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How I Conquered Being Undisciplined and Started Getting Things Done

Today was a crazy day. We’re launching a new eBook with another site on dPS tonight so there was lots of planning, writing of copy for emails, sales pages and blog posts, setting up of shopping carts and much much more.

I thought that the day would be a write off when it came to my other activities, yet I still managed to get a lot done – perhaps even more than a normal day. I wrote 4 blogs posts (actually this one makes it 5), edited 4 others from other writers, managed to keep my inbox down to the same level it was at yesterday and did a bit of preparation for a sermon I’m writing for my church next Sunday… not to mention normal family stuff.

How was it that today was more productive than a normal day?

Today wasn’t a freak day where I worked any longer hours than normal, dosed up on cold and flu tablets, or drank 6 coffees instead of my normal 2. Over the years I’ve noticed these kinds of days before – and there’s one common thread among them….

I can sum it up with this chart:

Screen shot 2010-06-21 at 12.15.53 PM.png

I find that on the days that I fill up with tasks and deadlines that I tend to get a lot more done than the days that I have open.

When I don’t set out to achieve anything – I tend not to get anything done while on the days I wonder if I’ll get anything completed because I have too much to do I tend to exceed my expectations and get more than I planned to do done.

Of course there comes a point on the ‘busyness’ spectrum where things can get overwhelming to the detriment of productiveness (I’ve had days where I’ve been completely paralysed by the overwhelming nature of it all) but in general I’d say that I’m at my best when I’m busy.

I think this partially explains why as a student at university I was a pretty pathetic student and could never seem to get an assignment in on time. I had 10 contact hours and only had to show up to classes for 2 part days a week. I had 3 full days off to get everything I needed to do done, but never seemed to achieve it while my friend with 35 contact hours a week seemed to get everything done.

I always saw myself as undisciplined. Perhaps there was some truth in that but ever since I started blogging I’ve always wondered why that ‘undisciplined streak’ has never really come back. I thought for a while I might have just grown out of it, but I suspect it’s had more to do with the fact that I’ve been keeping myself busy.

When I started blogging I had numerous part time jobs and was finishing my studies in Theology and blogged ‘on the side’ (nights mainly). As I let go of the part time jobs I started multiple blogs and other projects as I had capacity – but have always stretched myself and taken on a little more than I could easily do. As a result I’ve always felt a little stretched, but have have always had to focus and set myself priorities in order to get what I set out to achieve done.

Is it just me who is wired this way or do others find their productivity increases as their busyness does?

PS: I’d issue one word of warning on this. Over the 8 years that I’ve been working this way there have been a couple of times I stretched myself too far. You’ll notice that the chart has a tipping point where busyness can lead to less productivity. Don’t burn yourself out!

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. As they say, “If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person to do it!”. Matt. 3:25

  2. Bhavik says:

    Can I just say wow.

    I think I’m currently that undisciplined college student, actually I’m 100% positive that I am. This post is just what I needed. Here’s to hoping I actually heed the advice presented above. Thank you for giving me a simple solution and hope along with it.

  3. MOre important than anything is having a

  4. Darren

    More important than anything BY FAR is having a clear idea of WHAT you are attempting to achieve.

    Know what the goal is? Then it is very easy to have a clear work flow.

    Uncertainty and not being clear about the target brings a ghastly lack of motivation to apply oneself. As they say, if you don’t know where you are going, any old winding road will get you there. :)

    Jonathan

  5. GolfGurl says:

    I work best under pressure. Always have. But when I have a lot to do in one day, I find I am tempted to do all the “little things” that should only take a minute, before starting in on the one “major task”…. which I should really do first. All those “little things” usually take a lot longer than I predict they will. Making a list and prioritizing is really the key to making things go well for me. Thanks Darren for your insights. Always enlightening!

  6. I always start my mornings off with some exercise, and while I’m at it, I jot down my main priorities for the day. If I don’t stay focused, someone else will focus me on other non-important tasks. ;)

    Brandon

  7. Daisy says:

    Darren,
    That is me to a tee. I was a lazy student (but a successful one — good at pulling things out of my a– at the last minute). I functioned better in a classic work environment with external deliverables. Throw a baby in the mix and I finally cracked, to the point of jeopardizing my health. Now that I am choosing to exit corporate life and become more entrepreneurial I will face a lot of challenges in creating enough structure to keep me productive but enough balance to keep me healthy and sane. Family members have seen me dreaming up 4 or 5 business ideas at a time and are warning me to slow it down but I’m not sure I know how!! Any tips from mommies who are working from home would be much appreciated.

  8. amy says:

    Darren! I’ve often wondered how you get so much done as well! kidding aside, i too find that the more i have to do, the more i get done (short of that tipping point you refer to.) but sometimes, when i am overwhelmed, i pare it down to ‘just one thing’. i just focus on the one thing i MUST get done that day in order to feel any sense of accomplishment at all. usually, if i can knock that out in the first hour or two, then i’m juiced for the rest of the day and just start plowing thru the rest of the list.

    thanks as always for your continually informative and motivating posts.

    amy

  9. Barbara says:

    Darren, I totally understand this. I’ve always said, if you want something done, give it to a very busy person! The more I have to do the more I get done, and the less I have to do the more time I waste!
    Love getting all your great tips every day!
    Thanks, Barbara

  10. Darren,

    As a busy-addict myself I definintely understand how productivity can peak and then explode into a firey ball of nothing.

    There is a lot to be said about how much work you do and where your business has developed as a result. It’s not always that amount, but the kind of work that you do that makes the difference.

    I like to think that working hard will get you anywhere in this day and age, but everyone works hard. You also have to work in a way that is helping your business and not just spinning your tires in the mud of distraction.

    You clearly know the difference based on your success and I thank you for showing us what it takes to get there.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  11. Lisa says:

    I too need to have a list and cross off items as I get them done, I do this at my day job as well. I write the lists at work and try to make it manageable for when I’m working at night.

  12. Darren, interesting that the busyness points towards this site…do you find that niche blogs are much easier to maintain and have better ROI?

  13. Your post describes me to a T. Before I figured out what my passions were, I thought of myself as “lazy.” But then friends and family started commenting on how productive and busy I was. Turns out I’m not lazy at all — I just needed something to focus me.

    Now my challenge is actually to allow myself some “chill time!” (And I thought I was lazy!)

    Finding the peak of that curve is not always so easy…

  14. Darren,

    At times busyness to me doesn’t translate to productivity. One can be busy and not achieve anything. I started getting things done when i realize that i had to move my life forward because nobody was going to do that for me. Am a bad procrastinator before, but when i realise that little victories sumed up together creates big success, my orientation changed.

    I give myself the freedom to succeed by setting my objectives for each day. I develop crystal clear goals so that when i hit it, my whole being will be on vibration. I let go of distractions and focus on the 80/20 rule. I do what am suppose to do per time and don’t issue myself excuses. Overtime, I have become a pro @ time management.

    Good post darren. Thanks for the good work.

  15. RMJ says:

    I work full time and run a couple of blogs, but I’ve definitely found this to be true: the more I have to do, the more I do. But I find that working and blogging leads to a very high rate of burnout – last week it happened and I realized I was just done for a bit suddenly. So I’m taking a sec off and feeling the itch to return – without working 12 hours/day.

  16. Joe McGinnis says:

    Thanks for this post – I find it so encouraging. My wife and I are trying to nail down a little more simplicity … with 3 blogs, a book, other writing projects, work (I’m a Children’s pastor), finishing up my Masters in Counseling, adopting a baby from Ethiopia, and a family… It’s anything BUT simple right now. I’m trying to balance productivity and sanity. Today has been more insanity than productivity. – thanks for helping me get back on track.

  17. Nasrul Hanis says:

    I do agree with you Darren as I currently facing the situation that you mentioned.

    Having hard time working in studio and need to spare the time for blogging matters – they’re stressing but in the same time gives motivation and helps to increase productivity.

    And yes – too much busyness could burn you out!

  18. Shane says:

    What You Can Learn From Your Dog about Growing Your Online Income…

    Okay, you may be wondering what you can learn from your dog about growing your online income. There are two things actually.

    # 1 Stop Sniffing Around So

    This may sound corny, but many people who start an online business act like dogs circling around trying to find a place to pee. Allow me to explain. Have you ever seen a dog go pee? Be honest

    Alright, the dog will circle around and around, sniff, sniff, sniff, then circle around some more. All the while you’re thinking “just go already will ya!” It’s almost like your dog is looking for the perfect place to pee or something. When in reality, any place will do (except for the carpet).

    Well, people starting their online businesses are similar. They hee-haw around and dilly dally wanting to start the business but they never do. It’s almost like they are looking for the PERFECT time to start the business or waiting for the PERFECT product to come around.

    Sometimes people are waiting for them to hand the opportunity to them on a silver platter or something.

    I see folks who have a truck load of talent, but never use. Like a dog, they keep circling around to find the perfect spot or the perfect, whatever, when all they really need to do is just piss already!

    Start by doing something, ANYTHING! Write an article and post it on a directory. Start a blog, join an affiliate network and promote products, write some Squidoo pages, design some WordPress blog themes and sell them. Just do something.

    There will never be a perfect time or place to start your online business so stop looking for it. And yes, when you start your first online adventure, odds are your product WILL SUCK. But so what? Just put something out there in the marketplace and begin. Like I said before, you need to take ACTION. Bad action is better than NO action in most cases.

    # 2 Mark Your Territory

    I told you there 2 things you can learn from a dog about growing your online income.

    So here’s number 2.

    Have you ever wondered why a dog sniffs before he urinates? According to Answers.com (and countless dog training books and pet stores), they are marking their territory.

    They will either smell another dog’s urine and urinate over that or, they will mark their own territory such as the backyard/front yard, etc

    I can totally hear what you’re saying. “Shane, what the hell. You’ve lost your mind and your post makes no freakin sense.

    Let me explain. The dog is sniffing to see if he has any competition in the area. Almost like researching your niche. Face it; if you have NO competition then odds are there really won’t be any buyers for the product either. That’s not always the case, but most of the time it rings true.

    Let’s say for example you’ve found a niche you would like to work in. But there is NOBODY advertising that niche on Google adwords, or Yahoo, or Bing. Well, odds are there probably won’t be many buyers either, if any at all.

    Now let’s say you’ve found a niche you would like to work in and there IS some competition. You see Google ads and Yahoo ads and Bing ads. Well, like the dog, mark your territory! Who cares who’s dominating that niche.

    Frank Kern can’t own ALL the online marketing stuff can he?
    The dog doesn’t worry about who the other dogs are that are pissing there, he’s just marking his territory. Period.

    In conclusion. Go out there and find your market and the hell with the competition. Take action and mark your territory, savvy?

  19. As one who is currently in an overwhelmed frozen state, this post is quite timely! Thank-you!

    A reminder tome to just re-focus! Cheers

  20. CP says:

    Hey Darren,

    No matter how hard we all try, it’s hard to get past that mental rut and start concentrating on the task at hand! I have to agree with you – the busier I am, the more productive I tend to be.

    Basically, what I do is find media on the internet to boost people’s emotional wellbeing. I think I found a video that might help you, along with anyone else, get out of that mental rut and get back on track. It’s a really humorous video about Jessica’s daily affirmation – http://www.pepfly.com/a/6560

    Hopefully this helps!
    ^CP
    ([email protected])

  21. Glenn A says:

    Terrific topic. I don’t think many people have a realization of just how hard it can be to manage yourself as a solo act. Love the line, “I tend not to get anything done while on the days I wonder if I’ll get anything completed.”

    I’ve found that tackling something that’s been put off for far too long brings a blast of energy and motivation to keep producing. Things that keep hanging over my head seem to muck up the works in many ways.

  22. Gary Smith says:

    I think it depends on how you handle your busyness. From a programmers point of view – if you have a half dozen jobs and try to jump around between them every hour or two it tends to slow you right down. The trick is to stay focused but obviously if you have 3 jobs and they are all going to take more than a day to complete and you have 3 customers all wanting them yesterday – it can be stressful.

    That raises another question though – is the stress really there or is it self-imposed stress due to an inability to make some firm short term decisions..lol. I used to have days where I felt like throwing my hands in the air and going back to bed. Nowadays I just do what I consider to be a reasonable amount of work on each job and avoid distractions like checking my email every 15 minutes!

  23. Dionne White says:

    SNAP! I am at my most prolific under pressure and under stress. It is normal. I have been previously employed as a natural health practitioner and a pharmaceutical rep. There is a biological response which enhances brain/body response. Ustress is good stress, giving you your best chance of achieving deadlines.
    When I have nothing to do or have just pulled off what I thought was impossible and have no immediate tasks at hand, I end up getting sick. Bloody ridiculous but probably the body giving you permission to have a fluffy slipper day/week on the sofa where the only thing pressing is accidently sitting on the remote

  24. Sounds like you’re kicking parkinson’s law Darren! In fact this is exactly proving it’s definition:
    http://www.codemyownroad.com/parkinsons-law-on-deadlines/

    The more you pack in, the more likely you’ll go out of your way to get it done.

  25. Marcie Hill says:

    Busyness does not always equate to productivity. It takes some of us longer to get it than others.

  26. Robin Alley says:

    That definitely sounds like me… and a LOT of people really.

    It really is just another way of reiterating the importance of goals.

    Thanks for sharing.

  27. Christina says:

    I could not agree more with this post. The days that I don’t have mapped out tend to spiral out of control.

  28. I like Zigg Ziglar’s idea of writing down the 4 most important things to do for the next day and then focus only on those 4 things. I have been doing it for 3 years now. Simple and easy.

  29. That’s how it goes for me too. I’m looking at homeschooling my daughter next fall, and while I’m dreading the time it will take out of my day, I’m also reminding myself that I’ll probably be more productive because I’ll have so little free time to goof off.

  30. Callum says:

    Great post Darren.

    The university scenario you described was exactly the same as mine (though I got it down to 1 day per week at times).

    Actually, re-reading the post as I type this comment more and more hits home. At the moment I’m trying to do ‘less’ but be more productive. Will see how that works.

  31. Dan Wedin says:

    I can relate to the below line although it sounds like you have these days considerably less than I do.

    (I’ve had days where I’ve been completely paralysed by the overwhelming nature of it all)

    thanks for your post.

  32. This post reminds me of the management saying “If you want a task done, give it to a busy person!”

  33. Seospidy says:

    I’m so excited to hear to that out of everything you do here and on your other blogs, thanks for your post.

  34. Jhay says:

    The same could said for me. We call generally call it “cramming” during college. We tend to do things only when there’s a day or two, sometimes just hours before the work is due. And amazingly, the results are of great quality. Unlike when I planned to do things way ahead of schedule, the work was just average.

    Simply put, I work best under pressure.

  35. InventingLiz says:

    I am definitely this way too, and I am struggling right now in a day job where I don’t have enough to do – so don’t end up ever getting anything done – especially when I would rather be blogging and running some other creative side businesses!

  36. I guess I’m still quite indisciplined even to the extent of not posting for months. Still, when I do post, I choose quality over quantity. It works for me though, probably cz my blog is more like a website. I guess a bit more discipline will get more readers though.

  37. Gwen says:

    Most people are slackers in life. That is why if you can fight the urge, you can be very successful in life.

  38. Linda says:

    Guess it’s a case of Parkinson’s law i.e. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

  39. Hey darren,
    i bet ‘too much of something is eventually not good’..
    same goes within in this context.
    However, prior before i started to learn the ways of making money online, i was an architecture student.
    Mind you, if you may not know, majoring in architecture is really..really…really..really tough. I have went through 3 days streak without sleep ( maybe at most one hour a day ) just so i could complete my final ‘project’ .. am i over stretching myself? you bet i was but i really don’t have a choice.it is either i do or fail!
    however, because of this , my performance and productivity dropped immensely day after day. i managed to pass but it was such a ‘let down’ result.
    those times were history. however, blogging can work quite like the same way. not because i have a deadline to chase after but it is just so addicting. I am striving hard to really make it online and this constantly ignites the ever burning fuel within me! well i know its not good and i may well be repeating what i ought to be during my university’s time. it is still not easy for me to ‘discipline’ myself but i will make sure that i don’t work myself out like a zombie.
    No i don’t have a specific time scheduled to begin and stop but at least i would occasionally just give myself a break. Hitting the gym, go for a walk or those sort. =)
    I am still able to get things done and better yet, much more productively. ;)
    what can i say? life’s good, i guess.. haha
    cheers

  40. Camden says:

    I definitely need goals (preferably written) to accomplish anything. I actually do best when I allot myself a certain amount of time for a task. Otherwise I tend to fill my day with busy activities that don’t really accomplish anything.

    I try to end my day with an interesting unfinished task – that makes it easy to pick up the next day where I left off and get that first accomplishment achieved 1st thing in the morning.

  41. make money says:

    When I get paralyze days I just try to remember to tell me to take one thing at a time (louder than the noise in the era of multi-tasking) and it gradually. It is inevitable, just to get a bigger thing on my plate may be afraid of everything and lead to a very productive day.