Earlier in my career, I focused on learning tools and techniques in the desire to elevate my craft. However I began to notice that while those skills are important, the people with great craft had learned something deeper: self-discipline.
Once I began to implement aspects of this skill into my daily tasks, the results were surprising. I found that if you want to take your work to the next level, self-discipline is the key.
CONTROL = CREATIVITY
Oxford Languages defines self-discipline as “a controlled form of behavior or way of working.”
Control and creativity may seem antithetical to each other, but in reality having control over our actions opens the door to more creativity, higher craft, and greater productivity.
I've come to understand that discipline doesn't necessarily mean following a bunch of rules for yourself. Although rules may help guide actions, self-discipline is about something deeper. I view self-discipline as the art of committing to consistent actions that reflect long term goals.
Applying self-discipline means focusing on consistent habits and tasks, and avoiding other habits and tasks, so that you can work at your best.
Higher craft involves attention to detail, thoughtfulness, and perseverance. These are is hard to come by without consistent focus and patience. And it’s hard to have focus and patience when my day feels out of balance and unpredictable.
So, I try to build in more consistency so that I'm not fighting against unnecessary friction. I find work is easier when I:
- Plan out tasks and projects for each work day
- Incorporate sketching/non-computer work into each project
- Take regular breaks to go for a walk or just rest
One way I’ve been learning to implement self-discipline is by limiting and curating the information I take in each day. An input could be a movies, audio books, news articles, music—anything that my mind is absorbing either consciously or subconsciously throughout the day.
I’ve found that the quality of inputs I have throughout the day has a great impact on my creativity. I feel a great sense of freedom when I reduce how much unnecessary information I'm consuming on a daily basis. It's like freeing up an operating system that's been chugging along trying to handle many different processes at the same time.
I try to reduce inputs by:
- Watching less TV, movies, social media
- Avoiding checking the news
- Turning off notifications
Whether working on your own or for someone else, leading yourself is an important practice in order to do great work. When I started leading myself instead of waiting for waiting for someone to tell me what to do next, I built more self-confidence.
Leading myself means that the quality of my work is not solely dependent on the quality of other managers.
What does leading yourself look like? For me, it's:
- Managing my own workload and time
- Proactively seeking guidance on questions
- Continually seeking knowledge, learning, improvement
HOW TO START
You don’t have to drastically change your life in order to have self-discipline. You can start with small steps that gradually build consistent habits. Here are a few questions to consider to help you start building self-discipline.
- What can I remove from my current routine that would provide greater freedom?
- What is a simple task I can try doing that would help my day go more smoothly?
- Are there areas in my life where I used to be more disciplined that I should try again?
You don't have to be a monk or a Navy SEAL. Especially when starting a new area of self-discipline, it’s important to build confidence in the ability to commit in a way that’s sustainable over a long period of time.
I've found that starting with micro-commitments is a great way to begin building self-discipline in certain areas. For example, if you want to build a routine of sketching out ideas before working on the computer, see if you can start with 5 minutes of sketching at the beginning of your next project. It’s much easier to find the motivation to commit to small steps than it is to the large ones.
MAKE IT SUSTAINABLE
“Stick to the schedule, reduce the scope” – James Clear
Self-Discipline is a long term commitment, not a short term goal. I've come to realize that when it comes to self-discipline, doing something is better than nothing. So often we fall into the trap of doing nothing if we find ourselves tired or out of time.
Spending even one minute on your self-commitments is better than nothing. It keeps a promise you've made to yourself, which is just as important as keeping a promise you’ve made to someone else.
Discipline is a crucial component to greater creativity and key to the improvement of craft and improving productivity. You can start today by taking a small step to implement areas of commitment that will enable you to work at your best.