Study Central: 10 Steps Toward Self-Discipline [Part 1]


Last week I discussed how to get a jump start toward minimizing procrastination. This week, I present to you five of my 10 steps to build self-discipline to help keep procrastination at bay.


  1. Eat the Frog First. This is an old saying among productivity gurus meaning you should always tackle the most difficult task first [think of it this way: if you had to eat both a frog and a bowl of ice cream, it’s probably better to eat the frog first]. Don’t wait until you feel “ready” to finally start that daunting task of yours. Waiting will not make it easier, and as Stephen King says, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” As an author [a job that most would say requires “inspiration to strike”], even he knows that discipline gets things done. A strategy that may help you get over the initial activation energy [any chemistry majors out there?] is to utilize the 5-Minute Rule. That is, promise yourself that you will spend only five minutes on the task. After those five minutes you’re likely to just keep going.
  2. 100 Percent Commit. There’s another old saying which tells you to finish what you start and only start what you intend to finish. Don’t take this the wrong way; you can start and stop tasks how you like if it will help you get them done. Rather, don’t let trivial things get in the way of getting things done. Maybe you have a commitment to an extracurricular that is no longer benefiting you, and is starting to get in the way of your school work. Find a responsible way to get out. My rule from last week [start on day one and don’t stop until you’re done] also applies here. Similarly. . . .
  3. Remove Temptation and Distraction. Little things like social media notifications can do a lot to hinder your focus, which ultimately reduces your ability to commit to whatever you’re doing 100 percent while you’re working. Put it away and get your work done. If you just get your homework over with you’ll have plenty of time for social activities when you finish. If you have to, do something like purposely leaving your phone in your room while you’re at the library so that, even if temptation strikes, there’s nothing you can do to satisfy it [and you can get back to work].
  4. Habits, Rituals, and Routines. You likely already have some form of a daily routine. If you’ve ever been a failed New Year’s Resolution-er [how’s that going, by the way?], you know that trying to add too much to your routine at once tends to not work. Some people have intensely specific routines that they follow to the T every single day. But they didn’t start out that way. You have to add one activity at a time, no matter how trivial it may seem. In addition to routines, you can create habit or ritual triggers. For example, you can set an alarm at the same time each day to start getting work done. Or whenever you go to bed, have your flashcard set next to you so you can run through them before you sleep and when you wake up in the morning. Little things add up. Try to keep track of what times of the day you’re most productive and plan accordingly.
  5. Set SMART Goals. Let’s break this down.
  • Specific: Don’t write down something like “read textbook”. Besides failing to tell you what you need to read, such a vague goal can seem really daunting if your textbook happens to be, say, 1,321 pages.
  • Measurable: If you’re reading a textbook, be specific about what page numbers you need to read. Knowing exactly what you need to do helps promote a sense of accomplishment because you have no doubt whether you actually accomplished your goal when you go to check it off your to-do list.
  • Attainable: Again with reading, you could end up with 500 pages to read for an exam, if you’re particularly unlucky. As early as possible, split up these pages into smaller chunks [such as 10 pages per night] and have a specific plan for how you will handle the workload if you have to skip  a day.
  • Relevant: One example that comes to mind for relevance is rewriting notes. If you’re literally copying what you already wrote down, you’re not gaining much of anything from going over it, verbatim, again [unless there’s a specific reason you need to rewrite them]. Instead, reformat your notes into tables, lists, pictures, etc. that will help you organize your notes in a different way that’s easier for you to understand. If it’s a math class, consider reformatting by annotating each step in a problem solving strategy. Rewriting notes is passive studying [read: ineffective]. Reformatting them is active studying [see online version for link to previous article on the subject].
  • Timely: This is especially big with procrastination. Taking book notes either before you go over the topic in class or immediately after [each method has its benefits] is a useful tool to help you understand the material. However, if you waited until the weekend before the exam to take book notes, there’s a good chance you will not get them done, and also end up wasting your time on unimportant details. Be prepared to revise your study methods as time allows.

That’s all for this week! Check back next week for the final five steps (click the link to see the post)!

Happy studying!