Secrets to get things done when you are not naturally self-disciplined - Dr. Marianne van den Broek

Secrets to get things done when you are not naturally self-disciplined

I have a confession to make: I am not naturally self-disciplined. At all.

People think I must be, because I managed to finish med school, got my Ph.D in 3.5 years, and because I had two children and started my own business within 1.5 years (no, they're not twins!). 

But let me tell you: I only managed to do it with lots of willpower and thanks to external structure where other people imposed deadlines and all sorts of demands on me. 

And now I am my own boss. 

No more hoops to jump through. Nobody nagging me about tasks I need to complete even though no one's exactly sure of their use. No protocols dictating that things need to be done a certain way. 

And I love the freedom and the autonomy. I love the work I get to do with my clients. The connections I get to make with inspiring people from all around the world. I would never go back.


Getting things done when there's no one to watch over your shoulder to make sure you actually do them can be REALLY HARD sometimes!

I am sure you recognize this. 

On a cognitive level, you know you should...

  • ...actually write the blogpost, not just think of a good subject;
  • ...stay on track with your bookkeeping;
  • ...go to bed on time.

And still, you find yourself wondering if people will notice if you skip the post...just once... Postponing until all of a sudden it's 24 hours until your tax deadline, every single time.
Watching just one more episode before you go to bed. And another.

It's not your fault.

There's a whole section of our brain dedicated to keeping us comfortable. That will do anything to trick us into going for the short term feeling good, instead of the longer term rewards. Even when we are fully aware of the fact that those longer term benefits are SO much better than the short term ones!

You need to outsmart that part of the brain, in order to get anything done.

So here are some of my secrets to getting things done even if you're not naturally disciplined. 

1. Keep the endgoal in mind.

This is a two step process.

First of all, you want to make sure that the things on your to-do list are a priority. So make it a habit of frequently assessing what's on your calendar and deciding whether it is worth pursuing and not just busywork, or someone else's priority.

Second, for each activity, decide to which endgoal it contributes. Make sure your endgoals are juicy.

Business growth is not an endgoal.

Making a big impact with your message so you can change lives, by hitting X email list subscribers, on the other hand? Sounds like something worth finishing editing your 3-part video series for, right?

2. Understand your type.

Whenever people talk about ways to get things done, the term accountability comes up. And for some people, accountability works really well. But accountability is not for everyone! Gretchen Rubin did amazing research on this when she was looking into habit change. She found out that there are four different types, and only one of them thrives on external accountability. 

So if you struggle to meet external demands, take her short quiz to find out what will work for you! 

3. Invent an alterego.

Remember when you were little and did pretend play all the time? You get to do that again! Maybe you are not the type of person who enjoys bookkeeping, but your alter ego mrs. Moneypenny thrives during this task! Really get into character and have fun with it, and before you know it, your work is done.

Woman wearing eye mask

4. Use a different strength that can enhance your self discipline.

Maybe self-discipline doesn't come natural to you, but you ARE highly competitive. Turn your task into some kind of competition by making it a race against the clock, or by finding someone else to compete against. Or perhaps making meaningful connections energizes you. In that case, you can focus on how the result of your work will lead to more meaningful connections, in order to finish your task. 

5. Reward yourself.

Don't forget to reward yourself for finishing the things that don't naturally energize you. It's so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and work from one task to another, without ever celebrating our accomplishments. Make this a priority.

  • Write down what you achieved at the end of each day.
  • Celebrate your biggest accomplishments each week.
  • Reward yourself with something you really enjoy at the end of a big project.
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