Jenny: Don’t Break the Chain

Having just become a fan of the food diary concept, I was in exactly the right frame of mind when I stumbled across Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” productivity method on Lifehacker since it also allows me to keep track of things.  It’s beauty is in its simplicity and the fact that you’re looking at something that reminds you to do . . . whatever.

1. Get a calendar.  Lifehacker provides you with this link to free printable calendars, or just scrounge one up from around the house.  It doesn’t have to be this year’s calendar, you’re just marking off days, not making appointments.

2. Pick a task/goal, one per calendar, complete with time limit.  Cleaning, writing, exercise, whatever, for fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour, whatever.  Put the calendar up somewhere where you’ll see it everyday, preferably near the place where you do that task.

3. Every day that you do that task, X out that day’s square on the calendar.

4. As the days go by, the Xs will make a chain on the calendar.  Don’t break the chain.

This appeals to me: It’s simple, it’s cheap, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, and if I miss a day, there’s a big old hole on the wall that says I broke the chain.  Now I just have to remember not to put up sixteen calendars.  One for exercise, one for cleaning, one for writing.  That should do it.

For more about this in detail, see Lifehacker.  I’m going off to print some calendars now.

24 thoughts on “Jenny: Don’t Break the Chain

  1. I had read about this some time ago, and it made me laugh. I have planned the day on my calendar all my life, always put a big X through each day on completion. My ex used to say it was like living with a cell mate. Ha ha.

    Seriously, it works. Don’t break the chain. I broke it this weekend when I travelled and I’m still recovering. But the main reason I cross out the day is if I didn’t I’d never know what day it actually was.

  2. Krissie says:

    Love it. And I have tons of calendars. In fact, I already do that with writing, though I put down the number of words. I always use the same one, too — a mini Japanese woodblock calendar. I get one every year.

    Now I could put one for cleaning, maybe do 15 minutes a day and pick a different room each week or month.

  3. I would start this with good intentions and by about a week later it would be all over. I just wouldn’t remember to cross off the days.

    I wrtie what I need to do on the back of my hand. That is at least slightly more successful than paper lists.

    Better write clean house on my hand. My Aunt is coming next week for a visit and the house is a disaster!

    • Micki says:

      (-: In Japanese they call this mikka bouzu or “three-day priest” — the idea being people can be very good for three days, and then they tend to fall off the wagon. That’s totally me.

      But, the thing is, being good for three days is better than never being good. And if you resolve right away to be good, and are good for another three days, then fall off the wagon for three days, then be saintly for three days . . . well, you get where I’m going with this. If it’s not life and death, you can be good half the time and it’s good enough. (-:And look at you! You are already up to a week at a time!!

  4. Egads says:

    Thanks, I’m giving this a try. Going to start with just two calendars: Track food & Cleaning. One sure sign I’m faltering in my weight loss efforts is I stop tracking my food every day (particularly when I have a “bad” day). I want to track every day come hell or high water. Cleaning is self-explanatory.

  5. Maria says:

    This is brilliant! I am going out and getting a couple of new calendars – one for writing, one for cleaning, and one for exercise (yes, I am a copy cat {wink}) – because they are all on sale right now. Then up they go and I am going to not break the chain. Whoopee!

  6. Cielkaye says:

    I think this is a great idea. ‘They’ say that spending time breaking the habit is the trick. Nice to have a visual to accompany it. Maybe you could even throw in a treat at certain stages for if you don’t break the chain. Mmmmm. Thinking. Thinking.

  7. Carol says:

    I’ve been writing in My Process of Writing journal almost every day for two weeks now. It is helping me change from a procrastinator to doing the stuff I need to do,including the writing. I’ll add the calendar to the process.

  8. Gin says:

    If anyone still has a version of WordPerfect (yeah, I’m a traditionalist — I love my WordPerfect), there’s a template that will create a printable monthly calendar for any time period you choose, in a variety of formats. I use them for goal-setting, and also for plotting when I want to keep track of what happens on what day in a story.

  9. There are, of course, iOS apps for this. Just search for Seinfeld or habits on the app store. I looked when I first read about Don’t Break The Chain a couple years ago, without much luck, but there’s some new apps that look promising.

      • romney says:

        Apps fix EVERYTHING! Just downloading a productivity app will make you more productive, before you even open the app. A running app makes you fitter, even if you don’t run. I’m currently piling up ebook apps because I don’t have the time to read many books. But just enough time to download some more apps!

    • Melanie says:

      Love the app idea. Searched Seinfeld and got nothing. Searched Habits and found a lot of promising things but nothing that looked exactly like what Jenny is talking about. Anyone know any more?

  10. Jessie says:

    I do this with walking: 3 times a week, 3 miles/1 slash line for every mile (on the rare occassion when I do extra times but not necessarily 3 miles.

    The problem with “Don’t break the chain” is that of course sometime you will have to. This is a negative message. The message for me is that 3 days a week (or 4 or whatever) I should walk. And I can see at a glance if I am on target. There is no particular onus of a day being missed. Although the same message gets across if I only have 2 days marked in a week. If you break the chain, it is really tempting to abandon the whole thing because, you broke the chain.

  11. Reb says:

    This would so not work for me. I’d forget I’m just talking about 15 minutes of cleaning and see a whole year of drudgery streeeeetching out in front of me. I’d give up on day 1. And then the empty calendar would smirk at me all year.

    Nope, not my tool. The rest of you, go for it!

  12. The lifehacker link prints a yearly calendar X4 per page, which should just about cover it. I figure it will be a quick visual with options for four different chains. Small enough to put on a bulletin board (or fridge), but too big to ignore. While I’d seriously think about using all four calendars, I think I’ll start with exercise and writing. If I can build those chains 28 days in a row (conventional wisdom holds that it takes 28 days to build a habit), then I’ll consider if I need a new chain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *