21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: How to Make Time for What’s Important

Tonight we close out the 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life series. It’s been an eventful experience, to say the least. I knew I need to intentionally focus on developing discipline in my own life, but I had no idea how eye-opening and convicting it was going to be for me to spend three weeks blogging about it.

We Always Find Time for What is Important to Us

You see, for years, I’ve come up with excuses for so many deep-rooted bad habits in life. I’ve excused almost always being late and behind as the result of being busy and having so much on my plate. In reality, while I do have a lot on my plate, my lack of being on time and getting things done early is because I habitually procrastinate and don’t prioritize things well.

I don’t plan ahead like I should. I wait until the last minute. I do things that don’t really matter to avoid doing what is most important.

You would think I would know better, since I’m a huge advocate of goal-setting and budgeting when it comes to finances. But after I posted about doing the hardest things first, I realized that this was my main problem. I’m constantly avoiding what I really should do in favor of other “busy” work.

For example, it only takes me 15 minutes per day to keep up with the laundry and yet I’m always behind on it. However, I seem to find time for reading or blogging and eating. And if I looked back on each day, I can guarantee you that there was at least one (or five!) pockets of 15-minutes that I frittered away on something that really didn’t matter. So, in reality, it’s not that I don’t have time to do the laundry, it’s that I’m not making it the priority it should be.

Here are three things that have been tremendously helpful as I’ve been seeking to break my habit of procrastination and have better priorities in my day-to-day life:

1. Do It Now

Instead of spending all day feeling discouraged that I’ve not gotten to the laundry yet, I’ve been trying to just set the timer and get it done now. The same goes for so many other things. Rather than thinking: “I should call so-and-so” or “I need to order such-and-such”, just do it then. Most of the time, it only takes a few minutes (or less!) and then the task is no longer nagging you, taking brain space and energy. Best of all, it’s done!

2. Prioritize My To-Do List

I’m a huge list-maker, but I’ve been prioritizing each item on my to-do list in the last week. And then I’ve been doing my best to strictly adhere to it. I’ve noticed that not only am I getting a lot more done, but I’m getting the most important stuff done first. This means, that if I don’t get to everything on my list (and I pretty much never do in any given day!), I’ve at least tackled the most pressing stuff from the get-go.

3. Plan to Arrive Early

Instead of waiting until the very last possible minute, I’ve been trying to start getting ready to go at least 1.5 hours to 2 hours in advance. I’ll go ahead and get the necessary items laid out by the door, make sure I have everything I need in my purse, and get myself and the children ready early. I’ve yet to arrive any place more than a minute or two early, but we’ve not been more than a few minutes late to any event in the last week, so we are definitely making some headway! (Hmm, maybe I need to start planning to leave 3 hours in advance?!)

Where Do We Go From Here?

Our 21-Day series is over, but hopefully your journey towards more self-discipline is just beginning. I encourage you to go back and re-read through the posts, tackle any of the projects you didn’t get to, and keep challenging yourself to slowly develop habits.

I’ll be writing more on habits in 2012 as I’m planning to choose 12 habits I want to develop, one per month, and blog about my progress each month. In the mean time, I’m planning to finish Getting Things Done and also read The Now Habit in December.

Thanks, again, for joining me in this! Your accountability and cheerleading made such a huge difference for me!

What have you learned from this series? How has it made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Discipline Begets Discipline

Some of you may be feeling overwhelmed as we’re nearing the end of this 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life Challenge. It might seem disheartening that we’ve spent three weeks on one habit and you still have a mile long list of dozens upon dozens of other habits you want to incorporate, too.

Don’t lose heart! Just because you feel so far behind or so far from where you want to be, look at how far you’ve come.

As you know the habit I’ve been working on for this 21-Day Challenge was getting up earlier every day. I’ve not had a perfect track record and there were one or two days I did sleep in a little past my goal waking up time. But I’m so happy to be nearing the end of the challenge and feeling like this waking up early thing is becoming a true habit, not just a good idea or something I did for a few days in a row and then fell off the bandwagon again.

It’s not been easy. There have been days when I really, really, really wanted to go back to sleep. But I made myself get up. There have been many times when I came up with a long list of excuses why it was okay for me to sleep in. But I made myself get up. Knowing that you all were with me in this challenge served as an enormous motivation to not slack off when I really wanted to.

And you know what’s been a bonus? Committing to get up early every morning has set so many other good habits in motion:

::Because I’m getting up earlier, I’m having more lengthy and meaningful time reading God’s Word every morning.

::Because I’m getting up earlier, I’m finding time to exercise almost every single day.

::Because I’m getting up earlier, I’m getting a jumpstart on my day and this has enabled me to get a lot more done and be more efficient.

::Because I’m getting up earlier, I’m getting a lot of stuff done before the children wake up. So by the time they wake up, I can give them my undivided attention and focused.

::Because I’m getting up earlier, I’m going to bed earlier and this has allowed me to be get more consistent and restful sleep at night.

That’s the beauty of intentionally working on developing discipline: Discipline begets discipline. When I am disciplined in one area, that resolve spills over into other areas. As I’ve experienced in getting up earlier, intentionally making one consistent habit change can slowly lead to amazing transformation in many areas of your life.

So stick with developing your one habit, don’t give up, and keep with it even when you don’t feel like it. One day soon, you may wake up and realize you’ve changed your whole life… just by beginning with one simple habit!

What about you? How has focusing on making one habit a priority spilled over into other areas of your life? I’d love to hear!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Get It Done Early

Oh the irony! I’m writing a post after 10 p.m. that was supposed to be finished much earlier today… and the post is on nothing other than getting it done early. As you can see, this is one of those areas of discipline I sorely need to work on. :)

I read a post on Simple Mom back in July that rocked my world. It was by one of my favorite people — Mandi Ehman — and it was on The Secret of Success for a Work-At-Home Mom. Here’s a snippet:

So what’s the key to success? Simply put: Get it done early.

This principle applies to your home and family life as well as your business. Whenever possible, get it — whatever it may be — done early and eliminate the stress and frustration of being pulled in a million directions.

Avoid the guilt of shushing your teething baby because of looming deadlines or groaning in frustration when the school nurse calls, or saying no — yet again — to a fun activity with your kids.

Now obviously, since I’m writing this post after 10 p.m., I’ve still got a long way to go in actually practicing this getting-it-done-early principle. But ever since reading this post, I’ve been consciously thinking about how implementing this principle would revolutionize my life–and cut down on a lot of stress!

You see, I’ve always been a late person. I was born 17 days late and it seems I’ve been late ever since. Whether it’s getting to an appointment or getting an article done, I’m almost always running behind–usually either just under the wire or late. Sometimes, really, really late.

In my lifetime, I’ve made a lot of excuses for my tardiness, but most all of them boil down to procrastination, improper prioritization, and a lack of planning ahead:

::Instead of planning to leave 30 minutes before I need to be out the door, I wait until 30 minutes before I need to leave to take my shower, get everyone dressed, gather up all the things we need for the outing, and get everyone out the door.

::Instead of looking at my calendar two or three weeks in advance, planning out articles I need to write, and writing them a week or two in advance, I often wait until the day they are due to even begin outlining them.

…And on and on it goes. No wonder there are many times I run around like a chicken with my head cut off! :)

Knowing the problem is good, but that doesn’t fix anything. I actually have to make changes if I want to experience any benefits. So I’m resolving to not just recognize the problem, but actually come up with a solution. Or at least begin working diligently in that direction!

In the next 24 hours, I’m going to sit down and map out a specific plan of action for a few of the areas where I especially struggle with getting things done on time. I’ll let you know my plan of action tomorrow.

Practical Application

1. Read Mandi’s fantastic article, The Secret of Success for a Work-At-Home Mom. Even if you’re not a work-at-home mom or not even a mom, you’ll find some great encouragement in it.

2. Choose one area that you especially struggle with being behind in or running late for.

2. Write down a simple plan for how you are going to stop procrastinating, start planning ahead, and begin getting things done early. Come back and share your plan with us so we can be inspired!

And if you’re one of those amazing people who is always on time or early and always has projects projects done before the deadline, would you do me a favor and share your secrets in the comments? I’d love to learn from you! Seriously. I need all the help I can get in this area!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Missed the first posts in this 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life series? Read them here.

I’ve noticed a number of comments from you all about my resolve to get up by 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Many of you have wondered how I’m pulling it off or how I manage. And I’ve gotten vibes from some of you that you’ve felt guilty that you get up later than me.

Please, please, please do not feel guilty if you get up later than me. Seriously.

While I think getting up early can be a fantastic way to get your day off to a great start and I certainly don’t want to encourage you to sleep in out of laziness, I want you to remember that you need to do what is best for you in whatever life season you’re in. I don’t have a baby, I’m not pregnant, and I only have three children who all sleep soundly through the night (most nights, at least!). I also can go to bed early and I have a husband who is supporting and joining me in my early-to-bed, early-to-rise challenge.

Do What Works for You

There have been many seasons in my life when getting up early was not wise or healthy. Maybe you’re in one of those seasons. Or maybe you just plain weren’t created to rise early. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Don’t feel that you need to get up early just because I am or because it’s really making a difference in my life.

Consider what your family’s needs are. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses. And then choose goals that work for your family–even if they are almost the exact opposite of what works well for someone else.

Embrace Your Own Uniqueness

You can spend all of your life trying to measure up to someone else. You can fritter away hours of time wishing you had her hair or her figure or her energy or her gifts.

But you are not her, you are you. You have unique gifts, talents, and abilities. You can improve upon what God has given you, you can wisely steward what He has given you, but you cannot change who He has created you to be.

So instead of living life wishing you were someone else, embrace your own uniqueness. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t get up when she gets up, or decorate your home like she decorates hers, or fit into the size of jeans she does, or juggle all the activities and responsibilities she does.

Be Free From Guilt

Your life and goals are going to look different from others–and that is completely okay. In fact, if everyone were a carbon copy of each other, wouldn’t life be dull and colorless?

Do the best you can with the energy, gifts, talents, and resources you have in the season of life you are in. And then be free from guilt!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Do the Hardest Things First

I tend to procrastinate on the things I least enjoy. For me, that’s usually laundry. (No shock there, eh?!)

It’s silly, I know, but I’ll put off folding the pile of clean laundry until I am down to my very last outfit (it’s probably a good thing I only have a few outfits, otherwise I can’t imagine how behind I’d get on laundry!). The laundry pile will hang over my head and burden me down, but I often don’t do anything about it until it becomes a necessity.

Prioritize the Hardest Things First

Mark Twain wisely said, “If you eat a frog first thing in the morning that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.”

Brian Tracy wrote an entire book based upon this quote called, Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. One of his main premises is that if you start the day out by doing the things you like least first, you’ll get them out of the way so you can enjoy your day more and be more productive and fulfilled.

Eat That Frog is an excellent read and it challenged me to go into my day with the goal of doing the hardest things first. When I get the most dreaded things out of the way right off the bat, it gives me so much momentum for the rest of the day!

I’ve been trying to apply this idea to my laundry pile. Instead of letting it sit and grow to an overwhelming size, I’m trying start a load of laundry first thing in the morning, switch it to the dryer before breakfast, and then fold and put it away mid-morning. So far, I’ve not been successful at doing it this way every day, but on the days that I have done this, I’ve been amazed at how well it works.

And honestly, when I just do one load a day, I’m able to stay on top of the laundry, it never gets out of hand, and it really takes no more than 15 minutes a day to keep up with. Why has it taken me almost nine years of running my own home to figure this simple principle out?

Save the Best for Last

Once you’ve accomplished your most dreaded tasks for the day, reward yourself with some of the tasks you enjoy doing. This will give you something to look forward to when you’re in the midst of doing your hard tasks and will probably give you motivation to accomplish them more quickly.

Practical Application

1) Read this great article: Start Your Day By Eating a Frog for some great step-by-step help in prioritizing your day.

2) Determine what you tend to procrastinate on and develop a plan of action for making it a first priority.

3) If you have a chance, check out Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time from your local library. It’s a quick read and it’s packed with helpful inspiration.

Note: I’m taking the weekend off from posting this daily series, but will be back with the next installment on Monday. Enjoy a little breather–but keep on with your discipline goals and projects!

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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: Say “Yes” to the Best

Missed the first posts in this 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life series? Read them here.

Learn to Say No

I don’t like to let people down. I don’t like to admit I can’t add another thing to my plate. In short, I don’t like saying no.

But in the last few years, I’ve finally come to realize an important truth: superwoman is a myth. If I want to live a productive, efficient, happy, peaceful, and disciplined life, I must learn to say no. And I must say it often.

If you want to stick with your goals, you’re going to have to get good at saying no. It’s hard to do, especially if you’re an over-achiever like me. But you’ll only end up frustrated, exhausted, and depleted if you try to do it all.

The reality is: I can’t do it all. When I say yes to one thing, I must say no to something else. When I choose to make getting up early a priority, I have to say no to habitually staying up late. I also have to say no to most activities and events that would keep me up late.

Count the Costs

Slowly but surely, I’m learning to think before committing to anything: what will be the consequences of saying yes? Will saying yes to this late-night thing throw me off-course and mean that I can’t get up before 5 a.m.? Will saying yes to this big commitment mean that my home and family suffers?

Count the cost of each commitment before you make the final decision. Don’t just blindly say yes when someone tries to convince you that you must do X, Y, or Z. Don’t give in to peer pressure or make decisions based upon what people might think of you if you say no.

Choose the Best Stuff First

You can’t say yes to everything. It’s up to you to pick and choose wisely and say yes to only what is best. If you have leftover time and energy, you can always say yes to some good things, too. But start with the best stuff first.

Practical Application

1) Evaluate all the activities and commitments on your plate right now. Choose one that really doesn’t matter or isn’t helping you move closer to your longterm goals and get rid of it. If it’s something that involves other people, make sure you don’t just walk out on them without tying up all the lose ends first. Tell us in the comments what you decided to cut out from your life. I’m anxious to hear! :)

2) Make a habit of saying no more often than you say yes. The peace and order you’ll begin to experience in your life will be well worth the initial difficulty of actually saying no.

How are you doing on your current habit? I went to bed early last night and found it was so much easier to get up at 5 a.m. this morning. I need to do that more often! :) I’m very ready for the weekend and getting to sleep in until 7 a.m., but I’m happy to have made it through another Monday through Thursday of getting up by 5 a.m. every day. (Okay, so I know that I initially said I was going to get up before 5 a.m., but I’ve decided to give myself grace adn just stick with by 5 a.m. for now!)

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