The Art of Positive Laziness – Part 3: Action, Getting Things Done

No matter which goals you are trying to achieve, with tasks you should always take following three steps:

  1. Judge if the task is useful. (If not, stop here.)
  2. Find out the most effective and efficient way to get the task done.
  3. Complete the task.

It’s important to take all three steps. Forgetting step one is a case of mental laziness which creates the risk of starting at pointless tasks. Forgetting step two means risking wasting valuable time and energy while doing a task. Forgetting step three is negative laziness as well, which results in you not going anywhere because nothing gets done.

Action

When you have determined which tasks really need to be done, you know the underlying goal, and have found the best way to achieve it, it is time for the last step: Really doing and completing the task. In this part we will look at how positive laziness and self-discipline are connected. We will look at how you can motivate yourself to get started at the tasks at hand and see why it is best to get over them as quickly as possible.

Self-discipline and positive laziness

Like mentioned briefly earlier on, a lot of forms of negative laziness can be countered with self-discipline. Think of exercising to keep yourself fit, keeping up with your homework, and making deadlines. Self-discipline is what enables you to do those things.

In this section we will focus on how self-discipline and positive laziness complement each other. We will start by briefly shining some light on self-discipline itself before looking at how we can increase it. Finally we will look at how self-discipline fits into a lifestyle full of positive laziness.

What is self-discipline?

Self-discipline, everyone has it. Some of us have a lot of it, some only have a little, but what is it exactly? Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to perform tasks regardless of your emotional state and without anyone else having to motivate you. It’s the art of self-motivation.

To be able to go through life independently, self-discipline is a crucial. Without self-discipline it would be impossible to stand upon your own two feet because it would mean that you’d be totally dependent on others to get you to do stuff. Getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, eating and even going to the bathroom all demand a certain amount of self-discipline. It’s a good thing that everyone has at least a little of it.

Why is it so important?

Why would you bother to increase your self-discipline? Increasing your self-discipline helps you to become a more energetic person and makes it easier to achieve your goals. It also gives you more control over your life. To get back to the three steps given at the beginning of this chapter, to go through step three you need self-discipline. The more you have of it, the easier it is to take the step.

How to increase your self-discipline

Increasing your self-discipline helps you to become a more effective person, but how do you increase it? Or in other words, how do you get yourself to do the tasks that really need to be done? As mentioned before, self-discipline is the art of self-motivation. One of the reasons why we can’t get ourselves to start at certain tasks is that we just can’t seem to find the energy to do so because we don’t see the point in it. By eliminating all pointless tasks we have already tackled this problem. All the tasks that remain either bring you closer towards your desired goals or not doing them would inflict harm on yourself or others.

Increasing your self-discipline is quite easy; it’s mainly just about doing it. It’s a switch of mentality. Instead of constantly procrastinating tasks, and thinking of weak excuses why you can’t do something, you just do it. You don’t have any legitimate excuses left because all tasks left after the elimination process serve a clear purpose. Not doing those tasks would either harm your surroundings or keeps you from achieving your desired goals.

Self-discipline works like a muscle, the more you rely on it, the stronger it becomes. At the other hand, not using it weakens it; just like the strength in your muscles decreases after you haven’t exercised in a long time. The more often you just do what you have to do, the easier it gets to do the same the next time. Increasing your self-discipline is all about just doing what you set yourself to do. Important to keep in mind is that you have to be consistent. By consistently just doing the things you set out to do, without coming up with excuses or postponing it endlessly, it becomes a habit, a part of who you are. With this you become more reliable as well since you can depend on yourself to do what you say you’ll do.

Procrastination

A lack of self-discipline doesn’t always result in not doing certain tasks. Often it leads to procrastination of the tasks, by which a lot of time is wasted. Not only is time being wasted because it takes longer to achieve your goals, procrastinating tasks also acts as an energy vampire. Worrying about all the things you still have to do sucks up energy and leads to dreading the tasks even more. Here your mind often plays dirty tricks on you, the longer you evade a task, the more work it will seem. In the end it looks like a much bigger task than it really is.

Attitude

Increasing your self-discipline and tackling procrastination is all about a change of mentality. When you dread doing a task it might be a wise thing to ask yourself why this is. If the answer turns out to be about you being scared of the potential result of the action then ask yourself if the fear is founded. When you can’t see the point in doing the task, see if you can just eliminate the task.

Procrastinating is a form of negative laziness which wastes precious time. To rebel against this, the key thing you need to change is your attitude. Realize that the tasks you are doing are useful, and that the faster you get them done the faster you get rid of them and the faster you achieve your desired goals. Once the task is completed you’ll never have to worry about it again.

Deadlines

Make sure you don’t set deadlines too far ahead in the future. A task or project tends to take as much time as you set for it. For example, if you need to turn in a paper next week, the chances are that you’ll probably finish that paper a day before the deadline. If you had to turn in the same paper tomorrow, you’d probably have finished it just in time as well. This is why you should set deadlines as early as possible for yourself. In the event that something unexpected comes up you at least have some extra time to deal with it. Sticking to these self-imposed deadlines requires self-discipline and is right away a good way to strengthen it.

Try living according to the motto: Don’t wait until tomorrow with that which could be done right now. The tasks that survive the elimination process have to be done eventually anyway.

A clean slate

In the previous chapter you’ve been asked to put together a to-do list. After that you’ve been asked to filter out all the pointless tasks. What remains should be a list of all the things that you would have to do eventually anyway. We will shortly look at getting rid of this to-do list (not by throwing it out the window or setting it in flames, but by getting the tasks done) so you can continue with a clean slate. It is easier to get yourself to do tasks when you know that you don’t have piles of work still waiting for you when you finish. This is because you know that as soon as you’re done, you are really done. Once your slate is clean again you can easily take the time to look if tasks really are useful. And if that’s the case get over it soon, so you will have genuine free time on your hands again. But before it’s that far let’s get rid of the tasks cluttering up your list now.

Starting with a clean slate is easily realized by taking four simple steps. The first two steps you have already taken in the previous chapter. Should the unthinkable happen and you are drowning in work again, take this page before you again and take all four steps. These steps are:

Step 1: Get ready

Take a piece of paper and write down all the tasks you still have to do, the task that have to be done today, as well as the tasks that will have to be done in the near future. Since you have already done this in the previous chapter you can skip this step at the moment.

Step 2: Eliminate

Take a critical look at your to-do list and figure out which tasks can be deleted from the list. Use these 3 questions to guide you:

– What are the consequences of not doing this task?

– Does completing this task bring me closer to my goals?

– If this was the only thing I would get done today, would I be satisfied?

Use these questions to find out which tasks can be safely removed from the list (note: removing tasks from the list, just because you don’t feel like doing them is NOT positive laziness). After this, write down the underlying goal of the task and judge if that task is the most effective way to achieve that goal. This step you have already taken in the previous chapter so you can skip this one for the moment as well.

Step 3: Organize

Take a look at the remaining tasks and write down when the tasks have to be finished (hint: tasks that should have been done already have a high priority, write down today behind these tasks). Then rewrite your task list in the order that the tasks have to be finished. Write the tasks that have to be done today on top, followed by those that have to be finished tomorrow etcetera. See the example.

To do:

Task – underlying goal – deadline

Homework, learn economic model, tomorrow

Clean my room, be able to find everything and save time, the day after tomorrow

English essay, improve my average grade, next week

Step 4: Start right away

As soon as you have completed your final to-do list it is time to get to work. Finish the tasks in the order of priority in the most efficient manner. This is the point which will test your self-discipline. Keep in mind that the faster you complete the tasks, the sooner you get rid of them. The remaining tasks on your list have to be done eventually anyway so the faster you get over it, the better.

Make sure you complete the entire list, even the tasks that need to be done in a week or so. As soon as you are done with it you can start with an entirely clean slate and you’ll have genuine free time on your hands. When you still have tasks to be done, even if it’s not immediately, your mind won’t be able to completely relax. You’ll still have the notion in the back of your mind that there are still tasks waiting. Starting with a completely clean slate again does wonders for your mental health.

PS: Just focus on one task at a time and finish that one task as fast and good as possible before starting with the next one.

Self-restraint

Before we end this chapter I would like to address the matter of self-restrain. Unlike self-discipline which is about doing things, self-restraint is all about the opposite. Self-restraint helps you to consciously keep yourself from doing things. To be able to work effective and efficient you need to develop both.

Self-restraint vs. Self-discipline

Self-restraint and self-discipline look like each other’s counter-poles since they both aim at achieving the complete opposite. To do, or not to do. Even though they are each other’s opposites, they are still very compatible. Combining both is crucial if you want to effectively achieve your goals.

For example: When you want to improve your physical fitness you need self-discipline to get yourself to exercise. At the same time you need self-restraint to help you refrain from unhealthy habits like excessive drinking or smoking. When you want to lose weight and you are sticking to a diet, again you need both self-discipline and self-restraint. At the one hand you have your self-discipline which makes you eat at the right times and makes sure you get the right healthy food from the supermarket. In the meanwhile, self-restraint keeps you from eating the unhealthy snacks.

Combined self-discipline and self-restraint enable you to take full control of your own life. To practice the art of positive laziness you need both as well. Self-restraint helps you to refrain from doing the useless tasks while self-discipline helps you to get over the remaining tasks as quickly as possible. Luckily, increasing your self-restraint is not that complicated. We will end this chapter with a small exercise.

How to increase your Self-restraint

Step 1: Choose your favorite snack

If possible choose something that doesn’t have to be kept warm or frozen, and preferably something with a large amount of units like a bag of crisps. If you’re a chocolate addict like me, choose a bag of chocolate peanuts of break a chocolate bar into small pieces.

Step 2: Place the snack strategically

Put the crisps, pieces of chocolate, or whatever other snack you chose on a small plate and place it in your sight. Make sure that while you are busy with other things, or when you are just relaxing, the snacks are clearly visible.

Step 3: Take one

Take one unit of the chosen snack, for example one chocolate peanut. Just one! This is to get the hang of the taste and make the juices in your mouth start to flow, increasing your craving. Leave the rest of the snacks in front of you and keep your hands off it.

Step 4: Take one every 5 minutes

Take just one unit every 5 minutes. Keep yourself from taking more than one, this is the training. As soon as you get better at it increase the time span to 10 or more minutes.

With the previous exercise you can put your self-restraint to the test. The more you practice, the easier it gets. You can combine the exercise with clearing your to-do list. Instead of taking one unit every five minutes, you can take one unit every time you finish a task.

Previous: Part 2: The foundations of positive lazinessNext: Part 4: Practical Applications

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