When I decided to skip out on a traditional job and opt for the solo route, I imagined my greatest hurdle would be discipline. Self-discipline, to be exact.
The discipline to get up every single day and do the thing I said I would do. The discipline to stick to the daily routine I eventually created for myself after realizing that structure is still needed even when you have the option of skipping off track. The discipline to write. The discipline to continue saving especially since my income is less predictable. The discipline to stay true to myself and to the reasons why I went off the beaten path.
Why discipline? We are all bosses of ourselves, but when we work in an organization or in team focused environments, we essentially outsource part of the responsibility of self-policing to other people. It could be to the manager who will set deadlines and who has the power to “punish” you for not delivering. Or even your team mates whose disapproval or peer influence can serve as enough motivation to get things done. That is, if you care enough about the work you are (not) doing and how you impact your colleagues and teammates.
When you go solo, you essentially monopolize that responsibility to stay on track and deliver. But that’s not all – you also insource that responsibility from the people you work closely with – interns, project partners, clients, sometimes even customers.
Give me discipline or give me death. That pretty much summed up my expectations of how things would pan out.
How wrong I was. As I’m quickly finding out, discipline has its place, but focus and consistency are more important. Especially if you have as many interests, ideas and interactions as I do.
While you may be disciplined enough to wake up at 6:00am each day, say your prayers, exercise, eat a healthy breakfast and open your virtual office to get to work, it’s focus that will stop you from trailing off from that urgent email you’re writing into the rabbit hole of endless URL clicks. It’s focus that will keep you glued to your work document after coming back from your bathroom break. It’s focus that will coax you away from jumping at the hundreds of phone notifications that you will encounter throughout the day.
Discipline will lead you to the stage, but ultimately focus will keep you there, helping you deliver a stellar performance worthy of your time.
Focus will ground you in the now and help you prioritise. It will lead you up the ladder of process and clarify how one element of your work ties into another, both now and down the line.
Focus will keep your “WHY” loud and clear. It will whisper gently in your ear when all the exciting opportunities and options come around. It will help you stay true when well-meaning family and friends tell you what you ought to be doing – making more money, getting married, having children, working less, getting a real job for goodness sake! Focus will quiet your restless mind which knows just how much you want all those things. And when the difficult and often times lonely days roll in, focus will keep the bigger picture front and center, reminding you that you can have it all, perhaps just not at once.
Focus will bring into, well, focus, exactly what is priority, what is important, and what can wait. It will help you choose and make the tough decisions that might or might not impact your level of sanity. It will wipe the mirror clear and show you exactly where you can do and be better, and then, give you the tools to actually work on getting better. Focus will give you permission to say “no” without signing up for shrink sessions with guilt. It will steer you away from comparison, from jumping into the rat race.
And once you embrace focus for all it is, you will see exactly how it dances with self-discipline. More importantly, you will uncover yourself, your WHY, your goals, your strengths and where you can best add value with a clarity unlike any other. At the end of the day, focus is what you need to get things done.
Written by Jemila Abdulai
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.