Don’t Break the Chain

Asif Ahmed

One of the best productivity and motivation techniques comes from Jerry Seinfeld. Basically it is a tip that tries to force you to do something everyday. All of us have certain goals that we want to work towards. Some of us want to become better guitar players, some of us want to get into better shape, and some of us (me) want to become more experienced programmers. The general way to get better at something is through hours and hours of practice, but also to work daily towards that goal. I’ve found that if I skip a day, that makes it much easier for me to skip another day along the path to my goal. Doing a little everyday is often a technique we thought of following while we were in school. Suppose we got a month to do a 10 page paper. We would always think that if we did less than half a page each day, it would be a piece of cake. However, we end up putting the paper off till the last couple days, and scramble to get it done. What we needed was to find a way to “guilt” ourselves into doing a little everyday.

Jerry Seinfeld recommended a way to visualize some goal-oriented action everyday, while also instilling a sense of guilt if the daily mini goal is not met. He recommended buying a large wall calendar and big red marker. Every day you get some work done towards your larger goal, you can cross off an “X” for that day with the big red marker. After a few days, you end up with a chain of X’s. Having a chain of X’s feels good and you end up not wanting to break the chain. This is a very important part of this technique. Do not break the chain!. The guilt that would ensue from breaking the chain will push you to work on your goal anyway.

Other than the fact that this can instill a sense of guilt, while also helping you visual your progress, this technique is also effective because it helps you build habits. While following this process, you will build a habit of working everyday (or almost everyday) towards your goal. The calendar will push you to work everyday, which will build the habit of working everyday, and both contribute to a cycle of positive feedback that will encourage you to work everyday. Also for this technique to work well, you want that big calendar and red marker in your face. If you want to use an electronic version of this technique, you can use chain.cc, but I would definitely recommend a physical calendar. It’s easier for to us to forget to check off a day if we are using a website. Plus we won’t have the same sense of accomplishment from a long chain of X’s or have the same sense of guilt if we are contemplating breaking a chain if we don’t see the calendar constantly.

If you want to read up more about this technique, please check this link. Just remember to try to work a little bit everyday and find someway to keep yourself accountable. This technique is a pretty good way to keep track of progress and make you feel bad if you take a day off.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
~ Aristotle