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

Tweet this quote

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.

What do you think of this article? Did it miss anything? Were you bored? Do comment below and join the discussion.

Posted by rlcmoonape

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.


  1. Good tips Alex, but I think ideally one would move away from using an alarm clock regularly. If the clock is actually waking you up, and just a backup, it’s probably a sign you’re not getting enough sleep. Keep the early start, add an early bed time.


    1. Good thought. If you can go without, perfect.


  2. I have been reading the book “Daily Rituals” which discusses the work patterns of a lot of famous artists and thinkers. While many of the stories feature idiosyncracies the common thread is a habit of daily discipline and structured time like Alex describes.


    1. Thanks TJ!


  3. Thank you for this post, Alex! It came right when I needed it!


    1. My pleasure, Ivo!


  4. ADOLF WITZELING January 20, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Great post! I have to admit I’ve been braking every single “rule” for many years now. Have been freelancing fulltime for over 5 years, and the only time I can really focus and feel creative besides being Husband, Dad & Grandpa is between mid-afternoon and 4am. I usually get up at 10pm go about my daily routine with my family (especially my grand-son, who’s 4 and loves to play football),
    once I’m in my basement studio (well it’s actually just a converted basement, but studio sounds so much better), I am 100% focused on what I need to get done-the rest of my family knows that and respects it-my grandson does too.

    So, what I mean is, it’s hard for somebody to change a routine that has worked in the past. Not that I’m too old to learn new tricks, no I’m learning new things daily. If there was just only one, the best and only way to be productive and successful and everybody would life by it, Times Square would be almost empty at 2 am in the morning. Unthinkable, isn’t it? One size doesn’t always fit all-but that’s just my two cents worth.
    I always enjoy reading your posts Alex. Keep it up bro.


    1. Thanks for this Adolf. I don’t think there is one only way to behave in order be successful but it does require some self-discipline, in whichever format works for you.

      I think it’s never too late either. By the time we’re in our teens, we are already humans of habit. Stay conscious, one piece at a time, and you’ll find it easier.


      1. I am a little like Adolf, but I work full time in a job that isn’t art related and work freelance on a night time after the children are in bed etc. I find many of these 7 ‘MUSTS’ hard but the admin thing is the most difficult so I try to set aside 30 minutes a day. Thank you for the advice. Food for thought.


  5. all quite good, and I generally try to do it, but in the admin section I find that people I need to call to discuss/figure something out aren’t necessarily there, answering their phone, so too many tasks get carried over, or phone tag adds bounce to my plans . . . All that planning implies no other people in the picture as well, and/or other people who acquiesce to my plan over their whims or erratic needs. All in all, the 7 steps merit serious attempts at accomplishing, though – dreams to aim for!


    1. I appreciate your comment. You are right if you view life as more of a struggle than something to be worked on, piece by piece.


  6. Not bored! This is great. Dividing up your work and planning out your day are huge. I’m working on all of this, but whew, always a work in progress. Goals, focus and clarity. Exactly what I needed to hear right now. Love your posts!!


    1. Brill – thanks Frances!


  7. Great article Alex which I found on Twitter after procrastinating! It has made me feel quite motivated, especially the idea of making some notes and a plan for the next day. I’m going to do that right after posting this comment 🙂 Thanks.


    1. Haha – isn’t Twitter the perfect place to share articles on self-discipline? 😉 Best of luck


  8. In my experience, regular breaks are also very important to produce good work. I realised that having regular coffee breaks help me coming back to my GUI work with an other pair of eyes. It is also very healthy to stretch your legs every now and then!


    1. 100% agree Etienne


  9. Great post. Definitely I learnt some time ago that a creative life involves also a lot of discipline…

    Thank you.


    1. Thank you Jorem! Discipline and creativity really do, and must go together.


  10. Thanks for this.
    I find waking up very early difficult too, but once I get into the habit I find myself more alert generally. Problem is I’ve been such a late sleeper for so long, that the early mornings make me somewhat manic, which in turns leads to overworking and staying up too late, hence short nights and eventually burnout and reverting back to type. Discipline is definately whats been missing


  11. #2 I find it helpful to take a screenshot of what I randomly discover online, that is, if I’m too busy to really scan the whole site over, right then and there.. I save all of these screenshots with the domain name/website address at the top, so that when I’m later looking for inspiration I can scroll through these photos on my phone.. 🙂 This post is definitely one I’ll be coming back to time after time. Wished you had some of your really nifty hand drawn illustrations in here too, like a ninja would of been killer to draw up..


    1. Nice idea. If you’re not already using Evernote for collecting these screenshots, I’d recommend it. More illustration characters coming!


  12. #2 The secret to thinking clearly is to ask questions every time you don’t understand something. Try to tap into your childhood sense of wonder you once grew up with. As a kid you weren’t afraid to ask questions so why as an adult do you feel like you have to know the answer to everything? When we start to realize that anyone & everyone is a teacher in this world we begin to learn new & exciting things from others whom we probably would’ve never talked to otherwise. Einstein said it best “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” I almost feel as though when we stop asking questions, we stop learning.

    This post is definitely one I’ll be coming back to time after time. Wished you had some of your really nifty hand drawn illustrations in here too, like a ninja would of been killer to draw..


  13. Hurlean Margerum February 17, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Love this article, insightful information, and also reminder of information that you already know but need to constently keep in mind.


  14. Another great piece, Alex! I’m taking notes! And truth be told, since I found your blog about a year and a half ago, I’ve been more productive. But I could do better 😉


    1. Excellent to hear that!


  15. excellent and positive as always, i cant tell you how many of your easy to understand and build on models i have shown to the few select artists i am mentoring so keep it up 🙂

    in that ill add this, i cannot stress the importance of ‘honey do’ lists, write it down, map it out and put it where you can see it those three things are essential to the organized awakened effort
    the simple act of making it physical, on paper and visible is that there is no forgetting it or moving it aside making the goals omnipresent and this has scientifically been proven to effect the psyche so that behaviors, attitudes and actions line up accordingly increasing success rates
    there is far too many things that go on in a mind to recall it all when one needs it and in order, write it down, map it out and put it where you can see it


    1. Love it. thanks for joining in!


      1. for you handsome anytime, one suggestion though, update that picture, youre a knock out dont be all selfie shy 😉


  16. Jewels by Trish March 1, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Love this article!!!! Email & Social Media are my time killers! And I hate my alarm clock. Ha! Great tips here that I am definitely going to implement.


  17. Well you INSPIRE me to be more disciplined in my productivity. Maybe I need to read this article every morning to remind myself. Thanks Alex! 🙂


    1. Cool, Kobi!


  18. Rubí Uzcátegui March 16, 2014 at 3:23 am

    I truly enjoyed reading this article! It is very well written and made me laugh because I felt identified with you. I don’t think there is only one way to behave in order to be successful either but your 7-acts-daily routine is a great starting point.

    Probably the changes that made me more creative were getting out of the bed early and setting aside play time.

    I found getting up early makes me feel more energetic and in tune with nature’s rhythm. Besides, the more tasks I accomplish before noon the better I feel during the day and this makes me want to do more things.

    Setting aside play time was really difficult for me because I used to be a workaholic. But then I reached a point when I was so burned that I felt very blocked. When I started to set aside play time I became more productive and had better ideas.

    Very nice blog! I’m your fan now!

    All the best 🙂


  19. Rubí Uzcátegui March 17, 2014 at 2:59 am

    I truly enjoyed reading this article. It is very well written and made me laugh because I felt identified with you. I don’t think there is only one way to behave in order to be successful either but your 7-acts-daily routine is a great starting point.

    Probably the changes that made me more creative were getting out of the bed early and setting aside play time.

    I found getting up early makes me feel more energetic and in tune with nature’s rhythm. Besides, the more tasks I accomplish before noon the better I feel during the day and this makes me want to do more things.

    Setting aside play time was really difficult for me because I used to be a workaholic. But then I reached a point when I was so burned that I felt very blocked. When I started to set aside play time I became more productive and had better ideas.

    Very nice blog! I’m your fan now!

    All the best 🙂


  20. […] Make tomorrow different. Read this post & get focussed! […]


  21. Katherine Kirkland May 13, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Hi Alex,

    Thank you for this inspiring post! I try to do most of the things you suggest, but I think I must also remember not to get disheartened if my week is not as productive as I’d like. There’s always next week.

    I loved your suggested tweet, “One painfull duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier”… I’m going to put that up somewhere conspicuous!!!

    Getting up earlier really worked for me last week when I was particularly busy. I got up at 6am and productivity went up loads and I was really pleased to get past the week smoothly. This week however Im shattered, I must write a note to self to go bed earlier too! Im not very good at that…

    Thanks again,


    PS I found your talk at the AOI conerence recently very helpful and it was good to meet you too.

    painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier – See more at:
    painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier. – See more
    painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier. – See more


    1. Great comment Katherine, thank you. Good to hear it, and nice to talk to you the other day!



      1. Katherine Kirkland May 14, 2014 at 10:35 am

        Thank you Alex. Enjoy the sunshine today, but not too much ha ha…. 😉


  22. I think setting aside time to “play” is a great point! It’s so easy to become obsessed and work yourself into a hole.


  23. I love this article! I keep coming back to it whenever I need a reminder of how to stay focused. Great write-up. I find writing a schedule for myself helps keep me on track with specific tasks at that time rather than jumping from one to another. I really appreciate your website Alex, it’s been a really great source of information and inspiration for me. 🙂


  24. Brilliant! Just what I needed right now, thanks : )


  25. I always enjoy reading your posts, Alex. Again noteworthy things to consider. I’m very bad at time management, because things always take longer than I think they will. I try planning, but it very often gets me frustrated. Maybe I’m too unrealistic. Organizing work and play is chaos. Very often overlaps. I think multi-tasking also has to do with it in my case and probably staying focused to one thing can help. Last weekend I did a mural in one go in 7 hours that would normally take me longer. So happy that I stuck to it ( the reason was that it had to be done that day ). Deadlines are like bosses, telling me what to do and make me have things done. I’m definitely a night owl too. At least I’ve been acting that way the past 6 years or so. All my best ideas and more focused moments are in the evening or at night. The idea that everybody sleeps and nobody can interrupt me is comforting I guess. I’ve always had a problem waking up early and certainly working early, but recently that is changing. Believe it or not, it has to do with the place I’m living in. Never thought it would affect me that much, but that was probably naive. I lived in a basement apartment with very little light and it wore me down. Recently moved to a better place with wooden floors, view on gardens, lots of light etc and every day now I wake up with a smile. I seem to have gained a whole new bucket of energy. Slowly but surely I’m waking up more early and actually do stuff. I am going to try to get more disciplined, as I feel it definitely has a positive effect on my work ethos. I guess it’s a continuous work in progress, but reading posts like these help me to stay motivated. thanks!


  26. Love this and needed it badly since finishing school. Especially #1, I am not a morning person…but I think I can get up at 8am or something.


  27. Dominique Koranteng January 5, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    This was and is still a really great post! I recently bought a planner and a journal to write in daily, I make notes almost everywhere now, it’s really refereshing to do so. I’m starting small habits like making my bed every morning when I wake, and working out 3 times a week at least due to the fact that I would like to know what Beyonce must feel like, and also being fit is a great goal to have. 20lbs to go! Not only has writing stuff down help hold myself accountable of things i’m doing or not doing but, it is a constant reminder of the goals I would like to reach. Really great read 🙂


    1. thanks for this! habits are everything.


  28. […] kind of discipline is particularly valuable to us independent workers. Almost every decision you make comes from […]


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