The problem is not that we lack the needed information, but that we are unwilling to apply it once we have it. We already know what it's going to take to be successful in our careers/lives, but often lack the self-control to establish boundaries, set goals, and make the necessary sacrifices.
Self-control, as it applies to our careers, is the ability to control external distractions, internal impulses, and fluctuating circumstances that can keep us from focusing on the task at hand. If left unchecked, these can rob us of our productivity destroying our goals and aspirations. So, let's take a look at a few strategies that can help you practice self-control.
"Buy in" to the big picture and have passion for a purpose
Self-control isn't easy -- it requires determination and a level of commitment that supersedes all distractions. Think about what a marathon runner goes through in preparation for their next race. It takes months, if not years of preparation, sacrifice, dietary regulations and rigorous exercise. (It's not for dabblers.) Marathoners know what it takes to finish each race and because they're devoted, they can overcome impulses contrary to their goals. Over time, these little victories develop the willpower required for sustainable success. What's your big picture?
It helps to be intentional about incorporating your passions into your plans. You'd be surprised how much easier making sacrifices would be if you were truly excited about your goals. Take time to develop goals centered around your passions and then sit back and watch as each accomplishment leads you closer and closer to a successful, purpose-driven career.
Training, not trying
Utilizing the same metaphor, self-control requires daily physical and emotional training. It requires discipline and systematic "baby steps" to get yourself in shape. By dedicating yourself to routines geared towards accomplishing your goal, you'll inadvertently create healthy habits. For me, to become a better writer, I've had to devote time each day to reading.
Abraham Lincoln said it best, "Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most."
This is the hardest one for me, by far. I have a problem saying "no" and as a result, I often inadvertently over commit myself. Then, stress levels go up, tasks are procrastinated, and basic needs go left unfilled (sleep, exercise, and nutrition). Unfortunately, to create more margin, it's usually our families and personal lives that suffer the most.
Here's what I've learned by being burned out and having to back out of commitments. Before saying "yes" ask yourself these questions.
- By saying "yes" to this, what will I have to say "no" to in the future? Every commitment comes with sacrifices. I've been embarrassed too many times because I believed that I could do it all.
- What matters the most? If you're like me, it's hard to say no in fear of disappointing someone. Plus, it always feels good to be included. However, stockpiling priorities is a quick way to burn yourself out and damage your reputation. Use your priorities as a filter to vet new opportunities and projects.
I like to think of boundaries as the lines in a "coloring book." If you can consistently stay inside the "lines," the result will be a masterpiece. If not, the cumulative effect of "coloring outside the lines" will be a mess.
Have you ever set down to do a task and suddenly an hour went by without your recollection? That's probably due to the numerous emails you answered, the phone calls you took, and the conversations you had with those who popped by your office. Don't get me wrong, these are important, but so is that impending deadline. In the words of Stephen Covey, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."
One of the most effective tactics that I've found is the Pomodoro Technique. In a nutshell, this method forces you to chunk your day into 25-minute time blocks. Within that window, you're focused, emails don't get answered, phone calls go to voicemail, and your calendar shows that you're busy. It was so tough for me the first time that I actually set a timer on my phone. The key is to work on the hardest task first and continue to use 25-minute blocks until it's finished. After each period ends, reward yourself by taking a quick break to check emails, texts, and voice messages. I've only been using this routine for the past couple months and I'm already starting to hack my brain and trick myself into focusing on one thing at a time.
Tackling a daunting task all at once is overwhelming and often leads to a loss of motivation when the first roadblock presents itself. If we break tasks down into smaller chunks, we can accomplish our aspirations in succession and build momentum through each triumph
Know your triggers
We all have them. These are the little notifications or thoughts that can sidetrack us for hours. (Social media, your favorite TV show, a random movie, or something that someone says.) Downtime and introspection are necessary, but if you don't recognize and set limits to these distractions, they'll derail your productivity. Some can be avoided; others have to be identified and overcome. Writing down a list of the obvious ones can help you conserve willpower for the random ones.
It doesn't take Jedi mind tricks to learn self-control. By combining a few simple strategies to help us be more disciplined, we can finally focus our energy and take back our productivity.