What Jerry Seinfeld Can Teach You About Productivity

I’m not a huge Seinfeld fan, but there’s a terrific productivity technique that the man himself uses when writing jokes. It’s called “Don’t Break the Chain”. Here’s the story from Brad Isaac:

[Jerry Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

It’s a simple idea, but I find it incredibly practical and motivating, especially if you have a tendency to forget who you are.

Say you have a goal: to write every day, or eat healthy every day, or to exercise every day. No matter how often you think about these goals, as long as they only exist in your head, they will remain abstractions. When a goal is abstract, your brain constantly has to remember what that goal is and remind you to act accordingly.

When you take a goal and get it out of your head and down on paper, it frees your mind from having to think about the goal all the time. A physical manifestation of a goal serves as a reliable, external reminder.

When faced with a batch of cookies fresh from the oven, your brain can conveniently forget that you’re trying not to eat cookies. But, if you remember that eating a cookie would break the chain, you’ll be deterred from losing your focus and motivation.

By seeing how many days in a row you can do something, you can develop extraordinary momentum and drive. It can help you get back on course when you step off the path. I’ve been having some trouble with my diet lately, so I’m going to implement Don’t Break the Chain for a while, as well as for next month’s habit.

Visualizing a goal allows you to keep the process of developing a new habit in perspective. It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying, “I’m going to eat healthy starting now!” Then a day goes by, and nothing’s really changed, so you say “Screw it!” and eat that cookie.

It’s hard to visualize what life will look like after a month of a new habit. But, it’s easy to visualize what your calendar will look like with thirty days crossed off. Don’t Break the Chain makes your goals tangible, and subsequently, much more attainable. Try it.

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