Don’t Break The Chain! Productivity Lessons From Primetime TVby Rachel Adnyana
When it comes to productivity, there are lots of little tips and tricks that we can use to be more productive. You may have heard of the Pomodoro technique, where you work in 25-minute blocks; Getting Things Done, a hugely popular technique and bestselling book by David Allen; or MITs (most important tasks). How about a productivity technique taken from US sitcom, Seinfeld?
Don't break the chain is a system invented (or at least popularised) by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The idea is simple: for every day you complete the task you are aiming for, mark off the day in your calendar with a large red X. After keeping up the habit for a few days, you'll have a chain of red Xs and the only thing you need to focus on is not breaking the chain.
This system works by helping us build the daily habit of completing the task we have set ourselves. Perhaps you want to write 1,000 words of your novel, or publish a blog post, or work on your web application for one hour. Developing a daily habit is one of the most powerful methods we have at our disposal for getting work done.
This technique works best if you have a large calendar printed out on your wall and make sure to cross off the days with a nice, big X. Our brains crave order and pattern, and we don't like to see those gaps if we miss a day.
But not everyone wants to work every day. Can you still use this technique if you take one or two days off a week? One solution is to use a different checkmark or color on planned break days or days when you are unable to work due to illness. This way you have an unbroken chain but don't feel like you're cheating by making an X when you haven't worked that day.
To use the “don't break the chain” system effectively, you'll need a different calendar for each of your goals. For example, you might have one calendar for work and another for exercise. It's best not to have too many goals on at once; you'll run out of wallspace.
It's also important to be clear about what you're trying to achieve before you start. Use SMART goal setting to decide what you want to do each day and write it down before you start. "Write every day" is not an effective goal. In theory, you could write just one word to achieve it. Make sure you have a specific word count, number of pages, or another appropriate, measurable goal for a different line of work.
Most people will need the visual aspect of a printed calendar to get the full effect, but if you try and run a paperless office or move around a lot when you work, there are a few “don't break the chain” apps available both on the web and for iOS and Android.
Have you tried the break the chain technique for productivity? Did it work for you? Let us know in the comments.
Image credit: Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved on 16 May 2014 from http://static.squarespace.com/static/502a418de4b05bc1fa6362b8/t/5237ca79e4b04c8901258fc5/1379388050985/; no modifications made