By Steve Pavlina
This is the penultimate of 6 articles on Self-Discipline that I came across on Steve Pavlina's
website. As he has generously made them available to the public domain I
am taking the opportunity to share them with you. The first four can be
found here, here, here. and here.
Industry is working hard. In contrast to hard work, being
industrious doesn’t necessarily mean doing work that’s challenging or
difficult. It simply means putting in the time. You can be industrious
doing easy work or hard work.
Imagine you have a baby. You’ll spend a lot of time changing
diapers. But that isn’t really hard work — it’s just a matter of doing
it over and over many times each day.
In life there are many tasks that aren’t necessarily difficult, but
they collectively require a significant time investment. If you don’t
discipline yourself to stay on top of them, they can make a big mess of
your life. Just think of all the little things you need to do:
shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, taxes, paying bills, home
maintenance, childcare, etc. And this is just for home — if you include
work the list grows even longer. These things may not reach your
A-list for importance, but they still need to be done.
Self-discipline requires that you develop the capacity to put in the
time where it’s needed. A lot of messes are created when we refuse to
put in the time to do what needs to be done — and to do it correctly.
Such messes range from a messy desk or cluttered email inbox all the way
down to an Enron or Worldcom. Big mess or small mess — take your pick.
Either way a significant contributing factor is the refusal to do what
needs to be done.
Sometimes it’s clear what needs to be done. Sometimes it isn’t clear
at all. But ignoring the mess won’t help no matter what. If you don’t
know what needs to be done, the first step is to figure it out.
may require you to seek out information and educate yourself. In order
to launch this blog last year, I had to figure out how to do it. I took
time to educate myself by reading other blogs and evaluating various
blogging tools. It wasn’t difficult for me, but it required a
significant time investment.
Sometimes we allow little annoyances to linger a bit too long. In
January my wife and I bought a new house. But it was only last weekend
we finally unpacked the last box. We did most of the unpacking in the
first few weeks after the move, but a couple boxes were shoved into a
corner, and neither one of us wanted to unpack them. Why? We didn’t
know where to put the stuff they contained. It seemed simplest to just
ignore the problem and hope the boxes would magically unpack themselves.
Finally we got them unpacked last weekend and took care of a few other
home repairs that had been on the back burner as well.
It wasn’t difficult or costly to do these things. It was simply a
matter of time to get them done. It didn’t require much skill or
brainpower. All we had to do was just accept that they needed to be
done, take a few minutes to figure out how to do them, and then do them.
Put in the Time
There are many problems in life where the solution is largely a
brainless time investment. If your email inbox is overloaded, this is
not a challenging problem. Believe me — there are bigger challenges in
life than handling old correspondence. I guarantee you have the
brainpower to handle it. Getting your email inbox to empty is purely a
matter of time. Maybe it will take you several hours to do it. If it’s
worth several hours to get it done, then put in the time. Maybe enjoy
some relaxing music as you do. Otherwise just hit Ctrl-A followed by Delete, and be done with it.
How many problems do you have on your to do list right now that can
be solved with the simple application of industry? Sometimes you don’t
need to be particularly creative or clever about it — a brute force
solution will do. But it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of wishing
that a brute force solution wasn’t necessary. It’s tedious. It’s
boring. It’s not that important anyway. And yet it still needs to be
By all means if you can find a way to avoid a time-consuming solution
and find a faster or better way to bypass or eliminate the problem,
take advantage of it. Delegate it, delete it — do whatever you can to
remove the time burden. But if you know it’s something that won’t get
done except via your personal time investment, like the ornery boxes in
my home that refused to self-unpack, then just accept it and get it off
your plate. Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Just do it.
Develop Your Personal Productivity
Disciplining yourself to be industrious allows you to squeeze more
value out of your time. Time is a constant, but your personal
productivity is not. Some people will use the hours of their day far
more efficiently than others. It’s amazing that people will spend extra
money to buy a faster computer or a fuel efficient car, but they’ll
barely pay any attention to their personal capacity. Your personal
productivity will do a lot more for you than a computer or a car in the
long run. Give an industrious programmer a 10-year old computer, and
s/he’ll get much more done with it over the course of a year than a lazy
programmer with state of the art technology.
Despite all the technology and gadgets we have available that can
potentially make us more efficient, your personal productivity is still
your greatest bottleneck. Don’t look to technology to make you more
productive. If you don’t consider yourself productive without
technology, you won’t be productive with it — it will only serve to mask
your bad habits. But if you’re already industrious without technology,
it can help you become even more so. Think of technology as a force
multiplier — it multiplies what you already are.
If you want to make better use of your time, I recommend you begin with the approach in this article:
Triple Your Personal Productivity
The basic idea behind the article is to first measure your current
level of productivity (the article explains how to do this via time
logging), measure your current “efficiency ratio,” and then gradually
ramp it up.
I first wrote that article in 2000, and I’ve continually come back to
this method again and again, at least once every six months. It makes
me consciously aware of exactly how I use my time. I last applied it a
few months ago, tracking my time usage over a period of several days,
and I was surprised to find that there was little room for improvement.
It took me five years since writing that article to reach this point,
but I finally feel I’m using my time efficiently. I still have
unproductive days now and then, but they’re the exception. Most of the
time I look back on my days and think, “I really got a lot done today.
It would be hard to have done it any better.”
Five years ago I knew what I needed to do. It took me that long to
build the strength and discipline to be able to do it on a consistent
basis. THIS WAS NOT EASY!
When you pursue the path of developing your personal productivity, it
may cause you some days of hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing, but it does
eventually pay off. I think many people are attracted to the idea of
becoming more productive out of basic common sense. It doesn’t take
much brainpower to figure out that if you use your time more
efficiently, you’ll complete more tasks, and therefore you’ll accumulate
results faster. Personal productivity allows you to create enough
space in your life to do all the things you feel you should be doing:
eat healthy, exercise, work hard, deepen relationships, have a wonderful
social life, and make a difference. Otherwise, something has to give.
Without a high level of personal productivity, you’ll likely have to
give up something that’s important to you. You have conflicts between
health and work, work and family, family and friends. Industry can give
you the ability to enjoy all of these things, so you don’t have to
choose work over family or vice versa. You can have both.
Of course industry is only one tool among many. It will allow you to
complete your work efficiently, but it won’t tell you what work to do
in the first place. Industry is a low level tool. Working hard doesn’t
necessarily mean working smart. But this weakness of industry doesn’t
remove its powerful place in your personal development toolbox. Once
you’ve decided on a course of action and see your plans laid out in
front of you, nothing can do the job as well as industry. In the long
run your results will come from your actions, and industry is all about
Next installment will deal with Persistence.