The art of staying disciplined
One segment of the population known for struggling with discipline are those who are addicted to hard drugs.
Given their disposition for being unable to commit to many things, you might be surprised to find that during an experiment testing the ability of drug addicts to write & submit a 5 paragraph essay on time, those who wrote down when & where they would complete the essay were far more likely to turn it in.
These findings have some interesting correlation with those related to discipline in other people: in a study examining the ability of average people to stick with a strict dieting plan, researchers found that those participants who rigorously monitored what they were eating were able to maintain far higher levels of self-control when it came to maintaining their diet.
Last but not least, Dan Ariely and colleagues conducted a study involving college students and found that students who imposed strict deadlines on themselves for assignments performed far better (and more consistently) than those who didn’t.
These findings were especially interesting because Ariely noted that students who gave themselves too generous of a deadline often suffered from the same problems as students who set zero deadlines: when you allot yourself too much time to complete a task, you can end up creating a mountain out of a molehill.
Since we now know that tracking our progress is a key component of productivity, how can we implement this practice into our daily routine?
One method is to use an Accountability Chart to track what work you’ve completed during your 90-minute productive sessions, similar to how the dieters tracked their food consumption.
To easily implement one, simply create two-columns on a piece of paper, Google Docs spreadsheet, or even a whiteboard.
Don’t include any columns for your 15-minute breaks, as those times are for your own sake and means to replenish your willpower.
This works well for two specific reasons: Dr. Kentaro Fujita argues that tracking your progress in this way is helpful because you’ll be exposed to the work you’ve actually accomplished, and not the (inaccurate) assumption of work you might construe in your head.
Forcing yourself to write down the fact that you spent 2 hours on YouTube isn’t about shaming, it’s about awareness; you’ll be less likely to do it again.
Progress tracking is also a known strategy for stopping yourself from engaging in robotic behavior (also known as ‘busywork’), a habit that researcher John Bargh describes as the #1 enemy of goal striving.
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