by Darrin Schenck
by Darrin Schenck
…but you can be Disciplined.
In fact, this is the real key to success. You need to be able to do things even when you do not feel like it. If you waited until you were “ready” or “motivated”, you wouldn’t get much done. In fact, nobody would get much done if they waited for the time they felt like doing anything that wasn’t fun or exciting.
When it comes to work, aka your day job, the choices are simple:
–You do your job
–you look for another job.
You need to have the discipline to get stuff done, despite your current attitude. You cannot think you are going to wake up every day, leap out of bed, and look forward to going to your job. I love my job, but I don’t do this. My job is an amazing combination of challenges that are usually conquered, interaction with new people all the time, and amazing team mates that work hard to bring everything to fruition. I kind of make my own hours, get paid well, and have a ten day fishing trip coming up soon. And yet if I won the lottery, I’d leave that job tomorrow.
So how do I combat the ebb and flow of motivation? I have systems in place that keep me in check, force me to stay the course, and allow me to get a lot of things accomplished every day. I want to share some of those things with you so you can do the same. You can interchange the words system, habit, pattern and more, as in essence they are all leading to the same end result: productivity.
First things first – I write a daily To Do list.
It sounds so simple, and yet there is a lot of power in this easy approach. And I don’t do it when I wake up, I do it the night before. This serves me in a couple of ways:
- It clears my mind so I can sleep without hoping (worrying) to remember stuff for the next day.
- I wake up organized, and I know what I need to do and in what order.
- I don’t fumble through my day, waste time, and forget half the things I needed to do.
Once written, this list is non-negotiable. When I write down that I am going to the gym before anything else, that is what happens. I am up early and there is no need for me to try to peek at my email before I get to the gym. Many of my clients are on the East Coast, and they are not expecting to hear from me yet anyway. Which means it doesn’t matter if those emails sit for another hour or two before I reply. And the last thing I want to do is set the precedent that I am available 24/7. This is my time, and I have things that need to be accomplished. I feel better, think more clearly, and will sleep better that night when I get to the gym in the morning. Many people who suffer from poor sleep are simply victims of lack of activity. No one who is a farmer or mechanic has trouble falling asleep; when you work your body hard during the day, you need sleep at night and your body and brain comply, simple as that.
Once this is checked off of my list, then I am headed home and can tackle the next thing on my list. This can vary from a prospective client presentation, phone calls, responding to an RFP, or a myriad of other things. But the main key here is that I HAVE A LIST. I am not making sh*t up as I go, I have a set plan of what needs to be done. I can rearrange the list if needed, for example if I end up headed to the office for something, I may add a swing by the Post Office as part of that trip. I am all about efficiency, as anytime I can combine tasks I want to take advantage of the time savings. I ALWAYS have things I want or need to do OUTSIDE of my day job, so I strive to get everything done as soon as possible and “buy” more time into my day for writing a blog such as this. My day job pays my bills, people rely on me, and I need to give that my full attention. But once those obligations are met, the time is mine.
Second – I want to get the toughest tasks done early.
I know that I have only so much mental energy for things that I don’t want to do. Because of this, I prioritize the things I am dreading doing to get checked off of my list as early in the day as possible. I don’t deal with many client concerns, but when I do, it is a big one. My team handles the day to day stuff that arises, but if it escalates to my desk, it is something that is serious in some way. I do not put things like this things off, I want them taken care of ASAP. I will try to schedule what I perceive to be a difficult call or Zoom session with someone at 8AM my time. This means that I am fresh off of my workout, I have a clear mind, and am not distracted by other things that have occurred during the day. The last thing I want is to have an accumulation of irritations throughout the day and then have a tough convo with someone. It simply makes my job of being professional as possible easier when I am just starting off my day, so I schedule accordingly.
This applies to tasks outside of work as well. For example, if I need to clean the garage or do yardwork, I am getting this done early in the day. I don’t want that looming over me throughout the day, I want if off of my To Do list. So I will prioritize the list to have this task on the top of the list (after the workout, of course) and tackle that when I have the most energy to do so. I will feel better knowing it is done, and that my task list is dwindling.
Third – I use dopamine to my advantage
I love the feeling of not only getting things done, but actually crossing an item off of my To Do list. I have trained myself to embrace the affect of this to a high degree, and it is something I look forward to as part of the process. It is the reward for the work being done. It sounds weird to some, but others know what I mean. That satisfying feeling of drawing a line through a task on my list is a chemical release in my brain of that beloved chemical called dopamine, and it is an underlying motivating factor for a lot of behaviors, including smoking and gambling, but also the good stuff like helping another or petting a puppy. It is the reward center in your brain that craves this chemical, and your mind uses it to get you to do things to release this chemical.
Since I am aware of this, I use it to my advantage. I work into the process my own task-reward loop to reinforce that To Do list gets done. The more often I do, the stronger the desire to do more things to get the reward. I, like most others, am simply a rat in an experiment of running through a maze to get a treat at the end. It is the same thing…
If you review the three points I shared, you will see they are very simple to say but not easy to do. This takes Discipline to follow, but it does not take Motivation. Discipline is simply ignoring the reasons not to do something and get to work, Motivation means that I want to do something, and that can very greatly depending on my mood or the task itself. That is tricky territory, and leaves you vulnerable to the ups and downs of this feeling. A system is a plan of action, a desire to do something is a feeling, and that is shaky ground to stand upon. This will help you deal with the feeling (and reality in some cases) of overwhelm. If you wake up feeling like you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start, so you don’t, that is a problem. The solution is write a list out the night before and get to work when you wake up. Simple…not easy, but simple nonetheless.
You need to have systems in place to ensure you get things done, it is as simple as that. Writing a To Do list and checking off the items as you systematically do through your day will make you much more efficient and effective, and that is going to open up more time in your day to do the things that you are motivated to do, like play video games or hang out with your friends. Systems hold up far better than making things up on the fly or drifting through your day hoping you magically get things done. Its like going to the grocery store for more than five items; if you don’t write out a list, you gonna forget something and then you’ll be headed back there tomorrow as well. We’ve all done it, and we all know it doesn’t work very well. So learn your lesson from this microcosm example and expand that out to your whole life.
Write a list
Organize a the list
Do the list.
Get your dopamine dump and smile. It’s that simple, so put it to use and start getting things accomplished in a timely fashion. You’ll be better for it, your boss will appreciate the efficiency, and you’ll end up with more time to do what you want to do, instead of just the things you need to do.
If I can assist you in this process, please reach out. I wish you luck in your endeavors.
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