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Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Productive Living

Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Productive Living
Dumbell

    The productivity industry is awash with tips, tricks, systems, and hacks to help you get more done in less time. Yet many who read books and blogs on this topic for the purpose of getting things done say they have trouble implementing these tools and becoming more productive.

    No system for keeping your email under control will help you on its own. No tips and tricks for budgeting will ever help you on their own. The main problem for those who struggle with pure productivity is not being able to understand and learn systems, but a lack of self-discipline to begin with.

    Self-discipline is often described as a muscle, something that becomes stronger the more you work with it. In essence, having self-discipline from a productivity point of view is having the ability and motivation to just do it.

    For different fields, having self-discipline means different things; personal development fans consider it the ability to change habits and refrain from practising old, ingrained ones. Musicians consider it the ability to get up and practice each day, every day, so they never fall behind in their level of skill and muscle memory.

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    One angle I like to look at self-discipline from, while not entirely encompassing the concept and all that it entails, can certainly be helpful: self-discipline is the power to act on ideas. It is the ability to take things from thoughts and realize them through actions and tangible results.

    Learning or creating a perfect system for processing, acting on and organizing email efficiently is not going to be worth a damn until you can force yourself to do it whenever you check your email.

    Knowledge itself is only part of the path. Knowledge is not productivity. It’s not efficiency. It’s a necessary step, and the first step towards those things, but implementation is the step that makes it worth the time and effort spent learning.

    Start Small, Work Up to Big

    If you haven’t been able to implement ideas in real life on a small scale, then the chances that you can do something big this week, such as kick a ten-year smoking habit, are pretty small. It can and has been done, but good luck trying. There are exceptions to every rule.

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    This is where the comparison of self-discipline to the use of a muscle is important, because if you keep trying to tackle the big problems in your life from the get-go, you set yourself up to fail again and again. The more you fail on the big things, the more motivation you lose and the more it looks like the problems are too big to be beaten.

    Start developing your self-discipline skills by conquering small problems; if you find yourself drinking excessively and want to handle it, then start your first drink after everyone else has finished their first couple of rounds. It’s a small change, but your success will set you up to succeed in the next stage, which may be cutting out one night of drinking per weekend altogether.

    Gradually, the strength of your self-discipline increases, and the greater your success will be in tackling problems and implementing new changes.

    If you want to create a habit rather than defeat it, it’s a very similar process. For instance, if you find yourself constantly unable to maintain a new email processing system, start by making an end-of-week appointment every week that you force yourself to keep. Process all your messages and clear out your inbox during that session, and continue this until it is second nature. You can then trial it on a more regular basis.

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    Don’t start out expecting unused muscles to be strong.

    Accountability, the Remedial Therapy of Self-Discipline

    When a person has, for some reason or another, allowed muscles to atrophy to the point where they literally can’t use them, they go through a long process of therapy, gradually rebuilding the strength in those muscles until they can use them without assistance.

    It’s not impossible for this to happen with self-discipline; someone who once possessed plenty of it can allow it to atrophy by failing to use restraint and letting bad habits commandeer their life. I know this happened to me, and it wasn’t easy to fix.

    There is a point where you let your self-discipline weaken so much that it’s impossible to get it back without outside assistance. That point is where accountability comes into play; having someone to push you and force you to do what you can’t force yourself to do. They keep you accountable for each action, and not only give you an irritated stare when you fail, but ensure you don’t fail in the first place.

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    The key is to find someone who’s going to be present in your day-to-day life enough to help you. If you’re working on a new habit for your work life, then they only need to present at work. More complicated are habits that encompass your entire life, in work and at home. For instance, if you want to quit smoking then you’ll probably need to organize someone to keep you accountable at home, such as your partner or family, and someone at work (probably a colleague, as nobody needs more whining from their boss!).

    Nine times out of ten, those who’ve talked to me about their inability to get things done and implement systems they’ve memorized inside and out, only have a problem with this one aspect of life. It’s a simple one, but by no means any less difficult to deal with.

    Self-discipline is certainly one thing missing from productivity today.

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    Published on July 17, 2018

    How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

    How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

    I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

    You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

    But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

    What is compartmentalization

    To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

    In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

    However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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    Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

    Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

    The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

    Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

    Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

    How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

    The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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    Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

    My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

    Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

    Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

    One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

    If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

    The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

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    Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

    This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

    If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

    Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

    Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

    Reframe the problem as a question

    Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

    One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

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    For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

    Choose one thing to focus on

    To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

    Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

    Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

    Comparmentalization saves you stress

    Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

    This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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