I’ve written here before about Don’t Break the Chain as a tool for helping create daily habits. The concept is that once you do something a few days in a row (which can be aided by marking a calendar), you psychologically don’t want to break the chain and you’re motivated to do the activity again.
Right now, I have two chains going: I’m getting my email inbox down to zero messages by the end of each work day (I’ve been doing that since January 2) and I’m blogging every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (which I’ve done without fail since December 27).
Don’t Break the Chain (which I first read about in this Lifehacker post) is a little harder for a Monday/Wednesday/Friday activity, so I created a little four-column table in Pages, with the Monday date in the first column and Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the other columns. I printed it, posted it on my bulletin board and when I do the blog post, I mark an X in the appropriate M/W/F column, thus creating my chain.
Now that I have about three months of chains under my belt, the habits are pretty well ingrained and it’s not too difficult to accomplish those two tasks.
That said, both habits were put to the test this past Friday. I needed to be out of the house early and I got up a little late. So I had little time to write a blog post and even less inspiration about what to write about. (I try to plan ahead, but don’t always succeed.) Under normal circumstances, I would have just bagged it. But I didn’t want to break the chain, so I did manage to post something (not much, but something).
After having left the house early, I didn’t return home until 10:45 p.m. I had a whole day’s worth of email in my inbox and I didn’t feel like going down to my office to deal with it. I just wanted to go to bed.
I gave myself permission to break the chain. But then my dog, Kirby, asked to go out, so I had to walk by my office. While he was outside, I sat down at my computer and plowed through my email. It turned out it was a fairly light day for email, so I was able to get my inbox down to zero in less than a half hour.
The only reason I felt compelled to do that was that I didn’t want to break that chain. It has a powerful hold on me.
I’m leaving on Wednesday to go to San Diego for the NAPO conference and I don’t plan to take my computer with me. (I’ll have my iPad.) If I follow through with not taking my computer, I’ll have to break the inbox zero chain. (I download my email to my computer, rather than dealing with it on a website.) I have to admit the prospect of breaking the chain is unattractive enough that I might actually lug my computer along on the trip.
If you have a daily (or at least regular) habit you’re trying to develop, I can thoroughly recommend the Don’t Break the Chain method of motivating yourself. Go read the Lifehacker post to get a complete view of it. (The concept is credited to Jerry Seinfeld.)