You’ve probably heard it rattled into your brain several times over the last few weeks, even days: if you want to get anywhere in life, take action.

And when we’re talking about the projects and businesses we work on, yes, taking action trumps all the planning and learning, fidgeting and worrying you will ever do.

Art will not materialise, life will not get organised, connections will not be made, if you are not taking conscious action steps, big and small, with consistency.

A little thing that sometimes gets swallowed up as a priority, when people talk about taking action, ‘just doing it’, and ‘shipping’, is the concept of discipline.

In particular, self-discipline: exerting boundaries, control, limits, and rules on oneself, in order to make positive changes. And yes, you can maintain your level of creativity (if not hugely improve it), with self-discipline.

“Creativity follows commitment.” Grant Cardone

We are at a critical point in human history where those that lack any active self-discipline will be eaten alive by the deluge of distraction that grows with each day.

When it comes to taking action over a certain period, whether that be starting a business or painting a canvas, we simply will not feel motivated to do what we need to do in the moment, all the time.

This is why self-discipline is vital, each and every day, and why we need to establish our own boundaries in order continually take action, without flagging, especially if we work on our own.

True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.” Mortimer J. Adler

Here are seven things you can do daily, that I can guarantee will have huge effects on your productivity and quality of work if you maintain them, like they have for me.

1. Move More

Sitting still for long portions of the day is by far the norm for most people.

And yet it is physical movement that benefits our productivity and creativity the most. Why? Because moving our bodies gets us out of our heads and into our bodies.

In other words, we become more present when we move. Presence fires our subconscious minds into action because for a moment we aren’t feeding it with our own active, often pedantic, thought.

We’re more on autopilot when we walk, stretch, swim, dance or run.

This is what humans were built to do. To move. We operate best when we act like humans do.

Switching off our monkey brains for a while to move will feed our creativity, improve our health and will benefit us through the day even long after we’ve stopped moving.

If you can schedule in time to move yourself during the day; in your breaks, and more, your body and your mind will operate at a higher frequency and you will ultimately DO more.

2. Get out of bed early

Yes, yes. I know. You’re a night owl, an artist, and you like to work into the night on your creations.

I believe the main reason some of us work more efficiently is down to distraction avoidance. There are fewer of them for most of us at night.

Humans function better cognitively when it’s light outside. We’re influenced by the cyclical nature of the Sun’s interplay with the Earth.

Get into the habit of getting up earlier, close to dawn ideally. With a good previous night’s sleep and a rested body, you’ll be more effective and more productive for longer.

If you find that the day just gets in the way of your creativity, that’s something for you to sort out. Cut off all the distractions you can, so that you can get stuff done when the day is young.

Do that thing where you leave your alarm clock a few strides from your bed, and get out early.

Better still, go to bed earlier, sleep well, and wake up naturally.

3. Plan the day ahead

Most of us don’t take action because we just don’t know what to do.

Even with massive long to do lists, we don’t know, because we don’t prioritise.

It’s much harder to have the clarity you need on how you spend your time in the day when you don’t have a clear set of tasks to do.

Spending a few minutes each day writing out a plan of the actions to be taken, in their specific order for the next day, will give you this clarity. This includes the recreational stuff like trips and taking breaks too.

Each night-before or each morning, take out no more than 3–5 of your highest priority to-dos from your larger to do lists, and set them as your main tasks for the day ahead in a clear, precise shorter task plan.

Let your next day plan sink into your dreams.


The beauty of doing this the day or night before, is that your subconscious gets to work on making sense of what needs to be done as you sleep too.

Such plans will keep you aligned and clear, each and every day, as long as you stay disciplined to set the tasks daily.

4. Set distraction-free work time zones

Effective creative work and distractions do not go well together, as we can all relate to. It’s vital that you be disciplined about the distractions you have coming in that are harming your ability to work properly.

When you set aside distinct blocks of time, every day, in which you do nothing other than the work you need to be doing, you’re winning.

This means blocking out email, moving away from the water cooler, shooing away pigeons, your phone, social media and other obvious intrusions — even music.

You absolutely must if you want to get ahead. Not only are you distraction-free, but you will be conscious of doing nothing other than focusing on the job at hand for that period.

Don’t worry too much about setting results targets, such as ‘1000 words’, ‘a completed painting’, or ‘two goats wrestled,’ because that could affect quality and process.

If you are truly un-distracted, and totally focused on the work, you will be producing what you are capable of to the best of your ability.

Going distraction-free if you’re not used to doing it will hurt to start. I’ve been there. I’m going through Instagram withdrawals right now, but I know that I’m getting something done finally.

If you only write when inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist.” Neil Gaiman

This might be three hours in the morning, with a break, and two or three more in the afternoon, being clear about ending work in the evening. Just keep an eye on that timer occasionally and stay in the moment.

You’ll be surprised how effective you become when you compartmentalise work in this way.

5. Rebirth Your Vision

Getting into the habit of writing, looking over and tweaking the goals, missions, and aspirations you have has very powerful implications for the progress you can make into the long-term.

Looking over targets and reminding yourself of what you are aiming for, consistently over time, will keep you motivated, more centred, and driven.

Make goals a process, not a one-off event far into the future.

If you feel a particular goal doesn’t ‘sing’ to you, use this time to change or tweak the wording, adding pictures, drawings, video, whatever helps.

Add colourful depth to your goals and targets. Look forward to — and enjoy being the architect of your life.

Create your vision, and allow it’s rebirth every day. A vision only comes to life if it stays with you on the journey.

When you build this into your daily routine, you’re bringing your goals to the forefront of your mind. When ideas appear in your daily vision like this, the likelihood of them materialising will increase and your energy will be revived.

What you keep before your eyes will affect you.” Joel Osteen

Set yourself an alert, or an alarm, reminding you to clarify all your goals to yourself, every single day.

6. Set Aside Clear Admin Time

Getting our work organised, whether that be through running over finances, sharing our work online, responding to emails, or just tidying up notes that we’ve been taking over the weeks, can be boring, but it is absolutely vital for a focused and sane state of mind.

Most of us get overwhelmed and frustrated with the mere idea of admin. But getting organised is at the root of our personal sanity and productivity.

One painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier.” Helen Keller

When we set aside a clearly defined time period every day for admin, distinct from time to be creative and expressive, it gives us some definition.

It gives us a reason to do the ‘boring stuff’, whereas before you might have avoided it because it was optional.

Make admin and the less fun stuff non-negotiable for at least an hour each day.

This means time in which you do nothing other than getting organised and doing the things that are important but not necessarily the most fun.

Stay within the time-boundaries you set yourself. It could be an entire day or more if you are behind.

A large part of self-discipline is not breaking your own rules. It helps to have planned exactly what you will do, the day before, in your task list, but even if you haven’t, setting aside this block of time will get you thinking about what you need to do.

7. Play

As nice as it sounds to think of work being interchangeable with play, and I believe creativity involves both, you’re much better off being crystal clear about time allocated to actively working, and time spent actively playing, reading, exercising or ‘actively’ relaxing.

Here in Bangkok, I take advantage of the decent Thai massage a few times a week. I find it’s one of the best ways to give my brain and body a rest, while recharging my creative powers.

It’s up to you how you divide the distinction. Just in the same way that you dedicate a block of time to distraction-free ‘work’ and admin activities, you’d be wise to also compartmentalise your play time too.

Go with your gut and personal experience when deciding on how much time to give for fun.

This saves you going overboard, but it does bring attention to the importance of dedicating time to play.

Work can never be as productive or creative when it lacks relaxation, socialising and fun within the day to keep you balanced and alive.

It’s clear that specific time allocation is a big part of good self-discipline each day.

Dividing up your day into distraction-free, dedicated chunks will do wonders for your productivity.

Don’t get too rigid. Change up the pattern behind how you set aside your time sometimes.

Not all of us will hit these seven disciplines every day.

Allow yourself to break rules occasionally, but know that consistency can help you get into good habits, reinforcing your self-discipline into the long run.

Did these ideas make you feel better? Comment and recommend this article if you were tickled by it.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. This is a great pecice of advice for any designer. I am a graphic design student and starting to put my porfiolo togehter for the world wide web. Do you have any advice for displaying pofiolo on a website? What styles are best for an illustrator website?

    Reply
    • There is no science to this. More than anything else, develop a strong style that you enjoy that would work in a context that someone could pay you for. The most important thing is to keep creating, and seeing how the market and the world responds to it. Eventually, you will get a sense of what works and what does not. Then it’s down to you to present it cleanly. A portfolio is simply presenting your best work in a well-designed and well-organised way, that is easy to see and all your best work can be found in one place.

      Reply

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