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Jerry Seinfeld's Productivity Secret (lifehacker.com)
148 points by mcantor on Jan 5, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

Seinfeld's Calendar + Github = http://calendaraboutnothing.com/

"The Calendar About Nothing generates a "Seinfeld Calendar" from your public "Github" feed."

I've been doing something similar to this for quite some time.

I made a Google-docs form containing boolean-answer questions regarding whether I did any of the things I aimed to do regularly (running, writing code, good interaction with people, etc), and wrote a script to remind myself to do it every night via email.

Answering "No" to a question put a nasty red mark on the generated spreadsheet, which led to a huge motivator as to avoid the nasty red marks on the otherwise clean spreadsheet. Now, after doing this for almost exactly a year, I can claim that this system works quite well for me.

I'm going to make this into a full-fledged app inspired by the "Calendar about nothing".

This has been floating around the internet for a while, but it's good to come across again. I'm impressed by the level of simplicity to which the technique has been distilled. Notice that it wasn't necessary to write a book about the productivity system — it can be explained in a paragraph.

On a side note, I believe there are a number of iPhone apps that implement this system.

> On a side note, I believe there are a number of iPhone apps that implement this system.

I can verify this. I use Streaks, which may have been the first one. It has support for multiple calendars (for different goals), which kind of breaks the simplicity of Jerry's approach. I might cut it down to one calendar/goal.


Once you fail, isn't it easy to continue to fail? "Oh well, I broke that chain of 100 days. I'll probably never get that many again, so I'll just give up now."

Playing mind games with yourself is rarely effective. If you want to write every day, just write every day.

I've been doing this with a series of daily habits for years. It's extremely effective. I'm approaching 75 days on my current round and I'll do pretty much anything to make sure I do the daily habit and keep the streak going. When I've broken the streak in the past, it's frustrating, but the strength of my habits has grown over time, so it's easy to get started again.

The problem with the statement: "If you want to write every day, just write every day" is that it ignores the fact that "you want" is highly dynamic over time. There are many days when I don't want to work out, but in the long run and in hindsight, I definitely want the benefits that come from being healthy. The main point of building habits is to overcome the daily lack of motivation that keeps you from accomplishing what you really want to accomplish.

Anyway, I find it amusing that you dismiss this so carelessly without having tried it, when it's pretty clear that it works for a lot of folks.

And if you want to be a start-up billionaire, just be a start-up billionaire. True, but not very useful advice. (Though I'm not sure what useful advice for that one would look like. Perhaps better: if you want to get good grades, just get good grades.)

The difference with your examples is that writing jokes every day is a fairly well defined, specific, verifiable, action. Getting good grades, "being" a start-up billionaire are not. I can't see you in the state of getting good grades, but I could see you study a little each day with the result that you get good grades.

I'm in grad school, so right now my goal is to read and understand at least one research paper every day. Once I get started, that usually balloons to several papers. The calendar method has proven very effective.

The point is that what should motivate you is your ultimate goal or dream, not a mental trick.

The problem here is that the mind works by mental tricks. Just because you don't think of them as tricks doesn't mean they aren't.

Don't you think it would be better to select the tricks that operate your brain by intention rather than by accident?

I don't necessarily agree to saying that the mind works by mental tricks, but that's mostly semantics. I do think it's generally better to operate by intention, and I also think that those intentions should be based on sound values and rigid beliefs and dreams.

Maybe this small change will help with that. If you use two colors instead of one, a "did my task" color and a "did not do my task" color, you'll see a good chain followed by a bad chain. That may have enough psychological impact.

Maybe it works in that if you reached a long streak once, you're probably already got into the habit of doing it. At this point, you might have realized that doing it everyday isn't that hard…

But I see what you mean. It's much easier to give up again once you had to start from scratch once.

Maybe that's why the incentive not to break the chain is so strong?

  Jerry: The trick is, you don't break the chain.

  George: Don't break the chain?

  Jerry: Don't break the chain!

  Kramer: I broke the chain...

  Jerry: You broke the chain?!

  Kramer: I broke the chain, Jerry, I did.

Jerry: You broke the chain! The chain isn't supposed to be broken!!! Now what are you going to do? You broke it...

you just overdid it man .. :) if you were tezza, I would have advised you to "leave on a high note"

Yep, a fairly well-known technique, albeit with a different implementation.

I would be more intrigued, though, to learn how to discipline your mind to do a task when it needs to be done (right now or at some later specific time). It seems that would take a lot more mental fortitude.

Example: I should get gas in my car on the way home from work. I don't need to, but it would help. A few hours later.. eh, I'm hungry, I'll get gas in the morning. Next day, late for work because I had to get gas. How do I discipline my mind to get gas when I should have? Silly example, but it's what came to mind first.

Setup a chain to 'do a thing you dont like' everyday. Soon you'll be able to control yourself.

One idea is to train yourself to be aware of the fact that even though you may not feel like doing something, you can decide to do it regardless of your feelings. Taking your example, you could have said, I'm hungry but I'm going to get gas first.

Use triggers for the above problem. Decide on a gas level you should refill and use don't break the chain approach to always refill on the same level.

Commit to it. Don't just think "I should do this..." Decide that you're going to do it, and plan for it.

There's a web app version of this system available (http://dontbreakthechain.com/) as well as an iPhone version made by a HNer (http://appshopper.com/productivity/dont-break-the-chain)

I prefer http://www.joesgoals.com/ - it allows you to set up multiple chains and manage them from a single page.

Joe's Goals is great because you can do negative goals too ("checked email off-schedule", "browsed HN during work hours", etc). It's compelling to see if you can beat your numeric value from the previous day.

Thanks. Signed up and giving it a shot. Positive goals: push-ups, reading, cooking. Negative goals: playing a game of Freecell. ;)

It made me chuckle that when reading the article I could actually hear Seinfeld say "Don't break the chain!".

Unique voice, unique character.

what's the deal with chains? I mean, everyone always wants to break them.

When I was in the navy (conscripted) for almost a year, we had pocket sized calendars like that (with nude women on the other side, of course). Each day I could cross the day I was there, it was a major topic for discussion/bragging and a huge motivation to go through the boring conscription.

We wore "short timers chains" on our belt loops when we only had a few months left. Small brass chains with one link for every day we had left. We would dike one link off the end every day. Breaking the chain was something we looked forward to.

Trying out a slightly different method here: my calendar here: http://www.keithdonegan.com/2010-calendar/

Basically the cal has to have ALOT more green boxes than red.

Green = no junk day with food. Red = Yes, you guessed it, I gave in to temptation.

I have a small twist on this system, which is that I have a huge pool of tasks in a text file with headers for each day, and as I go through the day I pull out parts of tasklists and mark them "# DONE" as they are finished. Thus by the end of each day, each week, each month, I have an increasingly impressive list of accomplishment, even if the actual tasks are small 5-minute things. I don't try to hit a target number of tasks or a quality of task, I just do what's available that day.

One month in, I haven't missed a single day.

i thought this would be a good idea for a twitter app - something like you tweet your goal then each day you tweet what you did towards it and if you didn't it'd auto tweet that you broke the chain. idea being you don't want your friends to know you broke it. there's obvious flaws but if someone is interested in it, i have the domain twitchain.com and won't get around to making this anytime soon so if you can have it if you want to build something like this.

This is a tip I picked up maybe ten years ago from bodybuilding (with the exception of having a rest day every five days or so, which is considered good practice.) If you miss more than one day in a row, it can be very hard to get back into the routine. Good to see this reposted every six months on Hacker News.

I'm still planning on writing an app to help the user track goals this way. :)

There's already a perfectly good app at http://dontbreakthechain.com/

There is also http://dailystamp.r09.railsrumble.com/ from Rails Rumble.

Watch the documentary "Comedian" for more on Jerry's work habits. It partially follows him and another comedian during the time after the Seinfeld show had ended and he was getting back into stand up.

I have a dry erase calendar on the wall next to my desk that I do this with. It's great to see a bunch of Xs up there at the end of the week.

I can't actually find a "year on one page" calendar on Amazon. Do they still make such things in these days of digital organization?

While probably not as fancy, I just printed one of the templates available at http://www.vertex42.com/ExcelTemplates/yearly-calendar.html on an A3 sheet, only because I didn't have access to a plotter for some bigger sizes. Looks good enough, though.


At A Glance is the typical big name retail company that manufactures these types of things.

I nearly never read this...but am so glad I did.


I like the tangibility of a calendar. Even if it's just a PDF calendar that I printed out for that month.

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