In a previous article I talked about the need to work smarter, not harder, in the battle against burnout and on the path to productivity.
Part of that article was about having the discipline to hold back, to control oneself and use restraint to conserve energy for the long-term.
In this article, I seek to take that thought a little bit further and look at how to make that discipline slightly easier to apply.
Discipline is a Mindset Skill that comes up a lot in conversations with the teams and individuals I work with; the discipline to do what is necessary to achieve their larger goals, and not just easy/expedient/fun right now. The discipline to stick to an exercise regimen or healthy diet after the initial interest and motivation has burned out.
My idea is that to make sticking to something easier, it is better to control the input, rather than the response.
A really easy example of this is to not have any cake in the house if you wish to keep to a diet. Buying a chocolate gateau and keeping it in the kitchen is going to require infinitely more self-control and discipline than just walking past the pastry isle at the supermarket.
The response is going to be eating the cake. The input is buying the cake in the first place.
Keep yourself ignorant
There are more subtle examples, that can have bigger rewards and benefits to our long-term performance and productivity.
I’m a big fan of minimal notifications on phones. Right now, I don’t receive alerts from any of my social media accounts or email. (I’m working towards turning off the notifications from text messages and Whatsapp but that’s a mountain I have yet to conquer…)
The reason I like to keep an ‘introverted mobile’ is because distractions are easier to ignore if they don’t distract you in the first place.
It takes a lot more will-power to see a message from my wife, a friend, a client or Just Eat and actively ignore it whilst I try to focus on a task than it does to just work on the task undistracted, just as not eating the gateau in the kitchen is far more difficult than not walking down the pasty isle.
One does not worry about that which one does not know - I keep myself ‘ignorant’ until a break, when that distraction is more welcome. It isn’t about ignoring everyone, it’s about not responding immediately.
A lot of my clients want to be more productive but are prone to procrastination (who isn’t?). Procrastination is the response, so what is the input?
Consider my endless ability to procrastinate on YouTube. I know that my response to watching one 4-minute video is to watch another 4-minute video. Therefore, perhaps I should aim to control where the YouTube app (the input) is on my phone? (For those wondering, it is currently hidden in a fence three screens across. I don’t mess about).
Personally, this approach of controlling the input has been of huge benefit. Not only does it conserve mental resources, but it reduces stress. In a 2017 study conducted by the University of California, Irvine it was found that tasks can be done in the same amount of time with distractions as without (maybe even a little faster!), but at a cost of increased stress, pressure and effort for those who are distracted.
So, if two people are doing the same task and have similar abilities, but one allows themselves to be distracted, the other (who controlled their inputs) will finish less tired and stressed and with a much lesser sense of being ‘under time pressure’. Who would you rather be?
So, what now?
If you’re interested in shifting the focus of your discipline to controlling the input, ask yourself what the response is that you wish to reduce. Here are a few classic choices to get you started:
Entry level: Turn off email pop-ups on your computer. If you haven’t done this already, get ready for zen.
Intermediate: Turn off social media notifications on your phone. This includes LinkedIn, email and everything you ‘need’ for work. Trust me, the world won’t end.
Hardcore: Turn off text and Whatsapp notifications. I’m not brave enough to do this yet, but the day is coming soon…
The great news about this approach is that a little change can go a long way. Try what works for you, leave what doesn’t.