I thought the best way to conclude this four-part series would be to wrap it up with some dirty, super practical tips on doing. Because the best idea in the world means nothing if it lacks execution.
In some Facebook polls I conducted, I found, perhaps not surprisingly, that most of us wish we were either more disciplined or more productive. Since those two go hand in hand - it's hard to be productive without having the discipline to back it up - we'll tackle those two today.
I don’t proclaim to be an expert on any of what I talk about below. I don’t even proclaim to be very good at the methods, but I do know what works for me, by and large, and I think you can learn something in all of it.
In this, I thought it would be the most helpful to focus on one very practical aspect of doing, so I’m going to speak to my writing process. How I manage to write (and publish) one quality article every week.
Of course, what I am sharing doesn't only apply to writing. It’s meant to be applied to whatever it is that you are doing, or want to do. It can transferred to any project you need to finish. Yard work, finishing a book, physical exercise, establishing a morning routine, etc.
1. Set hard deadlines.
I self-impose a hard deadline of sending out a new article every Monday morning. If I didn’t have that deadline, I would never write anything. Or at least, I’d never write anything worth reading. That has often looked like cramming 70% of an article in on Sunday afternoon, but nonetheless, it gets done.
Because one of the secrets to becoming more disciplined is to trick the process. Creating rules and boundaries and routines - things that sound boring, but will save your life - that force discipline to be a naturally flowing thing that becomes less complex each time you exercise it.
Deadlines can be used if you want to get up earlier every morning (or anything like it). Just set a deadline that you need to be in bed by, and a deadline, AKA an alarm, that forces you to wake up in the morning. If you make sure there’s enough space between those two (7-8 hours), you’ve now successfully become more “disciplined” if you stick it out for 30 days. 30 days, or roundabouts there, is how long it takes for a practice to become habit.
2. Create a template for productivity.
Think back to the times when you were most productive: what did you different then? What did it look like? Where were you? What time was it?
Instead of striving to be "more disciplined," which typically end in disaster i.e. extreme frustration and “Screw it, I’ll never be able to do this!,” look for little ways to trick yourself into discipline.
Maybe this means having a cup of coffee or tea while doing the task set before you. Putting your phone on airplane mode. Listening to music. Going to your favorite coffee shop. Waking up an hour earlier.
What productivity looks like for me: I’ll have a cup of coffee beside me, either at my favorite coffee shop or at my desk in my room. I put my headphones in and put on some focusing music. My phone must be out of sight, or out of the room, and on Airplane mode. We’d all love to pretend that quickly responding to a text doesn’t break our focus, but it always does. Then I set a timer, using the aforementioned method.
And I force myself to start typing.
3. Just two crappy pages
Chuck Close has a brilliant quote that goes like this: “Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
What he’s essentially saying, is that most times you won't feel like being disciplined, but you have to do the work anyways. Instead of going out and seeking “Inspiration” elsewhere, we put our shovels in the ground, do the work, and Inspiration eventually has to show up.
And this leads us to the practice of “two crappy pages.” Meaning, if you’re a writer, everyday you force out, at the bare minimum, two crappy pages of writing. Because when you take action to do something, no matter how minimal the effort it requires, something happens where you become inspired to do more while you are doing the bare minimum of the work. Action inspires discipline.
This process is relating to writing, but it’s meant to be applied to any facet of our work, no matter what arena we are in. Whether you sell life insurance, take pictures for a living, work in the corporate world, or mow lawns, there are things you just rather wouldn't do. This will help.
4. Use timers generously.
For reasons I can't totally explain, seeing a visual countdown timer forces me to do the work. I'm not smart enough to explain why, but it works, at least for me.
You can use your iPhone or whatever works for you. I recommend a simple website called e.ggtimer.com. It's a very simple countdown timer that seems to work miracles with how much and how well I write. I'll often set a 20 minute timer, then take a five minute break, and then set another timer for 20 minutes. I find that any amount more than 25 or 30 minutes, I start to lose focus.
To set a 20 minute timer, for example, you would type into your browser e.ggtimer.com/20minutes, and so on and so forth. Make sure it's always visible in a browser tab so you can see the timer counting down the seconds.
Being disciplined is not glamorous. It's not sexy. It's not easy. You will fail many more times than you will succeed, I guarantee it. Discipline is a lifestyle of doing the hard thing first. It says "Today, I will do the hard thing in order to make my tomorrow better."
Becoming more disciplined will help you in every area of life moving forward. Money - not impulse spending - Relationships - sticking around when things get hard - Personal quality of life - the knowledge that "I can do this even if it's really hard" - Happiness - you got this.
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Practical Next Steps
Start to employ just one of these four methods into your everyday life. Which do you need the most help with? Maybe you need to start writing two crappy pages, metaphorically speaking. Are you bad at sticking to deadlines? Try one of them out.
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