Developing Habits: Visualizing Daily Work

October 24, 2011

In a blog battle post earlier this week, I linked to a fairly old Lifehacker post on Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret – a simple means to visualize/motivate daily action on a specific type. Using a calendar, or a grid (template here) you can track the number of days you’ve completed your goal and, more importantly, the number of days in a row you’ve completed them.

Here’s how I’m using it: At my desk I have these two grids labeled. I’ve marked my start date and end date – assuming a full year using the calendar, and drawn a line to separate the previous and current year. For every day I do meet my goal, I put an ‘X’ in the current date box in the grid, and repeat daily. For my own motivation, I’ll count up the current progress of my chain – how many days I’ve gone since the last time I broke the commitment when I come into the office in the morning. There are some online implementations of this system, but I found them to be too far out of sight and thus for me to remember to check them, let alone accomplish my goal.

I find this method simple and effective. Every day I count the number of X’s I’ve accumulated on each grid, perform the task I’ve decided to track and put an X in if I’ve cleared my queue, or written something for this blog. The goal is to go as long as possible without breaking my chain of X’s for each task. That’s it.

It’s easy to visualize/track, an extremely simple process and keeping it up and on display is another little motivator to keep the chain of X’s going. I’m not concerned with the length of time that I write each day, or the level of my work while tracking this process – those things will come naturally. Instead, my immediate goal is to get into a rhythm – to clear my queue at the beginning of the day and to plant the thought in my head that I need an idea to write about – or just continue where I left off the day before.

Even if I don’t complete a post each day or decide that what I’ve written so far is no good and toss the whole thing, that’s okay because I know that I’ll write today, and what I don’t get done I’ll work on the next day. I’m not trying to set a record for the number of blog posts in a year, my goal is to improve and to accomplish something I’m passionate about.

So if there’s something simple you care about enough to want to do everyday, start your own chain, put it up in your cube and proudly mark your X for each day you’ve earned it. Over time, you’ll improve and your schedule will shift to reflect the practice and you won’t need the calendar anymore. Just be persistent, and you’ll get better at writing, constantly be up to date on the blogs you care about, or meet whatever other goal you hope to reach. Best of luck, and don’t break your chain.