An old friend of mine shared this article from lifehacker. It’s describes Seinfeld’s productivity secret and describes an implementation of it.
If you don’t know, Jerry Seinfeld is a successful comic and TV actor. He rose to fame in the 90s. To stay creative and always be current, he would write his material and jokes every day. His secret to staying productive was to use a paper wall calendar as a way of motivating himself. After every writing session for the day was complete, he would go to his calendar and take a giant red marker and draw a big red X over that day. After awhile, this accumulates on the calendar. And he would see a chain of days that was productive and his goal from then on was to never break the chain. Once he skipped a day, he didn’t receive an X for that day and the chain would be broken.
The LifeHacker article describes an implementation of Seinfeld’s idea. I read this article 3 weeks ago and immediately tried my own version. Everything I did is pretty much the same, the only difference is that I decided to have only one calendar for all 3 tasks I want to do everyday. Whereas the author describes having a separate calendar for each task. For me, I didn’t like the idea of having to manage multiple calendars. So, if I did my 3 tasks for the day, that’s when I get to X my calendar. Also, I chose a green marker instead of red.
My three tasks to do everyday were (1) to practice piano, (2) code my personal project, and (3) write in my journal. My first attempt was on a Thursday, the day after reading the article. Thursday went fine. Friday went fine. But then the weekend came and I derailed. Then on Monday, I focused myself on recommitting to doing this. So far it’s stuck.
It’s crazy. Once you get a chain going, you never want to break it. I’ll be relaxing at the end of a long work day, on my couch, waiting to go to bed. And then it hits me that none of my tasks have been done. I’ll stop whatever it is I’m doing at the time and go get it done.
So far, my piano playing has improved. I’ve already noticed that I learn new tunes faster when I work on them everyday and not every other day. Or waiting for the weekend to hammer through the new music. As for my personal project, it is ahead of schedule. I even decided to put in extra features because of it.
This is the most productive I’ve felt in a long time and my chain is only two weeks long. I would suggest to anyone trying to work on some personal improvement to adopt this strategy in some form and see where it takes them.
Don’t break the chain…
Update March 13, 2012
One of the questions I’ve gotten about “don’t break the chain” is what to do when you’re traveling and one of your tasks is not possible? Do you break the chain or give yourself a reasonable “out” like the LifeHacker author describes.
I think this is where one has to modify the concept for their own needs and what they feel comfortable with doing.
For me, I’m currently traveling for work and how do I do practice my piano. Well like I said, I don’t want to break chain for anything if I can help it and I don’t want to use a vacation X when I don’t think of the time away from home as a vacation.
What I’ve done is packed up my sheet music and every night I do mental practice. In my hotel room or when during down time, I open to the songs I’m learning and slowly and methodically mentally work through the music. Imagining my hands touching the appropriate keys at the right time. Spelling out the chord notes to myself. Trying to go through the motions in my mind. Since this is all mental practice, it’s important to work through the music at slower tempo than what the performance speed is. I read through the music about half the speed I would normally play and sometimes slower if its a complete new piece.
For now, I’ll see what happens when I’m back home and find out if my jazz piano instructor notices a difference.
Anyway, this demonstrate the minimum that I’m comfortable with in not breaking the chain. For you and your daily tasks, it might be different.
Update 2, March 18, 2012
Well, I’m back home and had my piano lesson yesterday and it was the best one I’ve had in a long time. My piano instructor noticed marked improvement, despite the fact I only physically touched the piano 3 days of the week. The other four days was all mental practice. So for those four days I was away, I still earned my calendar X’s.