This weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people from the blogging and personal finance world in person! I got to hang out and have a yummy brunch with Sophia Bera of Gen Y Planning and Paula Pant of Afford Anything. I’ll be honest: I felt a little starstruck. These ladies are incredible and inspiring, and I was thrilled to get the chance to spend some time with them on Sunday.
Our conversation turned to the fact that all people who are considered great at what they do are constantly working on improving and honing their craft. As Paula said, our perception of “the best” individuals in various fields is kind of funny. We all know that top athletes don’t simply get to the top and then coast; they’re regularly at the gym, spending hours at practice, and refining their fitness nutritional habits to get the best physical performance possible. We know professional athletes are always working to be better, but for some reason, we don’t apply this line of thought to people in the top level of other industries. We don’t think about comedians “practicing,” for example. We think people are simply naturally funny – or naturally good writers, bloggers, communicators, networkers, and so on. But this simply isn’t true! Professionals in any industry have to continuously learn new things and practice to improve their skills.
As we were discussing this, Sophia mentioned reading about a trick comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to motivate himself to keep working, practicing, and improving: he used a calendar to keep track of every day he sat down to write. Every day that he accomplished this simple goal, he got to cross out that date on the calendar. The point was to start building a chain of crossed-out days across the calendar, and to keep that chain in tact.
This sounded like a great way to keep on track, focused, and determined to create a continuous chain (especially for people like me, who trend toward being obsessive-compulsive; it would drive me crazy to see where I missed a day and didn’t get to cross it out amongst a sea of x’s on the calendar!). When I got home, I did a quick Google search to learn more about the Seinfeld productivity hack.
Why The Seinfeld Productivity Hack Works
This method for keeping yourself productive works well for two major reasons:
- “Don’t break the chain” becomes a motivating factor. For those days you’re just feeling sluggish or uninspired, seeing that solid, consistent wall of crossed-out days where you met your goal generally gives you the push you need to get one more “x” up on the calendar. Suddenly, the half-hour it will probably take you to complete your necessary task seems like a fair price to pay to keep the chain going so you don’t have to start all over!
- Some days you feel like your brain is supercharged and you have an overabundance of inspiration and energy. Other days, you would rather do your best sloth impersonation rather than spend even a minute getting important stuff done. And that’s okay – we won’t have the same energy and creativity levels 24/7, 365 days out of the year. That’s where a daily habit comes into play. Daily habits create massive changes over time, and this method of keeping yourself steadily productive will help you develop those all-important, regular habits.
Giving This Trick a Try
I was so glad Sophia mentioned this when we met, because lately, I’ve been feeling a little scattered. A productivity hack is exactly what I need to refocus and get back on track! So I’m going to give the Seinfeld Productivity Hack (or “Don’t Break the Chain,” if you prefer) a try, starting today. If you’d like to get started with this trick with me, all you need is a large wall calendar so you can keep track of your chain. Seinfeld himself suggests one of those “year-at-a-glance” calendars, instead of something monthly. I’m making do with my large desk calendar; it goes by month, but at the bottom of each month it has the at-a-glance view of the entire year. I can still keep a running chain going across multiple months, I’ll simply need to rewrite my progress as a I flip to a new sheet with a new month.
You’ll also need a few goals that you can make actionable progress on each day in order to earn yourself an X to put up on the calendar. This can be any task that you can do daily to get you closer to achieving what you’ve set out to do. If you want to be in better shape, that might be exercise. If you want to learn a new skill, the task that will earn you an X will be something like spending 30 minutes studying or applying something you’ve recently studied by practicing. If you want to spend more quality time with your family, your task might be to spend a set amount of time doing a one-on-one activity with your spouse or your child.
Don’t get too carried away; start with one goal if you feel overwhelmed or pressed for time. If you think you can manage it, you can set up three to four goals – but no more than that! And another key to success: make sure that whatever tracking device you use is in plain sight! Part of what makes this hack work well is that you get the daily reminder in the form of the visual of your unbroken chain. By putting your calendar somewhere where you can’t miss it, where you have to look at it, you’ll give yourself the motivation to not break the chain.
Tasks and Goals to Complete to Earn an X on My Calendar
Because I wouldn’t be me unless I tried to overdo it, I have four things I’d like to do each day to earn each X on the chain:
- Walk or run 30 minutes or more. Running every day is unrealistic and, in my opinion, on the unhealthy side (simply because you can easily hurt yourself with an overuse injury). That’s why I’ve made this a run/walk option – even on “rest” days, a 30 minute walk is a good thing!
- Spend 30 minutes writing the old fashioned way – pen to actual paper. And by writing, I mean anything – brainstorming, blog post outlines, pitches, etc. I’ve found that, especially when brainstorming or trying to find solutions and fresh ideas, I’m much more creative and thoughtful when away from my computer where I can write by hand (rather than by typing).
- Work on 1 networking task or 1 skill-building task that will grow my business. This is kind of an intangible one, so I’ll have to be diligent about being honest with myself about what kind of actions truly allow me to make progress toward my goal of being self-employed and doing my own thing. To make this a little easier, I’ve tried to narrow it down to what I feel I need to focus on most: networking and learning new things.
- Do 1 thing that makes my home a better place. Again, this one is a little intangible, but what I mean here is to do one thing that makes my family happier at home. My family is me, my husband and, yes, my cats, so what this would look like in action is basically doing something that makes one of those family members (or all of them) a little happier. Yup, I am totally including myself here! If you don’t take care of yourself when you need it, you’re setting yourself up for a stumble or burnout. Not to mention, it’s hard to help others – in your personal or professional life – when you’re a mess because you’ve neglected taking care of you!
I know this is quite a lot, but I do handle these things right now – just not on a regular, consistent basis. That consistency is what I’m seeking here.
So what about you? Up for joining me in putting this productivity hack to work? If so, let me know! I’d love to hear if you’re going to try this trick for yourself. What will your daily tasks be, or what goal do you need to break down and work on daily to earn yourself an X on your calendar?