Why parenting teaches entrepreneurs about unstructured time and self discipline

unstructured time and self discipline

Becoming an entrepreneur can be as overwhelming as becoming a new parent

Parenting teaches entrepreneurs about unstructured time and self discipline. A new parent is dispatched home with a sweet smelling bundle of joy, only to find themselves stepping into a sort of parallel universe. Day and night blur exhaustingly into one. Time loses its meaning. Day to day tasks that were once second nature like regular meals, doing laundry and managing to wear matching shoes become challenging.

That blur of overwhelm is very similar to the experience of the newly self employed. In fact, any significant life change that removes the structure of your day like children going to school or leaving home, being made redundant or retiring, can leave you with an an unsettling amount of unstructured time.

Unstructured time is not as brilliant as you might have hoped…

If you chose the change, unstructured time might be exactly what you were after. But sometimes it is not all you had hoped it would be. Studies have linked the increase in unstructured time experienced by those who are unemployed to low self esteem, hopelessness and inactivity . With too much time on our hands we end up having to face our demons. And with unstructured time the most likely outcome is often a significant lack of productivity.

Hopefully you find a creative endeavour to utilise this time. If the change was of your choosing, as in the case of the new entrepreneur this creative project might be the very reason for the change. You start a business, change career, write a novel, take up a hobby. That creative project is your new baby.

However, unlike the newborn baby your new project won't wail to let you know when you have missed an important activity like time for a feed or a nappy change. No, your new project is entirely silent. It is all on you to figure out what to do and when to do it.

Reduce that overwhelm with a solid structure

Most new parents learn pretty fast that the best way to manage this enormous life change is with a steady routine. That fuzzy haze of the first few days or weeks clears once a consistent schedule is established. And with a newborn baby, there are usually plenty of knowledgeable friends and relatives, who are more than willing to provide input.

Similarly, to thrive (or just survive) your new creative endeavour you have to manage that unstructured time with… yes, I’m afraid so… a bit of structure. It might be that unstructured time is what you wanted, but actually it is more like self-directed time. Maybe what you wanted was not to be answerable to anyone - unstructured time is the initial side effect.

Okay, so there are no busybody relatives and parenting gurus clamouring to be involved in what you do. But resources are readily available to help you come up with a structure. They are all largely common sense, as most good advice is. They likely begin with an assessment of goals and objectives. The next step is to break down the steps needed to achieve those goals and objectives. And finally, to schedule those priority tasks.

The key to success is self discipline

However, scheduling is not the final step at all. I think that this part is comparatively easy compared to the critical final component. Execution. Actually carrying out the tasks that have been scheduled. A crying baby is hard to ignore. You complete the necessary tasks without really thinking about it because the need, goals and objectives are obvious and time is scarce.

But with the new creative endeavour, it is easy to lose sight of the goals, and to lose the sense of urgency. The only thing that keeps us executing the tasks on our list is self discipline.

Business gurus like Bob Proctor and Brian Tracy advise that self-discipline is the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur. Often, the most productive time of our life is our school days. Thanks to a rigorously enforced and carefully thought out structure, we learn multiple subjects and skills, and include play, exercise and hopefully healthy eating on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, without teachers and parents and bosses we are accountable only to ourselves. With only self discipline to keep us on track we probably won’t achieve the volume and variety of learning and productive activity per day as we did at school. Nor do we always remember to take care of ourselves as well as we should. The most essential tool in our arsenal for success is self discipline.

Fortunately, self discipline is a learned skill. If it doesn't come naturally to you, you can still improve it with some effort.

Schedule out every part of your day. Do this before the day begins - at least the night before. Then follow your schedule unwaveringly, whether you feel like it or not. The sense of achievement when you carry this out is very motivating. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

Will you be able to do this every single day? Probably not. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have off days. Aim for the 80/20 rule… try and do this at least 8 out of every 10 and see your productivity sky rocket. Your self esteem and mental state will benefit too. Like anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.