writing an article often requires that you first let go of your need for perfection. But once you’ve finished the idea, you should separate a specific time for clean-up afterwards.
  • Measure Twice, Cut Once – For tasks that don’t have an Undo feature, take extra care in doing them properly the first time.
  • Set Two Deadlines – Avoid analysis paralysis by setting two deadlines. One to complete the task, and another to review and polish the work. With two deadlines you won’t stumble into the trap of perfectionism, but you won’t hastily finish something that isn’t ready.
  • Sit on It – If you’ve hit a milestone in a task or project, take a few minutes to work on something else. When you come back you can use a fresh perspective to tweak problems.

Using the Habits

What’s the point of building a work ethic in the first place? I can’t comment on your job, but if you don’t feel a natural desire to get more done and work harder, you are probably in the wrong line of work. Doing the absolute minimum and laziness might seem like an ideal solution if your working at a job you hate. But if you are involved in a job or personal project you love, having a work ethic means you get to create, accomplish and provide even more.

More by this author

Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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