I once heard one of my mentors, Darren Hardy, say that at his core, he is a lazy person. Left to his own devices, he would watch golf and eat ice cream all day. Yet he is one of the most disciplined people on the planet. This guy gets more done in one week than most people do in a year.
Discipline isn't the absence of temptations. There will always be something more enticing to do than the task at hand. I'd much rather have a leisurely lunch over wine every day than meet a deadline or exercise. Discipline is getting yourself to do something you don't really feel like doing, so you can get the result you want.
Most people try to unsuccessfully fit important tasks into their already jam-packed day, and then leave the office feeling very little sense of accomplishment. One of the secrets to developing more discipline is to create structures that enable you to be more productive on important areas.
If you want to accomplish your goals and become more successful, here are eight ways to develop more discipline:
1. Understand your "why." Whether you have a goal to lose weight or to finish a project at work, understanding why you want the result will help you muster more energy and enthusiasm when you don't feel like being disciplined. A few months ago, my husband and I completed a 21-day health detox. Eliminating sweets (my vice) for three weeks felt like torture at first. But I kept reminding myself why I was doing the detox in the first place. I want more energy, I want to fit into my smaller size jeans, and I want to look and feel great. It wasn't easy, but it got easier as time went on because I was connected to my why.
2. Plan your day the night before. A little bit of planning can make a huge impact on how your day goes. Have you ever tried to start a diet when you weren't prepared? If you don't have the right foods in the house (or the wrong foods out of the house), it makes it much harder to follow through. The same goes for setting up our days. Taking 10 minutes each night to plan how you will spend the next day will set up the conditions for getting more done. At the end of each night, I choose my top two important goals for the next day, and schedule focused time for each in my calendar. Not every day is the same, but I use this structure for any time I am not facilitating leadership programs, working with clients or in meetings.
3. Schedule focus time. There is one habit I implemented a few years ago that has made a huge impact on my discipline and getting things done: productivity sprints. Productivity sprints are blocks of focused time to work on a project or task. They are a structure of discipline that provides the environment to actually get something done. I am writing this blog during a two hour productivity sprint I scheduled on a Monday morning. I will not take a break, check email, or do anything else until I have completed my two hour productivity sprint. Your productivity sprint can be as little as 15 minutes, but the point is to schedule time without distractions where you can focus and get into the state of flow. And you will feel so accomplished when you complete that important task!
4. Remove distractions. If you are trying to lose weight, nutritionists recommend removing all junk food from your house so you are not tempted to cheat. Makes sense, right? The same is true for your work environment. You probably struggle with discipline because there are too many distractions begging for your attention like email, your phone, Facebook, or your coworkers. I'm sure on more than one occasion you've wasted an hour or more surfing online with no specific intention (I know I have) and then wondered where the day went. Remove all things that tempt you so you can get down to work!
5. Give yourself constraints. Work tends to fill the time we allot to finish it. If you have a month to finish a report, you probably take a month. If you have a week, you take a week. Deadlines can be a great discipline tool. When I plan my week, I assign deadlines to each of my tasks, even if they don't involve a deliverable for someone else. For example, I gave myself a deadline of finishing this column today. It's not due to anyone but myself, but I create these deadlines to keep myself on track. If I gave myself all week to finish it, I'd probably start it on Friday afternoon. When you have a task or project, assign yourself a specific day that it needs to be completed by that will spur you into action.
6. Get Started. Most people procrastinate because they don't "feel" like doing it. Ninety percent of the time, you probably won't feel like doing what you need to do. People who are more disciplined work through the discomfort even though they would rather be doing something else. And once you get started, most times you will build up some momentum and get on a roll.
7. Find an accountability partner. Let's say you have an important project you need to work on but it's not due for a few weeks. Find someone who can help hold you accountable to getting into action. Set up rewards or punishments that motivate you to get it done. For example, don't allow yourself to go to lunch with your co-worker unless you finish your report first. Or reward yourself with a half hour break if you complete the project plan you've been putting off. I have an accountability partner who I text every morning and night. We each send our top five goals for the day (for me, it's typically my top two work goals, and then some personal goals like exercising or reading a chapter in a book). At the end of the day, we text each other to report what we have (or have not) done. I often push myself to finish that one last goal because I don't want my accountability partner to think I'm slacking!
8. Forgive Yourself. One of the most important things to remember is to forgive yourself for not being perfect. There will be times when you don't take action like you should, and you need to be able to forgive yourself so you don't get stuck in negative thinking or beat yourself up. Being human means you will at times fail. Learn from your mistakes and start to notice your own patterns that trip you up so you can get back on track faster.
Left to my own devices, I would eat chocolate ice cream and watch When Harry Met Sally every day (I could never see that movie enough).
Discipline is a pursuit. It's not something you master and forget about, it's a daily practice that takes effort. The rewards are the achievement of your important goals that lead you to success.
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.