Self-Discipline: Be the Boss of Yourself

Graphic by Lauren Hardage

Graphic by Lauren Hardage

Like many (many!) of us, you may feel like there is not enough time in a day. Maybe you’ve become stressed or disappointed in yourself for not making the best use of that time? Do you find yourself continuing with bad habits or having a hard time implementing good habits? Welcome to the club!

If you’re self-employed, self-discipline is vital: you may have no set work hours and no one overseeing your work, so you need to be an effective boss of yourself. Let’s talk self-discipline and priorities and see what we can improve.

Disciplining Children, Disciplining Myself

We are experiencing a revolution in our household, all to do with DISCIPLINE. I have two boys, who are turning three and five shortly, and behavior has been getting out of hand. I knew that in some situations I wasn’t doing a good job with them and I was getting more frustrated than I needed to be.

I recently read a parenting book that is rapidly helping me to restore calm interaction and pleasant behavior in my home (parents, the book is called Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm, and is just what my clever, sensitive, boundary-pushing child and I needed). Now I know how to remain friendly while also using discipline (I am not talking about punishment!) to help my kids learn respect, self-control, and cooperation.

I explained to a friend that now that I know exactly what is expected of me as a parent, and what to do in any given bad-behavior situation, I feel calm and confident, and have no reason to get frustrated (and, I confess, angry) anymore. She pointed out jokingly that the book had disciplined me, and that got me thinking about the broad meaning of the word “discipline” and how it relates to life and business.

What is Discipline?

I take good care of my kids and don’t let them get out of doing what’s important for happiness and healthiness, so why do I let myself? I often think that what I need is a mom – I mean an actual continually-parenting mom, in my house with me all day, making sure I don’t screw up, and gently guiding me to take care of myself and make the best use of my time.

This mom won’t take “no” or “later” for an answer, and will instead insist that the important stuff comes first, and play time comes later. Dinner before dessert! Chores before games! Creative fun and exploration over passive tv-staring! Of course, this “mom” is really self-discipline.

“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

Working On My Self-Discipline

Here are the things I’ve been challenging myself to do as I parent myself into better behavior. I had two months in spring without a project manager for Aeolidia, and I let a lot of these things slide while I was feeling stressed. Now that everything is shipshape with my business again, I’m dusting off these bits of self-discipline and feeling much better.

Limit my smartphone use. I saw a joke on Kottke recently: ” They promised us life in space, flying cars, and jetpacks but all we got were pocket-sized rectangles containing all human knowledge. FAIL.” It sounds easy to say we’ll put the phone down, but seriously. Everything in the world is in there, practically.

I do better when I don’t have my phone on my nightstand (it gives me trouble getting to sleep and starting my day). I let myself use the phone quickly to assist me in useful tasks (reading a recipe, following a map, googling “size of chickadee nest”), but I start raising my “mom eyebrow” at myself if my kids are clamoring for my attention and I’m tapping away on my phone.

Do I really need to get an email or phone alert when someone comments on Facebook, mentions me on Twitter, sends an email? I have turned off all non-urgent notifications, and instead check what’s been going on once a day (sometimes less). Panicky feelings of needing to check and reply faded instantly.

Give myself a bedtime. Oh, it’s so hard to get to bed at a reasonable time, especially if you run a business and have little children. I know, I know! It is painfully obvious to me that I don’t function well without enough sleep. I can’t concentrate, I drift around on the internet and get sidetracked, I feel like things can wait until later.

It seems like staying up a couple hours later can only be good, because now I’ve gotten two extra hours of work done! But I wager that I actually lose those saved two hours the next day when I’m dragging through my tasks. With enough sleep backing me up, I am able to prioritize and speed through things and just kill my to-do list sometimes.

Eat three balanced meals a day. And keep snacking to a minimum! I find that being busy has the benefit of leaving no time for sneaking extra snacks, but of course can also cause me to forget lunch.

Don’t put it down, put it away. Or, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” I can work and produce and create much better when I’m not in a house that looks like a tornado of toys hit it. I work on my “little bit better” strategy when I walk through rooms, and when I don’t have time to really clean, I chant, “at least don’t make a new mess” in my head, putting away as I go.

Prioritize content consumed. When I have spare time that is not kid time and not work time, I try to do things that make me feel good. Rather than tootling around on the internet, I have been reminding myself to look to the big stack of books by my bed. Blogs are great and all, but they’re no comparison to Steinbeck! It’s nice to read something that has been committed to print and run by an editor. I’m trying to go for quality instead of ease of use.

Make time to create. Similarly, I feel better about my time spent when I have created something. I am currently working on a quilt, and I have a homemade blackberry cheesecake in my fridge. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, and it’s just a matter of prioritizing. You can’t do everything, but you can certainly pick one thing you’d like to accomplish in each day, rather than letting other things draw you in and take up all of your time.

Set aside time to work, and be done when I’m done. I find that I work better with a deadline, and knowing my kids will be beating down my door every day at 5:00 helps me come up with a plan for each day and get what needs to be done finished, so I can turn the computer off and forget about it until the next day.

My new change is to identify 1-3 “must-do” work tasks for each work day. One huge problem I find myself having running a small business is that I have a to-do list that contains literally hundreds of things, and when I don’t clarify what I intend to do each day, I find myself never feeling done, because my massive to-do list remains. Clear expectations for myself leave me feeling calm and capable, and it is easier to feel accomplished and be done for the day.

Get outside and get my exercise. This is the one on the list that I am the worst at, and I keep intending to make some progress on my lack of discipline here. I realize that I need to build it into my schedule, before I get involved with work. Once I sit down at the computer, it’s rare that I’ll take a break to exercise. Help me out with this one! What are ways that you motivate yourself to move your body? My husband and I love going on walks, and the weather has been very nice. I just need to get serious.

Don’t forget to play! One perk of running my own small business is that I can call the shots, set my own schedule, and make time for my family – so why is it sometimes hard to do? We can be our own worst bosses! My big goal, and what I’m constantly working on, is to get my work time efficient and scheduled so that I can enjoy all of my other time – while not thinking about work at all during that time. A dream, for sure, and worth pursuing.

Working on Your Own Self-Discipline

The above are the areas I’m working on improving. It’s a lot of things! The only reason I’m this far along is that I’ve been working with myself on all of these things, many of them for a long time. Trying to start on day one with this pile of things would be way too much.

Choose one area to improve
If you’d like to improve your own self-discipline, I think it’s best to choose one area where you’d like to improve, and work on that until it starts to become a habit. When you feel comfortable with one area, you can add another.

Start small and be realistic
Rather than trying to get to the end goal right away with any of your improvements, ask yourself:

“If I was being 5% more responsible, what would I do today to reach my goal?”
(read The 5 Percent Trick: Finding Passion and Purpose in Life)

5% is attainable – give it a try, keep it up, and your efforts will accumulate.

Set high standards for yourself
Know what you’re capable of and challenge yourself a bit. People are happiest when they have a reasonable challenge. Too much challenge is overwhelming, and too little challenge is under-stimulating. Knowing the sweet spot where your skills are and pushing a bit beyond helps you stay interested and results in pride of accomplishment.

Knowing quite a few perfectionist-types, I say to you: please be realistic about your expectations! If your expectations for yourself are too high, you’ll set yourself up for disappointment.

Have a plan and understand what you’re doing
Much like taking care of your kids, remember that knowing how and what to do prevents frustration and leads to calm confidence, and this lesson can be applied to how you run your business as well.

How do you keep yourself on track and stay disciplined? Share with us in the comments so we can all learn to be better bosses of ourselves!

Originally posted on Oh My! Handmade »