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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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    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

    How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

    Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

    Why is multitasking a myth?

    The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

    Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

    You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

    Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

    We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

    Your brain on multi-tasking

    Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

    When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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    But I can juggle multiple tasks!

    You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

    For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

    Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

    Why multitasking is failing you

    Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

    Multitasking wastes your time.

    You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

    In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

    It makes you dumber.

    A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

    You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

    This is an emotional response.

    There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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    Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

    It’ll wear you out.

    When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

    We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

    How to stop multitasking and work productively

    Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

    In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

    Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

    1. Consciously change gears

    Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

    As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

    This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

    2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

    Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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    Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

    This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

    3. Set aside distractions

    Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

    If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

    Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

    Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

    4. Take care of yourself

    We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

    Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

    In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

    5. Take a break

    People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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    Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

    6. Make technology your ally

    Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

    Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

    The key to productivity: Focus

    Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

    Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

    If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

    How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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