Business Habits Productivity Work Writing

Discipline Vs Freedom: 7 Ways To Win the Battle For Your Time When You Work Online

By Jon Rumens on 29 November 2021

Today’s hard-charging entrepreneurs and personal development gurus…

…They’re all about SELF-DISCIPLINE.

Jocko Willink (not a cheesy guru type at all, to be fair) even wrote a book called “Discipline Equals Freedom.” It’s an amazing read, of course, and quite on target. You can’t expect to get far in this world if you don’t develop some level of ability to sit your tail in a chair and just get things done.

Day in and day out.

Well, today I have a confession to make. It might come as a bit of a shock considering I created the most powerful procrastination-beating app on the web (or maybe not, if you really think about it…).

But here it is.

Sometimes I feel like the self-discipline line of hustle culture is a little bit too nailed to the wall.

I Mean Do You Really WANT To Be A Discipline Machine?

After working with thousands of remote workers and online business-folk over the years to beat digital distraction and focus better, I’ve come to realize the struggle between discipline and freedom goes super DEEP. Especially with people like us who’ve purposely chosen to work remotely.

After all, the whole IDEA of becoming a copywriter, a web designer, a software engineer, an online product creator, a blogger…


…Was to create more freedom in the first place!

And so it’s a cold bucket of water in the face when you realize you actually need MORE discipline to make the whole “mobile lifestyle” thing a reality.

So you implement a laundry list of productivity tricks in an attempt to get it all on track. But you can’t help but fight yourself! Pushing back on these changes (good ole’ “Monkey Mind” in action).

Because bottom line: That freedom “value” is strong within you.

You don’t just think freedom is a “nice idea.” It’s one of the most important priorities you have!

And you probably don’t WANT to let it go, right?

So the question becomes…

How Can You Embrace Self-Discipline While STILL Allowing Room For Spontaneity?

This is the point where those infomercial-type guys would lie to you.

And tell you that, yes, you can have the best of ALL possible worlds.

You can live as free as you’d like, they’d say, wandering around the planet like a beach bum, your hair messed up and your dirty toes poking out at the world. Slosh through mai tais on the beach while closing deals and the money keeps coming in like clockwork…

I won’t feed you that line, I promise.

The truth is that (unless you’re extremely talented and extremely lucky), you probably can’t have it all. There is, however, some room to strike a balance.

And after all these years growing FocusMe to what it is today…

…I’ve stumbled across a few invaluable tricks that allow me to maintain a sense of freedom and spontaneity (even if just a sense of it) while still making the magic happen.

I’ll tell you about 7 of my favorite ways to give yourself that permission in just a moment…

But first let’s get something out of the way.

A Warning About The Psychology Of Procrastination

And How Reframing “Work” In Your Mind Frees You From Your Mental Traps

Before we get into these 7 tricks of work freedom…

…I’d feel a bit irresponsible if I didn’t address the psychology of procrastination first (as it pertains to the desire for “freedom”).

Because just telling a procrastinator they can be as spontaneous as they want with no filter at all… Well, in some ways that’s like telling someone with a history of alcohol abuse that, sure, they can just have “one” drink whenever they want.

After all, experts say one drink is good for you. 😉

Obviously that’s problematic.

So let’s peel back the psychology of procrastination for a sec. And see if we can determine where your hunger for freedom comes in.

Because fair upfront warning here.

Your hunger for freedom may be a big reason you procrastinate in the first place!

Fortunately there are some proven strategies for weakening its grip on your thought processes.

Procrastination As Discomfort Avoidance (And How To Fix It)

Have you ever heard of Rational Emotive Therapy?

(Or its more recent offshoot, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?)

REBT was created by a cranky old man named Albert Ellis as recently as the 1950s. But the foundational principles of REBT go back a lot longer than that.

In fact, Ellis developed this branch of psychology from age-old principles of Asian, Greek, and Roman philosophy before going on to turn it into one of the most successful forms of psychotherapy known to man.

In the “EFTP Psychotherapy Guidebook,” Milos Lazarevic and Vladimir Djuric write, “In general REBT is arguably one of the most investigated theories in the field of psychotherapy and a large amount of clinical experience and a substantial body of modern psychological research have validated and substantiated many of REBTs theoretical assumptions on personality and psychotherapy.”

I’ve often heard it said that REBT is more research-backed and evidence-based than any other form of psychotherapy.

Point being, this isn’t just theory here!

According to Healthline, REBT is particularly effective with a wide range of what we generally think of as psychological disorders, like depression, anxiety, phobias, rage, guilt, aggression, sleep problems, eating disorders, and more.

And yes, it helps with addiction and alcoholism too (bringing our previous analogy into a clearer perspective).

Plus REBT has also been known to help with PROCRASTINATION!

Here’s How REBT Gets You Out Of The Freedom Trap

We often think of these types of conditions as problems with your brain. Or something in your innate nature.

Like people with depression who try to medicate their way out of it instead of addressing lifestyle causes that likely contribute. Or addiction recovery programs that teach their “patients” that they have a disease they can never really be cured of.

And procrastinators who just assume it’s a part of their nature that’ll never change.

(Some of these statements are controversial, I know, but REBT has had great success in practice.)

One of the core tenets of REBT is that your self-sabotaging emotions are instead caused by irrational beliefs you hold in your mind. While emotion can be analyzed as a chemical response, the way you STRUCTURE your thoughts, i.e. the things you tell yourself, are what trigger the emotions you feel to begin with.

And emotions are hard to fight, so they lead to repeating behaviors you don’t want. Even when you intend the opposite.

REBT teaches you to work on the belief, or the thought first. And then the emotion will correct itself.

Where Does "Freedom" Come In?

A major source of procrastination is an innate desire to rebel against the discomfort of having to do something against your will.

REBT has a term for this inability to handle discomfort. They call it “low frustration tolerance” — an alternative name that might click with us freedom-seekers is “short-term hedonism.”

And often that’s all it really is when you tell yourself something limits your freedom.

You get a new job or start a new business, and at first, you’re killing it. But after some time goes by, you secretly start to resent the work. You resent the clients hitting you up with their demands. You resent your boss. You resent your co-workers. You resent even the very thought of clocking in.

Because in your mind, you believe, “Well, I SHOULD be able to do whatever I want to do.”

“No one SHOULD have control over my time and focus but me.”

And because these work demands require what feels like a limitation on freedom, you rebel against them and fall off the rails. And start procrastinating.

Because work is uncomfortable and your brain doesn’t like discomfort. Until everyone gets burnt out on your behavior, and even if they keep you around, the work relationships deteriorate and your results suffer.

Rational Emotive Therapy teaches you that you can control your feelings by controlling how you frame work in your mind.

All You Have To Do Is Change The Way You “Talk To Yourself” About Work

The actual words you use when you “talk to yourself” CREATE the feelings you have. By rewording those thoughts intentionally you can change the way you feel.

So while I still think you CAN entertain some of your hunger for freedom, it also helps to redefine the idea stuck in your head that says work somehow imposes upon freedom. Or that it isn’t “fair” to have to work because it feels uncomfortable.

You feel bad when you say to yourself:

“I hate this because it makes me feel uncomfortable and trapped.”

Statements Albert Ellise might prescribe include (yes, for when you talk to yourself):

“My work actually CREATES freedom because it provides the income to take uninterrupted time off work and do the things I actually want to do in life. By focusing more now I can buy more free time later.”

Or even questioning your feeling that you “deserve” to not have your freedom imposed upon. Or that you “deserve” to never feel uncomfortable.

Albet Ellis would have you tell yourself:

“Who am I to deserve to never feel uncomfortable? No human in the history of the world has been able to completely escape discomfort… So of course I’ll be uncomfortable sometimes, and that’s fine.”


“Who am I to deserve to feel completely free of work or any responsibilities at all times? No one in the history of the world has ever been so free, so what makes me so special? Since there’s no reason I should be free of all restrictions and limitations, I can just accept that this is part of life.”

If any of this sounds confusing, over-simplistic, or airy, I get it. Rational Emotive Therapy is a fascinating field of thought, and you could spend years digging into it. But it’s well worth the journey if you want to break your stickiest mental traps.

Start learning more here.

Meanwhile, I did promise, so…

Here Are 7 Freedom Tricks For Embracing A Flexible Lifestyle When Working Online

Freedom Trick #1: Keep A Flexible Weekly Schedule

Just because you’re learning to reframe your desire to be free…

…Doesn’t mean some of the aspects of living spontaneously aren’t worth enjoying. So I’ll just say this.

While it works well for some people, there’s no law on the books that says you HAVE to work the same days every week. And of course, you don’t have to work full weeks at all.

There are some real freedom-friendly benefits to living on your toes too.

Again, isn’t this why most of us decided to work for ourselves anyhow?

If you can afford it in your job or business, for example, work for three days really hard one week, and then take the rest of the week off. Work a week straight (if nothing else is really going on anyways) to buy some time for a longer break in the future. Mix it up to roll with the punches in life — or just to keep things interesting.

I even know some guys who work every single day for a while (against all advice to the contrary). Because they know a week will come where they just want to break loose and put it all aside.

Kind of like banking up your time off until you need it…

Another cool idea would be to travel around the world or country, working for a few days at a time at every destination before hitting the road again. Believe it or not, yes, some people do pull this off and build successful businesses in the process.

Not everyone can do stuff like this, of course.

But in a few other professions it’s the norm. Consider oil workers — some work for three whole months straight and then take three months off. Wilderness firefighters. Alaskan fisherman. And hey, if a guy can pull nets from the water with frozen fingers for weeks on end, why can’t a knowledge worker bring a little bit of this element to work in order to take longer breaks?

Even as the founder of a growing software company, I try to finish my weeks on Thursday. Hey, I still struggle to make it happen every week, but it’s sure worth trying. The point is it’s all up to you!

Freedom Trick #2: You Don’t HAVE to Work Specific Hours Either

It flies against everything time management experts tell you. And I’m probably contradicting advice I myself have given a million times.

But there’s a certain “freedom” magic retained when your days start as a blank slate.

Meaning, you commit to getting X many hours in (let’s say 6, so we can put some numbers to this) by the end of the day, and you will. And you have your 6 top things you absolutely need to get done.

However, there’s no perimeter staking your schedule to the ground.

And other than meetings, most of your work isn’t attached to specific times.

Maybe you have a rough schedule from 8 am to 3 pm, and during those hours you usually knock out your day before enjoying the afternoon and evening.

But one day you’re just not feeling it. So you decide to jump and head out for an adventure. Hey, sometimes a creative brain NEEDS that (and the work often comes out shoddy if you power through those moments).

Go for a hike, hit the gym, take a friend up on an offer to meet for lunch. Come back and finish up your last few hours in the early evening this time.

If you have this kind of control over your schedule, why not use it?


Freedom Trick #3: Build the Right Systems To Step Away More Often

You’ll probably never reach a point where your business is completely hands-off.

Unless, I suppose, you grow a large enough team to completely step outside and treat it like an asset (“Built to Sell,” anyone?).

That doesn’t mean you don’t stand to benefit from smart systems — even in your job, if you’re a freelancer or employee.

Work ON your business, not in it, as they say.

      • If you’re a freelancer, outsource your cold emails or hire a researcher.
      • Automate client appointment bookings with Calendly.
      • Some entrepreneurs hire someone to handle their email management (no different than a secretary, really).
      • Are you losing your days to marketing processes that would be handed off to a pro?
      • Can you record and use a transcription service instead of taking notes on important videos?
      • What else can you SYSTEMIZE?

Break down everything you do on a daily basis, and then hunt down software tools or dependable services to make it easier.

Even when scaling is not your aim, the more you outsource or automate pesky things that take up unnecessary time and energy, the more you profit in flexibility and freedom.

Freedom Trick #4: Put Together A Robust “Mobile Work Kit”

You’re probably more productive with a regular home office and a set routine, but spontaneous and freedom-lusting folks like you should at least have the OPTION to move around sometimes. To stuff your office in a backpack and hit the road when the mood strikes.

With the right “toolkit,” you can pack up the bag, jump in the car, and take off on a whim. Not the most efficient use of time, but sometimes it’s the best use of your LIFE.

This might be as simple as driving down to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant for the morning to change your scenery. Or taking a serious road trip and renting a hotel room by the ocean another town over. Maybe flying somewhere for a real vacation (you ARE taking vacations, right?).

What you DON’T want is to get to your destination and realize you can’t get your work done because you can’t get a good internet connection, because you don’t have access to the right files, because you left your good headphones at the house, or because you bought a lousy laptop that sucks to work on.

Put together a “bug out” bag — not for when Armageddon hits but just so you can disappear whenever you feel like it and not fall too far off the work wagon.

What Tools Keep You More Productive On The Go?

Some ideas to consider include:

      • A portable laptop stand, an external keyboard, and an external mouse (just for a more comfy setup in coffee shops).
      • A portable wifi device (if you’re really serious about staying on the move, consider getting more than one for backup).
      • A hi-speed laptop charger.
      • A backup laptop power bank (you could get a power inverter to charge in the car if you plan to be camping or off-roading).
      • Robust tablet computer. Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to check in to work, edit docs, or send emails without pulling everything out. Tablets make that much easier.
      • A good backpack and some organizers for all your cords and chargers. You’ll feel a lot less chaotic on the move if everything in your work arsenal has a “home” in a well-organized backpack. Don’t run yourself ragged constantly guessing where to find the things you need.
      • A high-end headset and mic. Don’t get caught up in a coffee shop or noisy environment unable to have an important conversation. Of course it’s best if you can do these in a hotel room or at home, but flexibility is a strength when you work online.
      • Google Fi and a compatible phone. These days you can get one phone and travel most places in the world without interrupting your service. Google Fi is probably the best option if you don’t mind being stuck with a compatible phone.

Spontaneity Trick #5: Turn Your Phone Into A Work Device

This deserves some special mention outside of your mobile work kit because it can play such an integral role in your everyday business if you do it properly.

Gary Vaynerchuck often says your phone should make you money, not take your money. Spot on!

And hey, I know you probably can’t run your entire business from your phone. But you CAN set your phone up to at least handle some of your workload. 

What’s stopping you from parking on the beach and batching your most phone-friendly tasks into an hour or two of work? These tasks need to get done, but maybe they don’t need to get done from the house. 

Some Phone-Friendly Tasks You Can Get Done From Anywhere?
      • Manage your daily emails.
      • Conduct research via online articles, Kindle books, or YouTube videos.
      • Edit Google Docs.
      • Brainstorm, take notes, or even scratch pieces of content out in a notes app.
      • Speak your thoughts into a recording app.
      • Post on social media.
      • Conduct Skype or Zoom meetings from the comfy, warm seat of your car.
      • Book meetings and set up reminders in your Calendar.
      • Plan your week, month, or year.
      • Brainstorm your systems improvements.


If you get really good at this, you’ll learn you can get a lot of work done on your computer. I’ll be honest, you might see the costs of mobile data go up if, for example, you’re listening to Youtube videos to study for projects or sharpen skills away from the computer.

But imagine the freedom of knocking out a couple hours of work as you walk across town to the barber shop or to do a little shopping. Getting exercise while still knocking items off your work to-do list.

All these technologies are commonplace these days. So instead of doing what most people do — complaining about how they invade our lives or, even worse, wasting all your down moments chatting on Facebook, embrace this stuff to get more work done from more places.

Warning: Your phone is definitely a pit of distraction, so make sure to streamline it if you don’t already. Delete apps that are likely to drag you off course, or consider using FocusMe to lock yourself out.

Freedom Trick #6: Get Things Done Without Any Digital Tech At All

      • Bring a notebook along and you can sit anywhere, set aside the phone completely, and still create content, map out website designs, brainstorm business strategies, whatever… The best material often comes out this way. You might find the pen and paper and a lovely setting really helps you break through creative blocks. Entire articles or even sales pages just spill out in one sitting sometimes when you step away from the screen. Daunting biz obstacles that have been wearing you down can melt away in the blink of an eye.
      • Carrying a smaller notebook in your pocket on long walks and hikes is another great way to brainstorm new ideas for business or for content. And a handy way to multipurpose your time in the gym. 
      • Record interviews with clients and other important business contacts. Listen to them on an mp3 player from anywhere. Pack your ipod with business podcasts so you can study anywhere.
      • Sometimes I go sit down at the bay across town and listen to this stuff while taking in the view.
      • In “Million Dollar Productivity,” Kevin J. Anderson even talks about writing books while hiking! He uses Dragon Naturally Speaking software and a headset that records as he goes. The files can be uploaded later and transcribed by Dragon, even sent to an editor to be cleaned up before the next redraft. Of course, a nice recorder paired with a transcribing service can get you halfway there.

Freedom Trick #7: Practice Extreme Focus When It’s Finally Time To Work

If you want more breathing room to wander about the world (or just your local town) sometimes, make sure you’re ultra-productive when you do sit down to work. 

Because the best way to gain more free hours?

Do more with the time you’re switched on, something the average worker fails miserably at. A study of nearly 2,000 UK office workers found the average person did less than 3 hours of actual hours of work every day…

What in the world? Why??

Because most people just aren’t efficient on the job. They take twice as much time to do something because they’re multitasking. They’re constantly pulled away from work tasks by distractions, some of which eat up hours at a time. 

But imagine if you could get 5 or 6 hours of ACTUAL efficient work done every single day. This might seem minor in the context of an 8-hour workday. But if most people REALLY do less than 3 hours of work, you could be working twice as fast as everyone else…

…And still take more time off!

That’s the real power of using software like FocusMe to get more out of the time you work. It helps create tunnel vision to hurtle towards your goals.

FocusMe introduces a lot of ways to fix that problem.
      • Work in focused blocks using FocusMe’s distraction-blockers, so you can hold off the distractions and hone right in on what needs to get done when you sit in your chair.
      • Use our handy online usage stats to get an accurate view of how much you’re actually doing everyday.
      • Confine yourself with computer restrictions that don’t let you do any work outside of a 6-hour period. According to Parkinson’s Law, work always swells to fill up the time you give it. So if you force yourself to get your workday done within a certain time-frame, you’ll be forced to come up with ingenious ways to get it done faster. Sure, that goes against what I said about not working to a set schedule, but remember, different things work best for different people.
      • Set up a pattern of work and rest blocks using the Pomodoro timer, so you can get up early and crush more out in 6 hours than most people do in 10, then take the rest of the day off.


These things are what helped me finally achieve my 4-day weeks even while running a software company! It’s why I created FocusMe in the first place…

Of course you can start embracing deep work principles now if you really try, but FocusMe does it a whole lot better. Go here if you’d like to try it out for yourself (free trials available)

What It Really Comes Down To Is “Permission”

Yes, you absolutely should implement strategies in your life to become more productive. But you don’t have to implement it all. Sometimes you just need to give that freedom-loving side of you a little permission to breathe too.

As long as you do have an efficient relationship with your work, what can it hurt?

After all, is moving faster always the best use of your time on Earth?

Or can you accept that freedom is important too? Can you keep your schedule open-ended and flexible enough that when you do sit down to work you can be 100% present and focused on what’s right in front of you?

As long as you’re disciplined and focused in the most important ways — like sticking your nose straight to the grindstone when it’s go-time, you can afford to be more care-free and spontaneous in others.

Which is the type of life you meant to live from the beginning of all this…

Consider this. There are probably millions of people all over the planet living in the most remote places, running businesses from tropical islands and quiet mountaintops. Surely you can enjoy some of that yourself from time to time.

Now get to work. 😉