You’ve probably heard it rattled into your brain several times over the last few weeks, even days: if you want to get anywhere in life, take action.
And when we’re talking about the projects and businesses we work on, yes, taking action trumps all the planning and learning, fidgeting and worrying you will ever do.
Art will not materialise, life will not get organised, connections will not be made, if you are not taking conscious action steps, big and small, with consistency.
A little thing that sometimes gets swallowed up as a priority, when people talk about taking action, ‘just doing it’, and ‘shipping’, is the concept of discipline.
In particular, self-discipline: exerting boundaries, control, limits, and rules on oneself, in order to make positive changes. And yes, you can maintain your level of creativity (if not hugely improve it), with self-discipline.
We are at a critical point in human history where those that lack any active self-discipline will be eaten alive by the deluge of distraction that grows with each day.
When it comes to taking action over a certain period, whether that be starting a business or painting a canvas, we simply will not feel motivated to do what we need to do in the moment, all the time.
This is why self-discipline is vital, each and every day, and why we need to establish our own boundaries in order continually take action, without flagging, especially if we work independently.
“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.” Mortimer J. Adler
Here are seven things you can do daily, that I can guarantee will have huge effects on your productivity and quality of work if you maintain them. You’ll find that many of these will encourage you to push ahead with others, as your ninja attitude expands.
1. Get out of bed early
Yes, yes. I know. You’re a night owl, an artist, and you like to work into the night on your creations. Do some people work better in the night due to their nature or could it be in their genes? Unlikely, despite the various research.
The reason some of us work more efficiently is down to distraction avoidance. There are fewer of them for most of us at night. I still continue to work most of the time in the evenings, yet I know I’m much better off when I work early.
Befriend your alarm clock.
Humans function better cognitively when it’s light outside. We’re strongly influenced by the cyclical nature of the Sun’s interplay with the Earth. Get into the habit of getting up earlier, close to dawn ideally. With a good previous night’s sleep, you’ll be more effective and more productive for longer.
Do that thing where you leave your alarm clock a few strides from your bed, and get out early.
2. Clarity thinking
A huge current threat to the progression and sustainability of modern society is cluttered and negative thought patterns. Maybe also the phrase: ‘just sayin’.’
One of the healthiest and most refreshing things you can do for the benefit of your creativity, productivity and personal well-being is consistent ‘thought reduction.’
This does not mean actively stopping your thinking, rather, bringing awareness back to exactly what you are doing in the present, whenever you notice it straying off.
This is self-discipline that applies to every waking hour, rather than a dedicated time slot, but don’t be intimidated by the concept.
This is something that should become more and more automatic as you progress, and hold it as a daily priority. I personally suck at this right now, but my understanding is there, and I am guiding myself to presence much more than before.
You will get better at this if you maintain an understanding of the importance of present-moment thinking. If this be the only element of self-discipline you bring into your life, your life will change for the better exponentially.
3. Plan the day ahead
It’s much harder to have the clarity you need on how you spend your time in the day when you don’t have an outline.
Spending a few minutes each day writing out a plan of the actions to be taken, in their specific order for the next day, will give you this clarity. This includes the recreational stuff like trips and taking breaks too.
Let your next day plan sink into your dreams.
The beauty of doing this the day or night before, is that your subconscious gets to work on making sense of what needs to be done as you sleep too. Such ‘quick plans,’ although best regarded as flexible with an allowance for tweaking and updating, will keep you aligned and clear, each and every day.
4. Set distraction-free work time zones
Effective creative work and distractions do not go well together, as we can all relate to. It’s vital that you be disciplined about the distractions you have coming in that are harming your ability to work properly.
When you set aside distinct blocks of time, every day, in which you do nothing other than the work you need to be doing, you’re winning.
This means blocking out email, moving away from the water cooler, music, shooing away pigeons, your phone, social media and other obvious intrusions.
Move away from the water cooler.
You absolutely must if you want to get ahead. Not only are you distraction-free, but you will know to be doing nothing other than focusing on the job at hand for that period.
Don’t worry too much about setting results targets, such as ‘1000 words’, ‘a completed painting’, or ‘three bears wrestled,’ because that could affect quality and process. If you are truly un-distracted, and totally focused on the work, you will be producing what you are capable of to the best of your ability.
Going distraction-free if you’re not used to doing it will hurt to start. I’ve been there. I’m going through Twitter withdrawals right now, but I know that I’m getting something done finally.
“If you only write when inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist.” Neil Gaiman
This might be three hours in the morning, with a break, and two or three more in the afternoon, being clear about ending work in the evening. Just keep an eye on that timer occasionally and stay in the moment.
You’ll be surprised how effective you become when you compartmentalise work in this way.
5. Read over goals
Getting into the habit of writing, looking over and tweaking the goals and aspirations you have has very powerful implications as to the progress you can make into the long-term.
Looking over targets and reminding yourself of what you are aiming for, consistently over time, will keep you motivated, more centred, and driven.
If you feel a particular goal doesn’t ‘sing’ to you, use this time to change or tweak the wording, adding pictures, drawings, video, whatever helps.
Add colourful depth to your goals and targets. Create your vision.
When you build this into your daily routine, you’re bringing your goals to the forefront of your mind. When ideas appear in your daily vision like this, the likelihood of them materialising will increase.
“What you keep before your eyes will affect you.” Joel Osteen
Set yourself an alert, or an alarm, reminding you to clarify all your goals to yourself, every single day.
6. Set aside a block of admin time
Getting our work organised, whether that be through running over finances, working on our customer relationship management spreadsheets, or just tidying up notes that we’ve been taking over the weeks, is absolutely vital for a focused and sane state of mind.
Most of us get overwhelmed and frustrated with the mere idea of admin. But getting organised is at the root of our personal sanity and productivity.
“One painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier.” Helen Keller
When we set aside a clearly defined time period every day for admin, we get to it, even if we’re unclear on where to start. This means an hour or so in which you do nothing other than getting organised.
Stay within the time-boundaries you set yourself.
A large part of self-discipline is not breaking your own rules. It helps massively to have planned what you will do, the day before, in your ‘quick plan’, but even if you haven’t, setting aside this block of time will get you thinking about what you must do.
7. Set aside work-free play time
As nice as it sounds to think of work being interchangeable with play, and I believe creativity involves both, you’re much better off being crystal clear about time allocated to actively working, and time spent actively playing, exercising or passively relaxing.
It’s up to you how you divide the distinction. Just in the same way that you dedicate a block of time to distraction-free ‘work’ and admin activities, you’d be wise to also compartmentalise your play time too.
Go with your gut and personal experience when deciding on how much time to allocate for fun. You likely know exactly how long is too long or indulgent.
This saves you going overboard, but it does bring attention to the importance of dedicating time to play. Work can never be as productive or creative when it lacks relaxation, socialising and fun within the day to keep you balanced and alive.
If you can, keep the timing at regular times each day, mixing it up here and there, but some consistency is ideal.
To finish off, it’s clear that specific time allocation is a big part of good self-discipline each day.
Dividing up your day into distraction-free, dedicated chunks will do wonders for your productivity.
Don’t get too rigid. Change up the pattern behind how you set aside your time sometimes. Allow yourself to break rules occasionally, but know that consistency can help you get into good habits, reinforcing your self-discipline into the long run.
Only then will your inner ninja come to the fore.