Ulysses pacts instead of discipline

big waves under cloudy sky

“I will just watch one more video / Instagram story/tweet and get back to work”. And after you said it and look at your clock again, it is 1 hour later, and your work is still there.

“disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.

James Clear

We have all been there or are still there. Do not torture yourself by thinking you have the most extraordinary willpower in the world and enormous self-control. And even if you have, wouldn’t it be great if you could use it for something different than keeping yourself in check with your phone?

What is a Ulysses pact?

The term refers to the pact that Ulysses (Greek name Ὀδυσσεύς, Odysseus) made with his men as they approached the Sirens. Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens’ song although he knew that doing so would render him incapable of rational thought. He put wax in his men’s ears so that they could not hear and had them tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. He ordered them not to change course under any circumstances and to keep their swords upon him and to attack him if he should break free of his bonds.

Upon hearing the Sirens’ song, Ulysses was driven temporarily insane and struggled with all of his might to break free so that he might join the Sirens, which would have meant his death. However, his men kept their promise, and refused to release him.


You are not better than Ulysses

Tieing yourself up to increase productivity might be somewhat counterproductive. However, you can tie up your distractors. Some examples:

  • Put your phone out of sight (in your bag, in a drawer). Or you can buy one of those boxes with a timelock if it has to be like this.
  • Consider limiting screentime for specific apps. You can still extend your time in the app, depending on the settings, but every time it will make you think if you need to spend more time.
  • Disable notifications. Yes, you will still get the email, also without notifications. If you are so anxious, you can also temporarily disable your notifications.
  • Adopt the Pomodoro technique in which you decide to focus for 25 minutes to work on a single task. Since you committed to the job for 25 minutes doing anything else might make you feel guilty enough not to do it.

You do not have to be better than Ulysses

Be kind and not overly strict with yourself. There is no need for you to expect you will be that superhuman who is super productive from day one. You try this. Monitor your progress, take notes, learn what works for you and improve over time.

The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.

Gary Keller

Even though you are a strong person, don’t rely on willpower and self-control alone. Make it easy for yourself and figure out what your Ulysses pact is that makes productivity easy and enjoyable for you.