One Simple Tool Guaranteed to Improve Your Discipline

It is said that anyone can do something for 20 minutes (thank you WMT – you know who you are) and if that’s true then we’re all in good shape when it comes to finding the discipline for daily creative effort.  But discipline takes more than agreeing we could do something for a short time – it takes doing it.

There is a tool we all have right now that virtually guarantees that each and every one of us can apply ourselves for a solid span of time even in the face of our underwhelming enthusiasm.

Before we reflect on this useful tool, however, it helps to recognize why we resist doing the work our creative lives demand of us in the first place.  One reason we lack discipline is because of the fear of wasted time.  By now we all pretty much agree that art is hard work.  From short stories to poems to painting to song-writing we all fear, at least from time to time, that we’re wasting our lives by kidding ourselves about our creative talent.  And while there is a whole other discussion to be had about why that thinking is wrong-headed, the fact of the matter is that it exists and we have to overcome it.

Probably the second biggest reason we resist sitting down and getting to work is laziness.  Most of us already have jobs that suck up a better portion of our lives, and to add even more focused time and energy onto other projects can feel like one endless pile of chores.  Easy enough, then, to overlook the reward of completing a project when the journey of a thousand miles is still only ten miles in.

What we’re really struggling with, however, is one of the great themes of creative expression – time and the inferred (and impending) end of it.  When we think about time in terms of the finite, as in the end of our lives, it’s easy to forget that the art we create is permanent, as much as anything is permanent, and the associated feelings of isolation and despair don’t help us when our doubts persist.  But the effort of art is worthwhile, and fortunately for us there is a tool we can use to make everything all better.

I was recently introduced to a very simple device that has revolutionized my productivity, and it’s something readily available to us almost anywhere we go: a timer.

hourglass_tn2 (2)

Now hear this – the timer is our friend!  Once the timer is set things begin looking up.  With time counting down we need only bear with our task for long enough to allow the timer to do its thing, for ten minutes, twenty, or an hour.  If you think this sounds silly just try it.  Try anything, but if your idea isn’t working better than mine then do it.  Chances are your twenty minute experiment will double before you actually stop.  Some of you might tune out the timer or, finding yourselves interrupted by the annoying alarm, may even toss the thing across the room and keep going.  In any case I wager you’ll discover, as did I, that the timer is invaluable for getting started, and that’s all we really need.  Once we get past the initial resistance to starting the seas open before us and the sailing can commence.

Try this: set your timer for twenty minutes and get to work.  As soon as you’re done come back here and tell us about the experience.  Did you go longer?  Were you satisfied that it helped get you into your chair and working?  Was it a complete failure?

Let us know!

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6 comments on “One Simple Tool Guaranteed to Improve Your Discipline

  1. Susan Burns says:

    A good post, Ty, and timely. Just recently I began to “book tasks” in my calendar. Outlook is scheduled to remind me fifteen minutes before the activity begins that it will begin. In this way I either know I have to hurry up to finish, or catch a quick cuppa before I start. It’s working for me and I find I have been a bit more productive of late. Take care!

  2. Marisa says:

    GREAT idea Susan. I too work in an office, with outlook, paperwork, slate blue cubicles & it sucks the creative energy from me like a vortex. Today I will set the outlook to alert me “STEP AWAY FROM THE VORTEX & VENTURE OUT INTO THE ABYSS” … That would be the fresh air & sunshine we have here in Ca as opposed to my lovelies in the frozen abyss of the eastern seaboard.

  3. This a great post and I can personally attest to how well it works. I have a daily goal of 30 minutes. I sit at my desk and start the stopwatch. With the stopwatch running I am not allowed to do anything but write. If things are going well I keep writing past the 30 minute mark. But if it is a tough day I stop at 30 and leave the room. I am then free to do anything I want, until tomorrow.

    • emperort says:

      Nice, John. How long have you been using this system? Using the timer is one of the most effective – if not THE most effective – methods I know of.

      • I started using it a couple of years ago. I told myself that no matter what I could write for at least 30 minutes a day. So I started a stopwatch and did nothing but write. No e-mail, no internet, nothing. I found this helped alot and established a daily writing habit. I have been working on a novel and have added a daily word count of at least 500 words. Again it seems like a doable goal and I used a spreadsheet to track both minutes and words. It keeps me writing at any rate. Good post by the way.

  4. […] to reach our goal. We must not think at all about the time we are committing (and if you recall last post we discussed time as a tool to assure we are committing in the first place). Put your mind only to […]

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