In the last article I talked about patience being the base on which I build my path to expertise.
I use patience is needed to build discipline. But what’s discipline and why did I need it?
Discipline is the practice of making people obey rules or standards of behaviour, and punishing them when they do not.
Not what I have in mind when I say discipline in work. Punishments don’t really work for me and what I am trying to do does not involve this type of discipline. There’s one more definition:
Discipline is the quality of being able to behave and work in a controlled way which involves obeying particular rules or standards.
Yes, this is more like it, and this is what I mean. I discipline myself following my own set of rules and standards which I do my best to keep up with. I always motivated myself to reach my goals and it’s enough for me to keep me going. Some people need to be publicly accountable for their goals so they need to announce it to an audience. That’s completely fine, if that works for you.
How I built and then lost my discipline
I used to have a good discipline as a child. I was not forced into it by my parents, but I felt motivated to excel in school. I took every challenge as a serious test and I did not like to fail. I wish I knew that failure is a great teacher, but I had a big ego and I wanted to win all the time when it mattered to me.
Later on, I started losing that discipline that made me excel in school. High school was fun and distracting so I spent less time preparing and more time having fun. Looking back at this, that was pretty much ok, given the age. However, getting my full discipline back didn’t happen up until recently. Let me tell you how I finally did it!
Throughout my young adult life I embraced the “live in the present, live in the moment” philosophy and things went remarkably well. I still did my professional tasks well and at the same time I put myself in a multitude of spontaneous circumstances that made me feel happy and fulfilled. All was good until I grew out of it. I started wanting something after the FOMO was gone.
It took some time to understand what I wanted but I realized after a while that it was the desire to excel again. The choice of my field of expertise was a simple choice for me – web development. I like what I do. Actually, I simply love it. So why not take it to the next step, or better yet, to the top of the staircase!
No discipline for me = a lot of mess in my life
My whole “live in the moment”, “don’t say no to anything” and “embrace every opportunity” lifestyle has brought me a lot of cool experiences, put me on an interesting personal and professional trajectory, but on the same time it had its darkside.
There was a moment at the end of my 2 year cofounder of a startup adventure when I realized things are out of control.
Here are some things that were going very wrong and were putting me to a path of losing my mind:
- Schedule – hectic
There was no order in my schedule, no priorities, I was working on anything that came to my attention and then switching context many times ago.
I was becoming more and more inefficient, although I was gaining a lot of experience really fast.
- Sleep patterns – completely broken
My sleep was messed up and I haven’t slept 2 nights in a row for 7 or 8 hours since I was probably 15. I was constantly tired and only stress and worry made me get out of bed and perform as well as I could, but definetly sub-optimal
- Personal relationships – I was becoming a stranger
Because of my constant change of context, I would never finish being in work mode. As a result, my mind would drift to work no matter what I did and this reflected heavily on my personal relationships. In short, I was not able to concentrate on what anyone around me was saying for more than a few minutes. It created frustration on all sides, and usually my close ones ended up feeling either pity or anger towards me. I would have avoided any social activity in order to do a bit more work.
- Work-life balance – there was no life
I only worked all the time from the moment I woke up until I collapsed asleep.
When everything was going wrong, and I felt like I am losing the grip over my life, I realized I need to change something and put some order in my schedule. I wasn’t doing necessarily wrong things, I was just doing them in the wrong way. I realized that to regain my balance and to be able to thrive, I need to get structured, learn how to manage my time and recover and surpass my old forgotten discipline in work.
How I regained my discipline
I had to train my discipline first off work, in order to get back the discipline in work.
Step 1: Off Work Discipline
Long story short – I started to train my patience and to practice a few habits every day. About patience I already talked about in this post. The habits however, I thought them in a way in which I can maximize their impact on my life.
These are the daily habits I practice:
- I wake up every day at 6 am
- Exercise every day – 30 – 45 minutes
- Meditate – 5 minutes per day
- Learn something new every day – 30-60 min per day
- Read/listen to an audiobook – 15-60 min / day
- Write a bit every day – 10-60 min / day
- Set up tomorrow’s schedule – 5 min / day
So, as you can see, all these habits take around 2 hours of my time. 2 hours for habits, around 7 for sleep, 8 for work, I still have 7 hours to go in the day for friends, family and hobbies.
I actually got these 2 hours “for free”. I simply gave up scrolling social media and slacking on my phone. I have an app which tracks the time which I spend on my phone. It seems I was using it for around 19 hours per week. I now got it down to 8-10 hours per week. I shifted the gained 9 hours to my habits. Also, not sleeping / snoozing past 6 also added a lot of time to my day.
If you think you don’t have the time to put some order in your life, think again, there’s always time for priority matters.
And how do these habits help me with my work discipline? Simple, they are activities that I enjoy and make me feel great. They structure my personal life and from then, adding discipline to my professional life is just the next step.
Step 2 – Work Discipline
Being so structured in my personal life makes it a lot easier to be disciplined in my work life.
As I do a lot of technical work I need to concentrate a lot more especially during coding sessions. There’s a saying about a programmer needing 15 minutes to get back in the zone once he is distrupted. I don’t think it’s really 15 minutes, but for sure distractions are better to be avoided.
I like to split my work in a few deep work sessions. Some people prefer 25 minutes/ session with a 5 minute break (the pomodoro technique) but for me, I like to start strong and progressively shorten the length of the deep work sessions.
This is how my deep work sessions and breaks look like:
- 1h 30 minutes – 2h of deep uninterrupted work.
This is the day starter and I try to finish the hardest/ most challenging task of the day.
- Followed by a 10-15 minutes break in which I check my email and answer if anything is important.
- 1h – 1h 30′ of deep work again. This session is lighter because it’s getting harder to concentrate in deep work already for so long.
- Break – this is the perfect time to fit in 20-30 minutes of HIIT sports activity and a quick shower (I do work from home most of the time so this works well).
- I’m a getting hungry at this point but I usually do 30 minutes more work before getting my lunch.
- Lunch break – 30 – 45 minutes. Perhaps a coffee, but I don’t drink it unless I feel very tired.
- The afternoon My sessions are getting shorter, I try to fit in at least 2 more hours of deep work in 3-4 sessions of 30-45 minutes. The rest of the working day I spend doing simpler tasks, because at this point I can’t already concentrate so well. I can do emails, administrative tasks, frontend details tasks (css), things that don’t require so much logic and focus basically.
As you can see the most impactful work for me is in the morning, right after I start working. This time is best used for the toughest tasks as I have the most energy and I can focus better for a longer period of time.
Keeping the deep focus times to work also makes it easier to go through the day.
How I Avoid Distractions
During work time I restrict my access to my biggest distractors:
- I use the WasteNoTime extension to limit my access to the sites that distract me the most (fb, reddit, some news site that I like to browse throught etc.). Intervals of activity: 7:30 – 12:30, 14:00-20:00. That’s a total of 11 hours when I don’t want to be on those sites. That’s how much I work usually, including side projects.
- I place my phone on do-not disturb in the same time interval. I don’t check it unless I’m outside my deep work sessions, in my lunch break or I’m in the off-hours. I take enough breaks to be able to answer any urgent matters in decent time.
- I use the same technique as I do in meditation to push distractions away from my main focus. This is why my daily short meditation session is important: it trains my mind to be able to push away distractions.
Patience is the base. Discipline is the tool. Consistency is the product. Mastery is the goal.
In this article I covered the reasons why I pursue to have a good discipline in both my personal and professional life. It’s a mean to a goal and once I establish my discipline, achieving my goals is only a function of time.
In the next article I will explain how to use discipline in order to apply consistency to the right actions that will furhter lead to the goal. As I said, discipline is just the tool, the skill necessary to have on the path of mastery in any field.