How To Improve Self-Discipline At Work (Examples & Proven Methods)

Self-discipline is the ability to show up and work whether you feel like it or you don’t. It is the bridge between where you are right now and your goals in life. Whether you’re an employee, a freelancer, or a business owner, it’s important to have self-discipline. Discover how to improve self-discipline at work with the proven methods below.

“The first and best victory is to conquer self.”

Plato

You are not born with self-discipline. No one is. But once you develop the habit of discipline, accomplishing things, finishing tasks, and doing your work becomes easier. The question is, how do you build self-discipline?

Benefits of Self-Discipline

Building the habit of self-discipline empowers you to do many different things. It opens many possibilities for your life that having no discipline won’t. Here are some of them:

Improving Self-Discipline Prevents Stress and Overwhelm

Most people don’t enjoy stress and overwhelm. That’s why when they have to do a project at work, they slack off when the deadline is still far away. They indulge in activities that don’t move their project forward. But when the deadline is nearing, they cram all efforts just to meet the deadline.

Sure it works! If it doesn’t, most people won’t do it. But the stress and overwhelm can cause you to feel burned out after doing that a few times. The better approach is to do something small everyday that will move your project (or life) forward. It might be inconvenient for a while. But when the deadline is nearing, you won’t be as stressed and pressured as others.

Increases Your Chance of Achieving Your Goals

One observation that hasn’t failed me yet is that success is within the grasp of someone who keeps on working. Even if they don’t feel like it or it seems like they’re not moving forward. Developing self-discipline allows you to keep showing up no matter what.

For example, it’s a common belief that 9 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 5 years. That’s a 90% chance of failure. But if you really want a business of your own (and if you want to succeed), self-discipline will help you build a successful one. Even when you have to go through 9 failures before making it on the 10th.

University of Pennsylvania Psychologists, Angela Duckworth, PhD, and Martin Seligman, PhD studied this in eighth-graders. They observed that students with self-discipline had better grades and had a higher chance to be accepted in good schools. They concluded that self-discipline was a more important predictor of success than IQ.*

As it is when we are kids, so it is when we grow up. Developing our self-discipline increases our chance to achieve the goals we set out to do in our life.

The Feeling Of Being In Control Of Your Life

Only a few things will substitute for the feeling of being in control of your life. When you know and understand that you can influence the outcome of your life from any point in time, you feel empowered. Most people focus on situations and give their power up. They blame or resent their boss, parents, friends, colleagues, the market, etc. for their failure.

People of great character focus on their circle of influence. And in turn, this affects those that are outside of their control. As George Bernard Shaw said, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want. And if they can’t find them, make them.”

Feeling in control = good. Feeling powerless = sucks.

Shapes Your Character

I believe character is shaped, not developed. It’s about chipping away things that we don’t need so we can be our best self. This “chipping away” is the self-discipline of unlearning this you don’t know that doesn’t serve you.

When Michaelangelo was asked how he sculpted David, he simply said this:

“I created a vision of David in my mind and simply carved away everything that was not David.”

Michaelangelo

Once you have a vision for your life, self-discipline allows you to carve away everything that is not the best you.

Overcome Obstacles In Your Life

It’s hard to fight our battles, especially when they’re internal. We don’t see the enemy, we can’t use deadly weapons, and we rarely know when the enemy is going to attack. When you develop the habit of self-discipline, you don’t remove your enemies. You simply learn to ignore them: you ignore their negative criticisms, harmful thoughts, and gloomy feelings.

Aside from winning internal battles, you’ll also overcome most outward challenges. At the end of the day, what’s inside is more potent than what’s outside you.

Self-Discipline Exercises

Self-discipline is a habit. And to master it, you need to perform activities that grow this specific character. Here are some exercise and activity suggestions (which may also serve as examples of self-discipline at work).

ActivityBenefits
Finish a bookNot only will it build your discipline, it will also open your mind.
Meditate for a few minutesThis allows you to reflect on what’s happening in your life, relax, prepare yourself for the day that’s coming
Fix your bed when you wake upGives you a small “win” to start your day
Do a mental detoxFor 7 straight days, don’t complain for more than 1 minute. When you complain for more than a minute, restart the detox from day 1.
Focus on doing one task at a timeStop looking at your email, jumping from one activity to the next, or going to the restroom every 5 minutes. Sit down and focus on finishing one task.
Show up on time at workThis might seem simple but it takes a whole lot of discipline to pull off
Start exercisingThis is one of the few habits that will impact all aspects of your life.
Never gossipI know it’s a good “water cooler” talk. But gossiping about your boss, the management, or the company only lessens your self-respect.
Allot a time to work on side hustles or on-the-side businessNot only will this give you additional cash flow, you’ll also understand more about business. And it will give you tons of advantage over your colleagues who just know how to do their job.
Complete your tasks before the deadlineDeadlines exist so people will be “pressured” to accomplish their tasks. But you bring more value to your job if you can finish your tasks faster.

How To Improve Self-Discipline At Work

Self-discipline works. But only if we put in the effort of working on them. The twist is when we put on a little discipline, it snowballs into something sustainable. A great companion for achieving our goals in life.

Here are proven techniques that will improve self-discipline at work whether you own a business or work in one. 

Find What Will Motivate You

This could be just about anything: creating a goal, defining a vision for your life, understanding why you do your work, etc. You see, motivation fuels willpower and willpower is the starting point of discipline.

Disciplined people are intrinsically motivated. They don’t develop their habits and character because of some external rewards. On the contrary, it’s because the reward is the satisfaction they get internally.

But motivation alone won’t sustain you. After all, it’s an emotion – it comes and goes. So, stacking this technique with the others I share below will make it more effective.

Prioritize

Know what you need to work on first. You can’t work on everything and give everything the same amount of energy and focus. You’re going to spread yourself too thin, which isn’t productive. So, the best way to build is to start focusing on one aspect of your life where you’ll apply consistent self-discipline.

When you’re at your job, focus on just doing one task, one project at a time. As a business owner, focus on pursuing one vision. Reevaluate and rearrange your deliverables based on the highest, most important goal in your plate.

This is hard because there will always be an impulse of “doing more” by “spreading wide.” But don’t give into this. It’s better to make a leap of progress doing one thing than an inch of growth doing ten.

Keep Showing Up

There will be days when you don’t feel like working. Especially when you don’t see or feel any progress in your project, your career, or even your life. But when you set your priorities and decide on the work you’ll do, keep showing up. The masses stop when obstacles present themselves. As a growth-seeker, you shouldn’t.

If you’re doing something that matters, chances are there will always be an obstacle. Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, calls this “Resistance.” Resistance is an invisible force that stops you from creating work that matters. It’s the adversary of anything creative – solving problems, serving people, or making art.

The only thing we can do (which builds self-discipline) is to show up and work. Your day must be measured not by how much you’ve “made” but if you’ve beaten Resistance.

Build Better Habits

We are what we repeatedly do according to Aristotle. Therefore, excellence (and self-discipline) is not an act, but a habit. When we build better habits, it’s easier to build, improve, and practice self-discipline.

For instance, you want to develop the discipline of sharing ideas and adding value during meetings. When you build the habit of taking down notes, listening, and thinking of how to add value, you will have ideas to share. Share enough good and logical ideas and you’ll be noticed. Soon, promoted.

Create Systems

I value self-discipline, but creating systems that make it next to impossible to misbehave is more reliable than self-control. 

Tim Ferriss

Lastly, you need to create systems around the things you want to build discipline on. Going back to the example of sharing ideas during meetings, you can build a system for taking down notes. Build a system for coming up with ideas that will contribute to the goals of your boss.

You also need to create systems or shortcuts for the work you do. When you have systems, you become more efficient and free up more time. What took you 8 hours to do before might only take 6 after designing a system. Once you have some free time, use those to:

  • Think of what overlooked problems you can solve for the company;
  • Read books and educate yourself;
  • Find resources about your industry or the business in general so you have lots of ideas;
  • Help others improve on their job;
  • Prioritize your projects and deliverables;

It takes commitment and consistency to improve your self-discipline at work. But in your career as an employee, business owner, or freelancer, only a few people do it. And that’s why only a few people really excel at their job. It’s your time to shine!

Live an inspired life,

Jeric Timbang