John writes: “I know I need to be self-disciplined to write my book, but I’m just not a self-disciplined person. Is there any hope?”
Well, John, you do need self-discipline to write a book. That’s especially true if you’re a part-time writer with a demanding day job and lots of important relationships. You say that you’re not a “self-disciplined person.” But discipline isn’t a genetic trait that you’re stuck with, it’s a set of behaviors you can develop. That’s good news. In fact, you might be more self-disciplined than you think.
Work on The Right Problem
Let’s start with the basics. The problem isn’t becoming more self-disciplined. That’s fuzzy and hard to measure. The real problem is doing the things you need to get done to finish your book.
Go for a Quick Fix
You could be an obligor.” That’s the name that Gretchen Rubin gives to one of the “four tendencies” she describes in her book with that name. The tendencies describe the way each of us characteristically responds to expectations.
One of the four tendencies is “obligor.” An obligor responds well to external expectations but not so well to internal ones. That might be you if always did what you needed to do when you are on a team and responsible to a coach and other players. You might be an obligor if you’re far more likely to meet a deadline that you promised to another person. If that’s you, the fix is easy.
Find or hire an accountability partner. An accountability partner is a person that you report to on your progress. I have several clients for whom that’s my primary activity. At the beginning of each week, they tell me what they intend to do. At the end of each week, they tell me what they’ve done. I make some helpful comments and the cycle begins again.
Whether hiring an accountability partner works or not, you can still do things that help you get the right writing tasks done. Here are some.
Make Sure You Have Enough Energy
It’s harder to exercise self-discipline when you’re tired. So, do the things that help you have as much energy as possible. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Eat sensibly. This is not news, but it’s important.
Create Realistic Expectations
Sometimes, the problem isn’t that you’re not hitting your goals and deadlines. Sometimes, the problem is that you expect too much of yourself. If you constantly miss deadlines you set for yourself, evaluate whether you’re being realistic. Try changing them to see what happens. Go for small wins.
Make Things You Want to Avoid Harder
Usually, when you’re writing a book, there are things you want to avoid. You don’t want to watch cat videos on the internet. You don’t want to spend precious writing time reorganizing your file system or sketching out ideas for a new logo. So, make it harder to do those things. Several people have a computer that they only use for writing. It doesn’t have a browser on it, and it can’t connect to the internet. Remember, it’s far easier to avoid temptation than it is to overcome it.
Make Things You Want to Do Easier
This is the flip side of the last suggestion. Make sure you have all the things you need when you’re ready to write. When I’m going to write something in the morning, I get things ready the night before.
I make sure that the file I need is open on my computer so that when I fire it up in the morning, I don’t have to go searching.
Let Environmental Cues Help You
If you write in the same place with the same equipment and files every time, your brain will start to connect the time and equipment with writing. Use physical reminders to grab your attention so that you do things you’re supposed to do.
Know What You’re Going to Do When It’s Time to Write
This is a powerful technique. Some great writers, like Ernest Hemingway, used it to make their writing sessions more productive. Don’t end a writing session when you’re fresh out of ideas. Instead, end your session when you have a clear idea of what you will write next. When you return to writing, you can dive right into the writing and not spend time planning, pondering, or doing unproductive things.
Let Your Energy Be Your Guide
Plan your writing sessions for time when you have peak energy. For most of us, that’s in the morning. Your mileage may vary, but once you know your most productive time, try to plan your writing for that time.
You don’t need super self-discipline. You do need enough self-discipline in the right places to make the difference you desire. Consider an accountability partner. Do things that make it more likely you’ll do the writing you want to do when you want to do it.
The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz