There are always a few position-specific skills necessary to get to the top of your profession; whatever it may be. But right at the top of any list is work ethic and motivation. No one makes a success of themselves or their business without the drive and determination to maximize their potential and their ability.
I make this comment from experience. I have spent many years creating and building startup businesses (including Buffered, a multimillion dollar software company, and Fried.com, a fast-growing software information website) in the hugely competitive tech sector. If you want to make a go of anything in the world I operate, you have to have motivation.
But motivation alone is not enough. You also need to be disciplined in your approach to your work to convert motivation into success.
What's the connection between motivation and discipline? Here's what I think.
What Is Motivation?
Motivation is a term which can mean different things to different people. Broadly speaking, the word is defined as “the reason or reasons for acting or behaving or doing something.”
In my world, pretty much everyone claims to be motivated, but that motivation differs from person to person. For some, it is a desire for financial rewards, while others crave the level of recognition and reputation enjoyed only by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page.
I knew a few people who openly admitted to having such high-level aspirations ... and all of them crashed and burned. Why? Because such motivation is what I call "pie-in-the-sky thinking." Their focus is on the end result of their project and the success they are confident of achieving.
Such long-term focus inevitably ends in failure, because you lose sight of the here and now, and the little details which have to be right if a business is to grow. Without such a disciplined focus on what matters now, it becomes incredibly hard to get to the next level.
For me, and those friends and colleagues who have enjoyed some success in the tech sector, motivation has always been something more modest. In the tech sector, innovation is king, and my motivation has always been focused on making a success of my idea.
Success doesn’t have to mean "Facebook-esque" levels, because the reality is that almost no one will be able to take their idea to that level. Rather, to get an idea off the ground, take it to market, and build it up into something reputable and profitable. That is the dream and the motivation.
How to Sustain Daily Motivation
However, maintaining that drive day-in, day-out is another matter altogether. We all have bad days, slow days, and days when we would just rather be doing something else.
This is where discipline first comes into play. Because with the right discipline, it is possible to maintain a high baseline of motivation on a daily basis and pour everything into making your business -- or yourself -- a success.
I will look at what is meant by discipline in a moment, but first I should say that achieving this daily motivation is not something I have managed to do overnight. Rather I have spent months and years experimenting with different routines, diets, exercise regimes, and plenty more besides.
Today my daily routine includes waking up early to make the most of the morning. I will exercise, eat a proper breakfast, and attend to any important personal tasks to ensure I am fully focused when I begin work.
I make sure to stop for at least half an hour at lunchtime and take lunch away from the office, either in a café or restaurant, or sitting in a park. I never to check my phone during this time, and I also have a self-imposed cut-off point at night after which I will read, cook, take a bath, or relax. After 9 p.m., work stuff has to wait.
Having this disciplined approach to my routine has enabled me to sustain focus during designated working hours to the benefit of my businesses, my own personal performance, and my family life.
We are all different and what works for me may not work for you, but the overarching point remains sound. Create a routine that ensures that when you are working, you can focus on just work, and when you are not, you are able to switch off entirely.
What Does Discipline Actually Mean?
I do not look at the concept of discipline in a negative way. But I know many people do, and for me this is a mistake.
For many, discipline is about following the rules, behaving in a specified way, and being punished if you deviate. In the tech world, there is no room for such rigidity. The sphere in which I work requires flexibility, innovation, and a willingness to try new things and push back boundaries. Many other sectors require the same approach.
For me, discipline is something more closely aligned to control. It is about discovering what environment and activities are required to maximize your productivity and then sticking with them, day after day after day.
I am all too aware of how important flexibility and creativity are in almost every workplace. I certainly don’t want to curtail those. But I firmly believe in applying a sense of control to both your professional and personal life.
Of course, there are times when I will lapse, and we all allow ourselves a lie-in once in a while. There are times when it is necessary to work over lunch, too. But rather than beat myself up about these lapses, I use them as an opportunity to demonstrate discipline again; ensuring I get myself back on track the following day.
Additionally, I am a big advocate of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of self-awareness. It involves the ability to take a step back when things are getting stressful and difficult, put things into perspective, and seek out solutions to problems calmly and rationally. The technique helps me inject a sense of perspective and rationale to the decisions I am making in the workplace.
When I started out in business, I was the exact opposite of this. I would go at everything like a bull in a china shop, and when things went wrong I would become flustered, panicked, and would make mistakes.
Today, I have cut out those unnecessary mistakes thanks to mindfulness. My disciplined application of this technique has undoubtedly made me a better boss and company owner, and helped my business to thrive as well.
For those starting out in business -- the "wantrepreneurs," if you will -- it is all too easy to dismiss such approaches or play down their importance. This can be a fatal mistake.
There is a saying: “Take care of the pennies, and the pounds take care of themselves.” Nothing could be more true in business. Staying focused on the little things, resisting the urge to slip into big picture thinking, and maintaining a professional composure in the face of problems will help you to overcome most hurdles.
Discipline Breeds Motivation; Motivation Breeds Success
The reason I like to write articles such as this is to share the tips I have learned the hard way throughout my career to help others following a similar path. And the subject of this article is perhaps what I feel more passionately about than any other.
Motivation is crucial to both personal and business success. It is vital to keep that motivation in check and focus on short-term, achievable goals rather than reaching for the stars.
It is also vital that motivation is something that drives you everyday, not a feeling which comes and goes. To get to that stage, I have created a disciplined lifestyle model which works for me and which I have outlined above.
Motivation and discipline are a lot more than vague buzzwords. They are potentially the keys to unlocking both your own true potential and that of your business. Apply them in the right way, and, trust me, they can be devastatingly effective. There is no reason why you can’t use them to reap the rewards yourself.
Originally published Jan 11, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021