Building on Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, personal development bloggers Jared and Xavier Shay highlight how they’ve modified Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” calendar method as an effective way to stay productive and on task.
Last week Jared wrote about keeping a diary. I wanted to talk more about the habit building he alluded to.
“When you’re starting something new a simple tick or a cross on every day you work at something will probably be all you need.”
Keeping a journal of qualitative data is fantastic for developing your skills when you are chasing mastery, but it is overkill for simple habit forming. When I arrived home from my trip, I was really keen to work on my routine and build up some habits that I had let slide.
This calendar is up next to my desk, where I see it everyday. I keep four lines on it, each representing a task that I want to complete every day. It is a Seinfeld calendar on steroids.
I want to do some sort of exercise everyday. The goal of this is not to get super fit, but rather to see if my mind benefits from regular exercise. I am not training as hard as I have in the past, but I am far more consistent. (I actually keep qualitative data on this one as well over at dailymile. Old habits die hard!)
I have not practiced piano since I left high school, and have been playing the same tunes and licks for the last five years. I have a goal to learn five new pieces by the end of the year, and it is getting pretty late. To tick this off I actually need to actively practice something, not just play through tunes. I also find practice meditative — it is a good way to get into flow.
Orange: Focused Work
The aim of this goal is to get better at turning off or ignoring distractions. Focused work means I work on one single thing, with no email client, no Skype, no interruptions, even if only for 15 minutes. This also helps me to keep projects moving forward. I have already noticed myself becoming mindful of when my mind is straying and catching it, and so am getting better at ignoring interruptions and not idily switching to Twitter even when I have completed my work for the day.
Books make you smart. I want to read more than I do. So I am reading every night before I go to sleep. (You can see my bookshelf at Goodreads.)
As you can see, I have not missed a day since I started on the 19th. The psychological pressure to not break the chain is strong. Note that these goals are not onerous. I could satisfy all four in an hour if I really wanted to. None of the goals are aimed at mastery, but rather at consistency.
This calendar not only encourages you to practice every day, but it fixes your mind to be better at practicing every day. It builds up the habit of habits. As noted under “focused work” above, I am already beginning to notice changes in my thought patterns even when not engaged in ticking off a day.
The best thing about this calendar is you get all that win for virtually no overhead. It takes mere seconds to mark off a day. There is pretty much no excuse not to have one. Between diet, cooking, exercise, work, meditation, working on your golf swing, the garden, chores, hanging out with your kids, getting up on time, you will find at least one thing to mark off. Even if you do not hit every day to begin with, it is an excellent way to measure where you are at.
I picked up this idea from Giles Bowkett, who has been using this calendar far longer than I and tracks more than 10 daily and weekly habits on it. Pretty impressive. He has a few extra refinements on top of what I have outlined, you should check them out.
Making It Work
Aside from the goals you choose, there are two keys to a successful habits calendar. The first is to use lines rather than ticks. When you are tracking more than one thing lines form continuous flows which are harder to break than a chain of ticks. With ticks, the gaps do not stand out enough. The second is to make it highly visible. Keeping track of what I achieve and keeping it in my face creates a psycological snowball of inertia. “I think I have been doing this about two weeks” is far easier to break than “I am three days off making it all month”.
Today I would have bailed without this calendar. We were out late last night, out during the day, and crashed with a movie in the afternoon. At 4pm I did not have anything ticked off. Yet it was the last day of the month. I could not bear to let myself slip, and in the end I got my tax done. That is a win.
Go and find a calendar, right now.
Habits Calendar [TwoShay]
Xavier and Jared are brothers in their early 20s hailing from Melbourne, Australia. They are blogging together about their quest to becoming more awesome.