A survey sent out to my readers in January revealed that a large majority of them struggle with focus and discipline. Maintaining high productivity, sustaining long periods of focused work, and accomplishing daily goals is a challenge for a lot of us. While I have no magical solutions to the issue, I am sharing the only thing that has worked for me and a lot of others with big goals. This is a guide to building a daily system perfect for the achievement of your goals.
If you want to build a life of discipline and focus, you need balance and consistency. These are qualities that can’t be had overnight. They need to be cultivated with a lot of patience, and while the short term results may not be too exciting, in the long run, you’ll see results that will blow your mind.
Related: The two elements essential to a life of success and growth
A clear goal is great but in itself, it’s not enough. So, we begin by creating a daily system that goes beyond the goals. A system gives you a structured progression towards the goal. It goes into effect every morning as soon as we wake-up and keeps us focused till we’re done for the day. It’ll allow us to effectively accomplish carefully chosen (daily) steps that overtime, get us closer to the grand vision. A lot of the famous people we admire and wish to emulate talk about their daily routines and rituals. They credit their success to the daily systems that gave them consistent growth.
Discipline cannot exist in a chaotic environment and to control the chaos, you have to build a system that includes habits and rituals repeated on a daily basis. A certain healthy habit repeated enough times becomes a way of life. Once a system is fully accepted, staying focused and maintain progress is no longer an issue. If you struggle with discipline, this is your answer.
Goals give us direction and are necessary for planning progress, but it’s the systems that give us the results. In my experience, when we stay fixated on the next goal, it hinders our progress by adding anxiety to the situation. Now, if we focus on the system, we shift our energy to becoming a person worthy of the goal.
Systems are for long-term progress. If we stay goal-oriented, hitting the goal may temporarily give us what we want but it will also send us back to square one. The satisfaction will be fleeting but it will keep you riding high, long enough to break the momentum. If we focus on the system, we go from goal to goal without a break in our stride.
A strong belief system is a necessary and useful tool as you work towards your goals. A daily system can help by giving you a sense of accomplishment. As you follow the structure, you’re continuously productive which leads to the release of dopamine in your brain’s reward centre further reinforcing your ability to stay focused and disciplined.
The key is daily action!
It’s all connected which means you need a system that counters both points of self-sabotage and helps you make solid progress without any accompanying stress or overwhelm. A daily system can replace the chaos with discipline (the most essential tool for success) and you’ll find your mind and body functioning like a well-oiled machine.
When that to-do list is as long as your arm, you’re bound to get overwhelmed. The only way to avoid getting sucked into a spiral of anxiety and stress is to have a clear plan of action.
Decision Fatigue is the exhaustion of your mental reserves due to excessive decision making, and it can lead to a considerable fall in your productivity.
Once again, a carefully created daily system can help. A system in place means you can predict the progression of your day which further allows you to take care of as many little chores or decision you can before the day even starts. For instance, you can plan your outfit, the three meals, the order of the tasks before you go to bed. The next day, you can simply launch into your day and enjoy better productivity because you’re no longer investing your energy in nonessential decisions.
A daily system can also be the key to breaking bad habits and strengthening new, healthier ones. As you repeat a system, you create cues that trigger the routine acts. Gradually, the routine starts to come naturally to you. The new habits become instinctive.
If you write at 9 am every day for 60 minutes without interruptions, on day 1, your focus will be fragmented and the task will be taxing. On day 30, at 9 am, your focus will narrow to the writing task with very little effort. The physical and mental energy will shift onto the task without any prompting. Time and preceding events are the best cues for triggering a set behaviour.
If you’re building a system, it’s because there are certain things you want for yourself. Begin by building a clear picture of your life 10-15 years down the line. Take your time with this step because you must be clear about what you want. If things are hazy, try writing things down. Journaling has been known to help people gain clarity. Once you have a clear vision, try to break it down into monthly goals.
To create an effective and efficient system, goal clarity is an absolute necessity.
Once you’ve laid out monthly goals, we pick our areas of focus. I want to publish a book by the end of this year while juggling a 9-5. I also want to get into shape and master meditation.
Areas of focus – Professional goals, Creative Goals, Fitness Goals, Mental Health Goals – four different areas of focus. Apart from this, we all have families and other demands on our time.
You may want to put all of this down in one place. Include every little thing that must be taken care of on a daily, weakly, monthly basis.
How do you plan to expend your energy during a 24 hour period?
Break your system down into 3 parts – Morning routine, evening routine, pre-sleep rituals.
In the morning, your energy reserves are replenished by a full night’s sleep making them ideal for building healthy habits and doing work that requires focus. Take care of the hardest tasks in the morning. Do the critical tasks as well so that the rest of the day is free of any anxiety or stress.
A separate evening routine sets a deadline on your morning tasks. Repetition will also allow your body to start unwinding as soon as you launch into the evening routine. This will help you sleep better.
As part of the evening routine, you can do all the mundane tasks and tasks that involve the participation of others. Most importantly, you must plan for the next day. This boosts productivity and prevents decision fatigue. Do chores that allow smooth progress for the next day. Prepare breakfast, set the lunch and dinner menu, pick out the outfit, etc.
Pre-sleep rituals are things that help you sleep better like visualisation or journaling. The last hour of the day is ideal to program your subconscious so use it wisely. Whatever your last thought, it’ll impact your sleep and your brain will work over it even as you sleep.
This is where it all comes together!
You know your goals, areas of focus, how you want to distribute your resources. Based on all that information, set an actual routine.
Consider the goals and areas of focus, this helps you decide the tasks you must do daily to make progress. For example, a fit body means time to exercise every day (with a rest day in between) and proper meals. If you want better relationships, you’ve to make time for friends and family. Pick the daily tasks and fit them into your routine based on the mental and physical reserves required.
Build a morning routine, evening routine, and set out some pre-sleep rituals.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, if you want to be an expert, you must spend 10,000 hours practising your art. I would apply that rule to whatever my primary goal is. I am a writer so as a rule, I invest at least 60 minutes writing daily. Make sure your system includes 60-90 minutes of focused work that directly attacks the primary goal.
Balance is important for the efficient functioning of any system. Don’t focus on professional goals at the cost of your health or you’ll end up losing productivity and time to burn-out.
Make sure you actually enjoy yourself. Don’t suffer through the process. We are never at our best when we are actively unhappy or anxious.
Maintain a tracker to keep a note of the progress. This will help correct the flaws in the system and add to its efficiency. Review the goals, activities, and priorities. Ask yourself a few pertinent questions regularly –
Based on your answers, adjust the goals and activities. If you find yourself chasing the wrong goals, you’ll start procrastinating. It’s important to constantly check for the pace of your growth and its direction as well.
We’re all in a rush to get to the finish line but if you set impossible goals for yourself, you’ll fail and eventually destroy your self-belief. Consistently failing to finish the daily tasks will lead to self-doubt. Adjust the expected output if you must but make sure to stay to not overreach.
Also, if you’re making lifestyle changes, go slow! You can’t go from sleeping till noon to suddenly becoming a morning person. Sudden, massive changes are not sustainable. Sleep schedule, fitness goals, mental health exercises require patience. One step at a time.
Once you settle down to work in the morning, accomplish a critical task right away. This will help you build momentum. You’ll feel good and that positivity will add fire to your determination which will keep you focused. The dopamine hit that comes with each accomplished task reduces your dependance on motivation.
Win the morning, win the day!
Start your morning on the right note. Go for a run, meditate, or sit down in a quiet corner and just saturate your senses in gratitude. It’s imperative that you don’t start your mornings in a rush. Take stock!
DO NOT check emails or your social media accounts. Keep your mornings toxicity-free by avoiding the news. Do something that adds to your energy reserves. This will deeply impact your productivity and focus.
If you’re not well-rested, you’ll be low on self-control leading to procrastination. Your sleep quality will impact everything. Lack of sleep is linked to weight gain, mental and physical health issues.
As soon as you optimise your sleep, your productivity, energy, and mood will show considerable improvement. Before focusing on anything else, do what needs to be done to improve your sleep.
Choose your technique, single-tasking or chunking. Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time without interruptions or distractions. Stay focused on the task at hand till it’s complete.
Chunking is more suitable if you struggle with focus. Break big tasks into smaller pieces. Make a list of the tasks and assign a fixed amount of time to each task. If your focus is really bad then work for just 15 minutes at a time. It’s not ideal but it’s a process. If you keep doing it, your focus will improve. If you force yourself to focus, it may lead to procrastination and a fall in creativity. Chunking is best if focus is an issue. Things will improve. For now, start small.
You need not implement every step of the process listed here. The point is to simply start moving in the right direction. Start building that system even if you begin by optimising just the first half of your day. You have to experiment and keep at it for a while before you’ll have a structure that’s perfect for you. Even then, the structure will evolve with each accomplished goal and every bit of growth you experience in your life.
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