Experimenting with the Seinfeld Productivity Hack

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Sophia, Paula, and I out to brunch - it was great getting to spend time with such fantastic people!

Me, Paula, and Sophia at brunch! It was great getting to spend time with such fantastic people. (Thanks for the photo, Sophia!)

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:

  1. “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!
  2. 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?

 

36 Responses

  1. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich

    March 3, 2014 3:16 pm

    Great idea. It reminds me of that Pinterest pin I saw once where you take 21 post it notes and put them up on a doorway or somewhere very visible and take one down each day you do something, since it takes about 3 weeks in ingrain a new habit.

    Reply
  2. eemusings

    March 3, 2014 4:41 pm

    Ooh, I definitely need to get back on the exercise bandwagon. My habits are not fully formed so anything can throw me off (eg my recent wisdom teeth surgery, T being laid off.

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 3, 2014 6:02 pm

      I hate to hear about the layoff, I’m sorry :( But I do understand what you mean, about when you don’t have fully-formed habits it’s so much easier for something to throw you off. That’s exactly where I’m at right now, so I’m hoping this idea will help really develop those good, regular habits that I start to do as just part of a regular routine.

      Reply
  3. Shannon @ Financially Blonde

    March 3, 2014 5:25 pm

    I definitely think that you need to work on tasks in a consistent fashion to hone your skills. I have never been good at day in day out productivity, so the crossing out of days may make me feel inadequate, but I do have productive blocks of time, so maybe if I feel as though they equal 1-2 days of work, I can fudge the system a little. :-)

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 3, 2014 6:03 pm

      I feel ya! Consistent productivity is hard! Lol :) I was worried about having to “earn” those X’s myself, but I think that will actually be such a great motivational tool to get my tail in gear when I just can’t find the willpower to do it on my own!

      Reply
  4. Charlotte

    March 3, 2014 5:59 pm

    This is a fun idea! I’m really visual and I agree that having your goal right in front of you will keep you on track. Would love to hear how you’ve managed in a few weeks!

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 3, 2014 6:04 pm

      Thanks, Charlotte! I’m definitely excited to give it a try. I’m planning on having an update for you in a few weeks – good, bad, or ugly as it may be!

      Reply
  5. Emily @ evolvingpF

    March 3, 2014 7:22 pm

    This method really works for me; I’m such a completionist I hate breaking streaks! Of course I don’t still have many of the habits I cultivated so I eventually broke the chain. Some daily habits I would like to have are exercise, flossing, prayer/Bible study, and writing – but I won’t try them all at once!

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 4, 2014 7:30 am

      I feel the same way, in that I hate to break a streak! I’m thinking that because I’m wired that way, this method is inherently inspiring to me :) And flossing is such a good one! It seems like a small thing but it’s so easy to forget about when you’re not in the habit of doing it. Admittedly, I’ll remember for like three days in a row, and then forget for a week. Maybe I’ll eventually add that one to my list of daily tasks!

      Reply
  6. E.M.

    March 3, 2014 10:53 pm

    This sounds like a great idea, I’ll have to try it! I absolutely can’t stand breaking streaks, so this might actually work and give me extra motivation. I really need to focus on exercising inside for now, since it’s been so cold out, otherwise I would throw walking/running on my list. I like writing by hand sometimes, I find my thoughts flow better that way. Good luck on your goals!

    Reply
  7. Tonya@Budget and the Beach

    March 4, 2014 10:06 am

    This is something I’d probably start after my vacation, but if I were to focus on one thing, it would be each day to try and get more work either related to video or blogging. And also whether that’s full time or contract. Good luck with this project!

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 4, 2014 2:33 pm

      Great idea for a task! I bet you’d be booked solid in no time if you made yourself sit down each day and focus on gaining more prospects/clients :D

      Reply
  8. Leslie Beslie

    March 4, 2014 1:43 pm

    Joe’s Goals was created exactly for this! I’ve been using it for years and it’s great for visualizing this. JoesGoals[.]com

    (im not affiliated with them or anything but it’s a site I’ve been using for a long time so I actually recommend it)

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 4, 2014 4:56 pm

      Cool! Thanks for sharing – I’m more of a pen-and-paper person (if you couldn’t tell!) but this is great for people who are more digitally oriented.

      Reply
  9. Matt Becker

    March 4, 2014 2:20 pm

    I love this Seinfeld advice. I’ve been using it as motivation to write every day for the past 14 months. I’ll be honest that I haven’t hit it every single day, but it’s been almost all. I’m still trying to figure out what the other daily tasks are that I want to incorporate. Networking is definitely one of them.

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 4, 2014 4:56 pm

      That is fantastic, Matt! Thanks for sharing your experience – that makes me even more excited to put this to use seeing as you’ve used it to great success!

      Reply
  10. Adam Kamerer

    March 4, 2014 2:26 pm

    I use a website called HabitRPG.com to keep myself going. It works on a similar idea — every time I complete one of my daily tasks, I can mark it off, and I earn points that develop a character, like in a video game. When you perform the same task every day, you gain a bonus from maintaining a winning streak. Keeping that streak as high as possible is one of the best ways to progress in the “game.” I’ve read one hour a day for the last 63 days because of it, and my productivity in other areas has skyrocketed.

    Reply
  11. Done by Forty

    March 4, 2014 4:11 pm

    I fell off the wagon with my daily exercise goal in February. I’ll try your hack to get back on board…great concept and I can see how it would work. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  12. DC @ Young Adult Money

    March 5, 2014 7:27 am

    This sounds pretty cool! I might give it a try. I have this “to do” list at work and at the bottom under “if time” I have ‘go through 5 pages SQL’ and ‘go through 5 pages VBA.’ Essentially I have two huge books on each topic with examples and whatnot and if I made my way through the whole book I’d be much better at writing SQL and writing/using VBA. If I used this hack I just might actually get to it each day instead of only doing it once a month.

    Reply
  13. Connie @ Savvy With Saving

    March 5, 2014 9:33 am

    This is a great idea! I think I have to try it. I definitely feel more motivated when I feel like I have a goal to accomplish or achieve. I love the tasks you picked out, all things I would like to do too. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 6, 2014 8:43 am

      That’s exactly how I felt – this hack has definitely helped me refocus this week. If you give it a try to keep your own momentum going, you’ll have to let me know how you liked it and if you thought it was effective!

      Reply
  14. KK @ Student Debt Survivor

    March 10, 2014 7:44 pm

    I love the idea of keeping the chain going. I’ve been doing this on a small scale this yeart with something really simiple (flossing everynight). Now I’m addicted to flossing and if I miss one night I feel terrible about it (yes I do everything-even good things to excess ;-) )

    Reply
  15. Daisy

    March 11, 2014 11:25 pm

    I think it’s fate; this is the second time I’ve read about “Don’t Break the Chain” this week, and it’s only Tuesday. I just downloaded it on my phone and my first goal is to work out every day (I’m getting married in four(!!) months, after all).

    I really like your goal of doing a networking or business growing action. This is something that I should think about adding another chain for.

    Reply
    • Kali Hawlk

      March 12, 2014 9:48 am

      Awesome, I had no idea it was available as an app! Thanks for sharing – I’m sure some folks would definitely prefer a digital version over a physical calendar :)

      Reply

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