Why You Need Both Discipline and Freedom to Do Great Work

Those who keep their options open, commit to nothing

If I told you discipline and freedom go together nicely, would you believe me? If not, get ready for a mindset shift today. The truth is if you want to do great work, you are going to need both discipline and freedom.

Why you need both discipline and freedom

In the bestselling book Business Secrets from the Bible, Rabbi Daniel Lapin talks about the two meanings of the word “engraved” when referring to the 10 Commandments.

  1. Permanent or restrictive – The first meaning is “engraved or marked in a stone.” It is permanent and no eraser can remove it.
  2. Freedom – The second meaning is “freedom,” which appears to be the exact opposite of engrave.

What gives? Which is it?

To best way to understand this principle and how it can apply to your work, you need to first understand a bit about how the Hebrew language works. Hebrew words can often take on more than one meaning. The key is to find where the two meanings intersect.

Freedom is the Opportunity to Be Creative

First, let’s take a deeper look at freedom. Many of us desire freedom in our lives. It’s another way of saying we want to be in complete control of how and where we spend our time. But freedom is only the “opportunity” to be creative. It’s a subtle but powerful distinction.

Have you ever had an entire day to yourself with no other agendas? That’s freedom, but without discipline you won’t get anything done.

Discipline Focuses Our Freedom to Do Great Work

I used to fight against discipline. I saw it as only stifling my creative freedom. But slowly over time I noticed something. Those who want to always keep their options open, commit to nothing.

Nothing gets done. Ideas collect dust. Dreams expire on the shelf. If you want to do great work, you must combine freedom and discipline. Rabbi Daniel Lapin expresses it this way:

“The more we restrict our freedom by setting rules and limitations on ourselves, the freer we are to actually be productive. The idle person who leaves himself free to do what he likes when he likes has the potential to accomplish anything, but he actually accomplishes less than the person who rigorously restricts his freedom in order to focus in on what he wants to accomplish. It is he who carves his life and time, his schedule, into granite who is genuinely free.”

“That sounds great Jonathan, but how do you practically live this out in your work?”

Glad you asked. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Create a year long focus calendar – I created my first year long calendar just over a year ago. My business has doubled because of doing so. For me, I created a year long marketing calendar (you can read about it here). This allowed me to let go of future ideas and narrow in on the first deadline on my calendar.
  2. Set a few 90 day goals each quarter – A second discipline practice I’d encourage you to do is set less than five 90 Day Goals. This will give you incredible focus. The deadline is much closer and you’ll need to focus to get them done.
  3. Do creative work first every day – Every morning I have a simple discipline. Before I check email or social media, I do creative work first. Creative work is where you work best and make the most contribution. It’s your genius work zone. Being a full-time blogger, my creative work is writing, recording podcasts, or making videos.

How about you? How do you combine freedom and discipline in your work?


    Jonathan has been blogging since 2009 and is still in awe that the Creator of the Universe desires to have a relationship with him. His passions include spending time with his kids, reading, March Madness, surprise get-a-way trips with his wife, and watching funny YouTube videos.