What remote workers can do to boost discipline - And why it's so important

Updated: Feb 1

Remote work might seem very attractive and way less challenging than it really is. One of the biggest problems remote workers face is lack of discipline, as reported in this exhaustive report by remote-how. When discipline sinks, motivation is at stake and productivity drops. A clear implication of this scenario is that working remotely becomes a struggle. Hours spent trying to accomplish a task and an overwhelming pressure whenever the deadline screams at us that we don't have enough time to deliver what we promised. Does this sound familiar?

With this article, I want to offer an explanation about what remote workers can do to boost (self) discipline and why it's so important to inject their days with a healthy dose of discipline. The consequences of improving discipline are pretty straightforward: increased productivity, fulfillment and a general sense of well-being. So, let's start by taking a look at what discipline looks like in the daily life of a remote worker.

In my experience, the way discipline looks like to remote workers is twofold. On the one hand, (positive meaning) discipline is the holy grail for a perfect work-life balance. The missing piece that, once mastered, can improve the life of remote workers dramatically. On the other hand, (negative meaning) discipline is a synonym for rules, sometimes very strict, and a consequent sense of oppression and lack of freedom. My challenge is then to offer remote workers a new perspective in order to transform the negative meaning in positive. Discipline will then be fully accepted as a necessary skill to nurture in order to succeed as remote workers.

When discipline sinks, motivation is at stake and productivity drops

What exactly is discipline about? What pops up in our minds whenever we think about discipline? We might think about hard work, strict rules, endless repetitive tasks. We might also think about meditation and in this case sitting steady with ourselves can really take an eternity...then we open our eyes to discover that only 10 minutes have passed. In the remote work context, discipline is being focused on one task per time without checking social media, notifications, emails and other sources of distraction. It's also about having a schedule and honoring it. It's about delivering without postponing any deadline. It seems that discipline has a lot to do with tasks and performance, doesn't it?

Then, here is the twist, and in provoking some thought I also answer the question "why is discipline so important for a remote worker?". Pause for as long as you need to reconsider what discipline is truly about. Up to this point is seems that discipline is related to performing tasks. But why do you really challenge yourself in trying to finish a task within one hour, for instance? Is there another entity to which discipline is related?

I am sure you took some minutes for self reflection. It's important to internalize a shift in perspective. Now, back to what discipline is about and the twist I promised to offer. I think that we can all agree about the fact that discipline is truly about time. Whenever you decide to set your own deadlines, you intrinsically want to accomplish as much as you can as fast as you can. You want to maximize the outcome and minimize the efforts. By improving discipline, you are allowing yourself to have much more time at your disposal. The set of rules, the schedule, the to-do list, everything you do to become more disciplined aims to put you in charge of your time, to give you freedom.

Then the tough question is: if discipline is about having more time and remote workers want time to enjoy life, to be with their families and to travel, why is it that they struggle so much to be disciplined? Well, the answer is that being disciplined is hard. It's hard to follow the rules and constantly keep in mind that those simple little rules that they follow now are going to reward them tremendously in a couple of hours. If remote workers stop checking social media, slack, emails and so on, they will be rewarded with much more free time to invest in whatever they want. Stop procrastinating now and you will feel fulfilled in an hour. Stop checking your phone compulsively and you will meet the deadline. But the perception of the present moment is always more powerful than whatever they can feel in the near future.

I think that we can all agree about the fact that discipline is truly about time

And that's where strategy comes into play. I'm not talking about to-do lists, switching your phones off, working from coworker spaces or getting shocks to discourage you from checking emails. Those are practical tips that can be useful, but don't go beyond superficiality and a much greater effort will be needed to become a successful remote worker if you don't investigate a bit deeper.

I'm talking about a simple strategy to tap into your enthusiasm and resilience.

You know that discipline is about having more time. It's hard to improve discipline because it's hard to keep in mind how lively and fulfilled you will feel in few hours if you follow some simple rules now. So here is what you can do to tap into your resources and exercise your freedom to choose. Whenever you notice that you get distracted, you can ask yourself a simple question, "WHY?". Used wisely, "why?" can be a powerful tool to get to the roots of your choices. This little exercise requires honesty and awareness. After you investigate what's really going on, you can move forward in setting some practical strategies. Here is an example of conversation I had with a client to illustrate what I mean. I modified the dialogue a bit for anonymity purposes.

- Why (are you getting distracted)? *** Because I don't like what I am doing

- Why? *** Because I feel stuck

- Why? *** Because I need it but it drains me

- Why (do you need it)? *** Because my plan is to save some money before I can start travelling again. [silence from my side to allow the client to listen to his own words and process them] So I guess that I need to work for a some more months to save enough money to travel.

I'm talking about a simple strategy to tap into your enthusiasm and resilience.

Afterwards, customizing the practical strategy was the easiest part. Not all the conversations go as smooth as the one in the example of course. The point is to start an analytic process that will give remote workers a new overview of their life, making the phase of developing discipline much smoother. In my experience, remote workers are able to harvest the benefits of setting their own rules only after they intimately realize what is holding them back from being disciplined. I observed that whenever remote workers feel rebellious towards a task or situation and their mind wanders continuously, it's time to pause, take a walk and ask "why?" to reconnect with whatever makes them enthusiast and energetic. Discipline will find them again and they will be able to welcome it in their life and benefit from this fruitful friendship.

Do you want to know how to customize your own strategy to welcome and befriend discipline? Reach out to me on LinkedIn or book a call - I’d love to learn more about your current situation and explore ways I can help.

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