Entrepreneurs and The Art of Self-Discipline

“The first and best victory is to conquer self.”-Plato

For entrepreneurs, self-discipline is everything. It is an essential art we must master. Being an entrepreneur means being able to turn ideas into action. Ideas unrealized are only ideas (and usually don’t pay much).

Nonetheless, the folks over at the U.S. Small Business Administration and their ilk will have you believe the first step in entrepreneurship is writing a business plan. Developing a plan is great, but all the planning in the world gets you nil if you can’t turn it into action. You may know what steps to take, but until you figure out how to take them, you won’t get far. This is where self-discipline comes in. Being self-disciplined means you know what needs to be done and you know how to make it happen.

You may think self-discipline is not your cup of tea. After all, you were probably drawn to entrepreneurship because, at some level, you are a rebel. And you may think rebel and self-discipline don’t belong in the same sentence.

Being self-disciplined doesn’t mean you have to stuff yourself back into the box. Look, your rebelliousness brought you out of the cubicle and to the cusp of greatness. You love that part of you. It is, after all, what makes you you. You are your own driving force, and having that kind of drive is half the battle, but the trick is finding a way to efficiently channel that drive. Productivity is the goal. Self-discipline doesn’t mean working harder or working more; it means working better.

Hurry Up! Slow Down!

It may seem counterintuitive to slow down in order to hurry up, but taking your time and learning how to do something right usually saves time, energy, and stress in the long run. Moreover, if you avoid rushing through work, you may begin to notice things about yourself and your work habits you previously missed. For example, you may find you work better at certain times of day or within certain environments. You can begin to play to your strengths and become a more efficient worker by working where, when, and how you work best!

Eliminating Distractions

Playtime Anyone?

Eliminating distractions is key to productivity, and the best way to keep yourself from being distracted is to, well, allow yourself to be distracted. This strategy may seem nonsensical, but if you allow yourself plenty of play time, you may not be so tempted to stray when duty calls. Try to schedule at least one day a week where you escape work completely. This means no checking e-mails or making phone calls. Giving yourself a much-needed breather will help you refresh and focus when you do return to the grind.

On the days you do work, be sure to take plenty of breaks. Consider setting a work rhythm that employs the Pomodoro (or another similar) technique. (It works like this: choose one task to work on and set a timer for 25 minutes. When the buzzer sounds, stop working. After a 5-minute break, repeat with another task. After every fourth session, take a longer break.)

Setting Boundaries

For many of us entrepreneurs, home is our office. When you work from home, you face a whole extra world of potential distractions: the dog needs attention, a neighbor stops in, the dishes are piling up, etc. You have to find a way to strike a reasonable balance between your home life and work, and the best way to do so is by setting boundaries:

  • Communicate clearly to those close to you that you are unavailable when you are working. If some people still don’t seem to get it, just don’t answer that door or phone!
  • Even if you don’t have an entire room set aside as your office, try to designate a specific space to work in. Consider sectioning your desk off from the rest of the room with a folding screen or bookcase. Most important? Be sure the view from your workspace doesn’t include those dishes!
  • If the sounds of your family members living life in the next room distract you, consider donning some headphones.

There’s an App for That!

For most people, working means doing something on a computer. When you are in front of your computer, it’s way too easy to wander off task. One of the biggest distractors is e-mail. If you find yourself thrown off every time a new e-mail arrives, disable your new message notifications and opt instead to check your e-mail manually at certain intervals throughout your day.

Perhaps your productivity issues are greater. If you regularly sit down, fully intending to work, but find yourself 8 hours later with nothing to show for your efforts except five updates to your Facebook status, an unhealthy knowledge of everything trending on Twitter, and a well-watered Farmville harvest, you may need to pull out the big guns and get an app like StayFocused, which restricts the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting sites.

Health is Wealth

Self-discipline requires energy, so if you want to practice good self-discipline, you have to take care of yourself. The first thing you should put down on your calendar each week–before the meetings or planning sessions–is scheduled “you” time.

  • Make certain you are getting enough sleep and exercise.
  • Be sure you stay up-to-date with all doctor and dentist appointments.
  • Schedule ample time to eat proper nutritious meals.
  • Make an appointment each day to relax! Now is a great time to set up a regular massage or yoga session.

Practice Makes Perfect

Remember, like any skill, self-discipline requires practice. No matter how undisciplined you may feel, if you slow down, take time to understand what self-discipline means, and begin to pay close attention to your habits, you can start to make gentle corrections. Eventually, those corrections can beget new, improved habits, and before you know it, you will be well-versed in the art of self-discipline.

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