Motivation is Lame. Discipline is the Truth.

If you’re anything like me you’re much more prone to looking at inspiring fitness images on Pinterest and Instagram for 30 minutes than you are at picking up your ass and hitting the treadmill for 30.

I struggle with being truly disciplined in everything that I do. I find, especially with my work, I can be incredibly productive on Monday and Tuesday, acceptably productive on Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday are a lot less productive than I’d like them to be.

Prints of this are for sale in my Etsy shop

Why is this happening?

I’ve evaluated all sorts of reasons this might be happening. It’s a pattern I badly want to change, so follow along with me as I do a try and figure out the root cause of the diminishing returns.

  • Do I hate my work? Nope, I genuinely love what I do. Of course some days are better than others, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people with their websites and watching my company and coworkers grow and mature.
  • Am I checking out early for the weekend? Not consciously. I mean, my weekends are fine but being a business owner means they aren’t a stark contrast to my Monday – Friday. More time with my family for sure, but rarely do I feel “free” when I walk out the doors of the office building on Friday.
  • Do I have a clear vision for what I’m working on every single day? Some days I do. Guess when those days are? Earlier in the week. I find myself a lot more focused early in the week and take the time to meticulously plan each day. Once I let that habit start to slip, everything else does too.
  • Am I just undisciplined? Honestly, this is probably the biggest factor. I get distracted easily, and not necessarily by bad things. But 18 minutes of Twitter later and my entire day gets derailed for one reason or another.

The irony is that I spend much less time on social media than I used to. And social media isn’t the only culprit here. I can be elbows deep in writing an article, get a Ping in Basecamp, and suddenly I find myself debugging a WooCommerce issue and the flow of creating the next War & Peace is gone. The article is long forgotten.

I think I’m more self aware than I used to be, and this may be a years-old problem that I’m just identifying now. But like I mentioned earlier, it’s annoying and I want to turn the ship around.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this

If you’re immune to distractions, well, I guess I’m happy for you. Reluctantly happy.

For everyone else, what’s the answer? Unfortunately, I think the answer is painfully simple.

We need to be more disciplined.

Which, sounds easy enough, but we know it isn’t. There are so many things that pull us in hundreds of different directions each day that any level of success in staying disciplined and focused is really tough to master.

Discipline vs. Motivation

On the Back to Work podcast (highly recommend if you don’t listen already) last week they talked about motivation, and how it’s mostly a made up thing. Sure, you have to want to do something at some level to actually do it, but repetition and discipline are the only way to ensure you keep something going consistently over a long period of time.

Discipline is more important because it can keep you on track when motivation fails – listener Greg

Merlin goes on to break it down further and gives an extreme example. Are we motivated to brush our teeth?

Hopefully you don’t have to have a reminder to brush your teeth. If you’re an adult you shouldn’t have to remember to brush your teeth. I’m deliberately using a very extreme example because, like, how do you get that same pattern repeated in everything else that you care about? Well you do it over and over to where you don’t have to think about it being a thing anymore. Are you motivate to brush your teeth? Yes. But the motivation to brush your teeth is what led to the discipline. Right? Cause you don’t want stink mouth.

So, I know for a fact I don’t want my version of stink mouth which is trailing productivity through the week, so where do I go next?

How do I become more disciplined? The eternal question.

Well, I could just want to be more disciplined. But I’ve wanted it for a while. Next.

I found some interesting discipline-related listings on Craiglist but that doesn’t seem like a great route to take at the moment.

As luck would have it I stumbled onto this tweet from Conrad. Follow him if you don’t already. He’s a genuinely thoughtful guy and always up for a good conversation.

As I navigated that thread I ultimately got to the really good stuff: Motivation is Overvalued. Environment Often Matters More.

James shares some interesting insights and then he really gets to the meat and potatoes.

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. We tend to believe our habits are a product of our motivation, talent, and effort. Certainly, these qualities matter. But the surprising thing is, especially over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment.

What’s changing in my environment on Wednesday that causes that decline in productivity later in the week?

Let’s take a look at a typical day for me (this is most common, and certainly not my routine every single day):

  • Wake up at 6:30am
  • Shower & Get Dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Take Claritin
  • Take 1tsp Honey – this is my hispter allergy remedy that seems to be helping?
  • Cook 2 eggs for breakfast & drink a protein shake.
  • Eat on the patio and read Pocket for 15 minutes
  • Go to the office/cafe (after dropping Collin off for school)
  • Write for 1 hour
  • Open email/basecamp and begin standard work day schedule (each work day planned the previous evening)
  • Go home and cook dinner
  • Help boys get ready for bed
  • Watch 60-90 minutes of TV
  • Plan next work day including creating one writing prompt for the following morning

As I replayed everything I quickly found a few major flaws.

  • Where’s lunch? Am I just going to skip eating (often, yes)? How does it fit into the schedule? What kind of food choices am I making if there isn’t a plan for daytime food (bad ones)?
  • Why do I plan my next day at the very end of the day when I’m tired? Shouldn’t I be planning that earlier? What would happen if I reserved the last 15 minutes of work for this? If I skip it, the entire 8-9 hour block for “work” goes unplanned and outside forces dictate everything I do.

The fix seems clear

As I evaluated everything, it seems pretty obvious that two things are in play here that are screwing up my productivity at the end of the week.

  1. My planning falls apart because I’m not disciplined to do it every single day.
  2. My eating is all over the place, which impacts my energy levels and focus.

So to move ahead I’m making two small changes and I’ll let you know how they go.

  1. Each day at the end of my work day I’ll spend 15-30 minutes planning out exactly what I’ll be working on the next day, before dinner, and before I get home to the chaos there.
  2. As part of that plan, I’ll schedule my lunches and exactly what I’ll be eating. My breakfasts and dinners are pretty similar most of the time, so I’ll start being more consistent with my lunches as well.

These seem like two totally reasonable changes that I can repeat over and over again until I become disciplined enough to stop thinking about them. No major changes. Just slow, steady improvement.

Do any of you struggle with being consistently productive all through the week? Or just me? Please comment so I don’t think it’s just me. I know I can’t be the only one. Right? RIGHT?!

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