No Funny Business Here: How Comedy’s Best Productivity Trick Can Work for You in Four Easy Steps

“…After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” – Jerry Seinfeld, American comedian.

There may be times when you feel like your work days just melt one into the other, to the point where the weekends almost come as a surprise to you. It may bother you to realize this, but then again, it may be a symptom of high productivity—as long as you’re making steady daily progress. As it turns out, productive people in all walks of life deliberately chain their days together to improve their productivity.

The idea started with a comedian. You may not think of comedians as hard workers, but the rich and famous ones are. In fact, Jerry Seinfeld, the co-creator of the show named after him that’s still in reruns across the country, has an unusual way of polishing his performances that he used even when he was starring in his show. He writes jokes every day, then tries out his new routines in smaller comedy clubs across the country. The jokes that work go on to be used on larger stages and TV.

Seinfeld tracks his productivity, especially his writing, with a deceptively easy method. It obviously works, because at his peak, he made nearly $300 million a year. (He still makes tens of millions a year today).

Seinfeld calls the exercise “Don’t Break the Chain.” This method works primarily for a single task, but you can have multiple set-ups, one for each of your primary projects. All you need is a calendar, a tack, a big red marker, and some tenacity. Seinfeld recommends using a full 365-day calendar, but you can make do with a monthly calendar. You don’t need anything fancy; a print-out for the month, preferably on heavy stock, will do the job. Here are the steps you take:

  1. Hang the calendar for each project on a prominent wall where you’ll often see it in your workplace. Or if you’d rather use your regular electronic calendar, that’s fine too.

  2. Work on the designated project(s) every single day. Ideally you’ll want to make significant progress daily, but even if you work on the task for just 10-15 minutes, it still counts. You can combine this with techniques like the Pomodoro method if necessary, or with other motivational methods that help you insure that you make at least incremental progress.

  3. As soon as you finish the task for the day, use the red marker to make a big “X” through the day’s date. Or create a Category in your calendar called “Chain” that you can tag an appointment at a designated time, such as 6:00 AM, so you see that color running across the top of your monthly calendar.

  4. In a few days, you’ll have a chain going. Your goal is to not break the chain. The longer the chain, the better. Leave gaps on days when you don’t work on that task. Each gap breaks the chain. However, if you’re genuinely ill (and let’s be honest here!) use an “S” instead. It still counts as a link. If you go on vacation, use a “V” and don’t count it as a break. I recommend you also use “W” for weekend days. But if you do work on your weekend, even from a home office or while visiting with the in-laws, put your X on the calendar when you return to the office.

Easy Doesn’t Mean Ineffective

Pretty soon, you’ll be motivated to do something to keep the streak going. If you’re writing a book, you’ll spit out some text just to get the reward. It’s great for your self-discipline! Seinfeld’s chain provides an easy, workable way to track your productivity. It provides a graphic, in-your-face illustration of your daily, weekly, and monthly accomplishments, reminding you to keep cracking at those longer, strategic projects.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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