Jerry Seinfeld gets credit for a simple tool. The story goes something like this: Jerry had reached a level of fame and a new comic went up to Jerry and asked him for any secrets Seinfeld knew for getting better as a comic. “Don’t break the chain,” he answered. The chain he was speaking of is a string of days in which he set aside time to write and practice material. A link of the chain was a check mark he placed on the days he worked on a calendar. His goal was to work in long blocks of unbroken check marks, a chain. Skip a day of practice, you break the chain.
This secret anyone can do with a paper calendar (free download), a desktop computer-based calendar (cc-chains download), or now, with numerous phone apps. Phone apps include: Don’t Break the Chain by Rogue41; Don’t Break the Chain by Matt Cowlin; and Seinfeld Calendar.
The Bizaro Jerry Refinement
The don’t break the chain idea is great approach. It is a simple way to accomplish a couple of things. First, it puts an emphasis on consistent effort. Consistent effort feeds our unconscious the stuff it needs to grow our skills and produce the psychological ties to what we do. Secondly, it keeps our work top-of-mind, another huge factor in keeping us focused on our project and on the creative work we love. Lastly, it gives us a sense of accomplishment for not only the one day but also for the larger period when we hold to our goals. Oh yeah, one more thing, it gets us to play a game, a competitive game, with ourselves. Can’t break the chain. Made it two weeks last time, this time I’m going to make it three weeks!
Let’s improve a great idea to an even better tool. Regular Jerry’s approach of focusing on our work days doesn’t tell us about the days we don’t work. A day not worked breaks the chain and is not desirable, but is that all we can learn from that day? Bizaro Jerry comes in now. As you might recall, the bizarro Jerry episode picked up the theme highlighted in DC comics where a super hero such as Superman, had to face his polar opposite who came from a polar opposite world. So let’s take the same theme and apply it to regular Jerry’s calendar.
Instead of marking down only the days we work, let’s mark down the day’s we don’t. A real adherence of the bizarro theme would have us really going out of our way not to work but I’m not going to be that loyal to the polar opposite thing. I just want us to put a lot of attention on days we don’t work. Why did we not work? I don’t mean this question to be something that leads to shame or frustration, but to simply logging a reason for each day we don’t work. We will always have things we must do or want to do instead of working. That’s fine but we need to have a clear view of what those reasons are.
Reasons will be a plenty. Many will be a reason that comes from within. Some of those will be clear but a lot will start to form around: “I just didn’t feel well”, “I just wanted to do other things,” “I don’t know why didn’t work but I just didn’t feel like it”, etc. Once a week or so, look at your log and see if there is a pattern. Are there regular external or internal distractions we can get rid of, avoid, or put off for a while? Which are hard reasons (visitors from out of time) versus soft reasons (I wasn’t drawn to my work that day)? Do we often not work without a reason not to work?
Bizarro Jerry’s calendar also makes it very clear that time flies when you are not working. It is easy to take some time off but usually we take off far more time than we intend or realize. A couple of days, unless we are tracking it, becomes a week and a half. A week becomes two and a half weeks. “A bit of a break” becomes three months. We are pretty terrible at telling time by days when we set our mind to “off”. Things we don’t think about slip away.
Bizarro Jerry keeps us from a fogged understanding of our non-work days.
Regular and Bizarro Jerry Combined
O.k., polar opposites would probably explode or something if they combined but we have to give it a try. Find a calendar, paper or electronic one, that allows for both recording working days and non-working days with a check mark or similar indicator and a log for days we don’t work. Make a bright red check mark to celebrate your working days. Ideally, find a gray ink to mark days not worked and write down whatever reason you had for not working that day. Simply capture the why and do be honest with your answers. Somewhere in that log will be information you can use to better understand yourself, your “process”, and how our days relate to our work.
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