Comedian Jerry Seinfeld popularized one of the most important productivity and habit forming techniques when he stated and restated, “Don’t break the chain!” He claimed that his secret to success was to write jokes every day. To ensure that he did so, he kept a big calendar and marked each day with a big red X when he completed writing.
Seinfeld explained, “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.”
This technique has proven successful for any behavior you want to instill or habit you might want to break. Simply set your goal and mark each day you achieve that goal. As the chain gets longer, you’ll see that you’re automatically motivated to complete the task at hand simply so you don’t break the chain.
I have integrated this technique into my task management app called priorigami. The concept is simple. Each day you select your top three top priority tasks and when you complete all three you are congratulated. The app keeps track of the number of tasks you complete each day noting the goal of three tasks per day. It looks great and feels good to see the chart when you’re hitting your goal each day.
On the other hand, there are days when you’re just not that productive and you aren’t able to complete three tasks. In those cases, you “break the chain” and as you can see the results aren’t as satisfying or motivating. Looks like you came up a bit short.
The reason this technique works is that it changes our focus from achieving some big audacious overall goal to the process of completing one simple thing each day. Instead of fixating on becoming a better writer, the focus is on making time to write each day. Or, instead of obsessing on losing 15 pounds, the focus shifts to making time to exercise daily.
Once you get started, you will notice that each day, the task gets easier and simply becomes part of your routine. In fact, research shows it only takes 21 days to create a new habit. So, if you try this and keep at it, in less than a month you will have also formed a new habit.
TRY THIS OUT: Identify something you want to achieve or change. Set a daily goal that can be easily achieved, measured and tracked. Get a calendar and a marker and place it in or near your desk or bathroom mirror where you will see it daily. Mark each day you complete the goal. How does it feel? How many days can you go before breaking the chain?