I recently attended a writing workshop during which we were asked to write about discipline: What does it mean to you? Is it an ally for you or an antagonist?

As entrepreneurs and leaders of organizations, it can be critical to be disciplined in our approach to work. My own relationship to discipline as a business owner has been varied. At my best, I’ve stayed focused through a sense of constant pressure to keep things afloat, frosted with the fear that if I don’t stay focused, my business or project will fall apart and my initial efforts will have been for nothing. The spectre of financial stress and wasted resources can be powerful motivators. As a politician, I found discipline through motivation in not wanting to disappoint the people who elected me to represent them, and my own inner motivation to make life better in our community in what might only be a four-year opportunity.

But what if you are having trouble with disciplining yourself to stay focused? What does this mean and what can be done? Here are some thoughts:

1. Social media is the enemy of discipline.

Discipline is especially hard during these times of so many things demanding our attention. The online world and social media are powerful forces that can prevent us from staying focused on what’s truly important in life: spending quality time with family, genuinely connecting in-person with friends, and pursuing work that brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives. Remember this as you pass your entire morning (or evening) scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. While it can feel relaxing and important, it can in fact be robbing you of a meaningful life; in fact, research has shown that too much time on social media contributes to depression and anxiety. If you don’t want to give up your social media accounts completely, take a break. Whether it’s for one week or three months, it will help you re-focus on what’s truly important.

2. Lack of discipline can be a sign of burnout.

While some leaders are energized by having an overflowing to-do list, most people find this state of overwhelm to be unsustainable. At one point in my life, I was homeschooling my kids, managing a commercial farm with up to six interns at a time, and running my consulting practice, most of the time by myself while my husband worked away from home. At a certain point I noticed I was exhausted and sitting on the couch an awful lot, doing absolutely nothing. My to-do list would be racing through my head, but I didn’t have the energy to do any of it. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to let go of some things, or take a break and go on retreat in whatever way is best for you.

3. Create external accountability by assembling a large team of supporters.

I find that despite my best efforts to keep myself focused, I do so much better when I have external accountability. I am losing weight and increasing my fitness with the help of a personal trainer. I stay focused in my meditation practice because I have a dharma teacher. I make sure we’re keeping up with homeschool lessons because our particular program provides a learning consultant who I connect with once per week. And, I have a business coach who keeps me focused on my business goals. It was very freeing to accept that I am more disciplined and do better in my life and work when I surround myself with supporters who I can count on.

4. Ask for help when you need it.

For most people, discipline is never enough in an environment of continual overwhelm. Are you overwhelmed because you’re not delegating enough? As leaders it can be hard to let go of control, but with a little practice you will find it freeing to turn over some of those items on your to-do list to someone else who is capable and willing to do them. Sort your list into two categories: what I must do, and what someone else could do. Then go back to the ones you think you must do and really challenge yourself to allow someone else to do a few more of them. This will enable you to be more disciplined and focus on fewer tasks. It’s important to keep some of the fun tasks for yourself, though – don’t be tempted to give all of those away just because they are the easiest ones for someone else to accomplish.

5. View discipline as an ally, not an enemy.

Discipline means choosing to do what we love more of the time. It enables us to spend our time doing the things that are most meaningful to us. Discipline gives us freedom. Even though we often associate the word discipline with order and rigidity, it actually frees us. Discipline means actively choosing, every day, to pursue what brings meaning and richness to our lives.

Are you struggling with discipline in your life or work? Give me a call on 250-855-8074 or send me an email. Together we’ll craft a plan and a system of accountability so you can stay focused on what has meaning for you.