How the ‘Seinfeld Strategy’ Can Help You Stop Procrastinating
BY James Clear | January 27, 2014|
Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all-time.
He is regarded as one of the “Top 100 Comedians of All-Time” by Comedy Central. He was also the co-creator and co-writer of Seinfeld, the long-running sitcom which has received numerous awards and was claimed to have the “Top TV Episode of All-Time” as rated by TV Guide.
Seinfeld reached his peak in earnings when he made $267 million dollars in 1998. (Yes, that was in one year. No, that’s not a typo.) A full 10 years later, in 2008, Seinfeld was still pulling in a cool $85 million per year.
By almost any measure of wealth, popularity, and critical acclaim, Jerry Seinfeld is among the most successful comedians, writers, and actors of his generation.
However, what is most impressive about Seinfeld’s career isn’t the awards, the earnings, or the special moments — it’s the remarkable consistency of it all. Show after show, year after year, he performs, creates, and entertains at an incredibly high standard. Jerry Seinfeld produces with a level of consistency that most of us wish we could bring to our daily work.
Compare his results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to create, but struggle to do so. We want to exercise, but fail to find motivation. Wanting to achieve our goals, but — for some reason or another — we still procrastinate on them.
What’s the difference? What strategies does Jerry Seinfeld use to beat procrastination and consistently produce quality work? What does he do each day that most people don’t?
I’m not sure about all of his strategies, but I recently discovered a story that revealed one of the secrets behind Seinfeld’s incredible productivity, performance, and consistency.
Let’s talk about that what he does and how you can use the “Seinfeld Strategy” to eliminate procrastination and actually achieve your goals.
The “Seinfeld Strategy”
Brad Isaac was a young comedian starting out on the comedy circuit. One fateful night, he found himself in a club where Jerry Seinfeld was performing. In an interview on Lifehacker, Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”
Here’s how Isaac described the interaction with Seinfeld…
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.
“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 is to not break the chain.”
You’ll notice that Seinfeld didn’t say a single thing about results.
It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”
And that’s one of the simple secrets behind Seinfeld’s remarkable productivity and consistency. For years, the comedian simply focused on “not breaking the chain.”
Let’s talk about how you can use the Seinfeld Strategy in your life…
How to Stop Procrastinating
Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists — they are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.
While most people get demotivated and off-track after a bad performance, a bad workout, or simply a bad day at work, top performers settle right back into their pattern the next day.
The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are, or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about “not breaking the chain.”
All you have to do to apply this strategy to your own life is pick up a calendar (here’s an inexpensive one ) and start your chain.
A Word of Warning
There is one caveat with the Seinfeld Strategy. You need to pick a task that is meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can get it done.
It would be wonderful if you could write 10 pages a day for your book, but that’s not a sustainable chain to build. Similarly, it sounds great in theory to be able to deadlift like a maniac every day, but in practice you’ll probably be overtrained and burnt out.
So step one is to choose a task that is simple enough to be sustainable. At the same time, you have to make sure that your actions are meaningful enough to matter.
For example, researching good jokes each day is simple, but you’re never going to write a joke by merely researching. That’s why the process of writing is a better choice. Writing can actually produce a meaningful result, even when it’s done in small doses.
Similarly, doing 10 pushups per day could be simple and meaningful depending on your level of fitness. It will actually make you stronger. Meanwhile, reading a fitness book each day is simple, but it won’t actually get you in better shape.
Choose tasks that are simple to maintain and capable of producing the outcome you want.
Another way of saying this is to focus on actions and not motions, which is a concept that I explained in this article: The Mistake That Smart People Make
Mastery Follows Consistency
The central question that ties our community together — and what I try to write about every Monday and Thursday — is “how do you live a healthy life?” This includes not merely nutrition and exercise, but also exploration and adventure, art and creativity, and connection and community.
But no matter what topic we’re talking about, they all require consistency. No matter what your definition is of a “healthy life,” you’ll have to battle procrastination to make it a reality. Hopefully, the Seinfeld Strategy helps to put that battle in perspective.
Don’t break the chain on your workouts and you’ll find that you get fit rather quickly.
Don’t break the chain in your business and you’ll find that results come much faster.
Don’t break the chain in your artistic pursuits and you’ll find that you will produce creative work on a regular basis.
So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.
A version of this article first appeared at JamesClear.com.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Habit chaining:This column will change your life
‘Ready? Here’s the tip: just do those things. You know – as opposed to not doing them The Guardian, Saturday 6 September 2014
Illustration: Joren Cull for the Guardian
First, this week, an astoundingly effective tip for developing beneficial habits, such as eating plenty of vegetables, flossing your teeth, keeping your desk tidy, phoning your mother or unfriendly people who post self-written poetry on Facebook. Ready? Here’s the tip: just do those things. You know – as opposed to not doing them. I’m aware this may strike some readers as relatively unastounding, perhaps even infuriatingly useless. Still, that’s one way of interpreting the underlying message of a popular – and not useless – new ebook, by the blogger SJ Scott, entitled Habit Stacking.
Much literature on habit change presents it as an arduous matter of personality transformation: somehow, and probably over months, you have to turn yourself into the kind of person to whom better habits come naturally. But in certain contexts, might that be a case of overcomplicating something that’s actually pretty simple?
The basic concept behind Scott’s (very short) book is an old one in psychology – “habit chaining”. The idea is to pick something you have no problem motivating yourself to do – brushing your teeth is the classic example – then link to it some habit you want to acquire: applying sunscreen, say. Habit stacking is just the nuclear-powered version. Make a list of small habits that take no more than five minutes each and 30 minutes in total, Scott advises. (Though those numbers are somewhat arbitrary, of course; tweak to suit your life.)
Then you’ll need to remember, and find motivation for, only one new piece of behaviour: to rattle through the checklist once a day. It’s probably worth warning any housemates that the resulting jumble of activities is going to seem pretty eccentric, as you suddenly rise from the dining room table to drink a glass of water, eat one of your five-a-day vegetables, text a friend, answer one long-neglected email, meditate for five minutes, pick one item of clutter to recycle, do 10 press-ups and wipe down the kitchen counter, to name several of Scott’s 90+ suggestions. On the upside, you’ll have them all out of the way.
There’s a point behind this seemingly very obvious trick, which is that one of the biggest obstacles to acting the way we’d like isn’t a question of personality change, but just of remembering what to do. That’s why surgeons are increasingly encouraged to follow pre-set checklists during operations, even though some resist it, convinced that their experienced brains – they’re surgeons, for God’s sake! – are superior to any list. (In fact, following such a list has been shown to cut surgery deaths by 40%.) Most of us have a dose of that doctorly arrogance when it comes to our capacity to remember. But how many useful activities in life go neglected, not because we lack the time or can’t muster the energy to do them, but simply because we forgot they were an option at all?
Habit stacking isn’t an approach I’d want to adopt for much more than the recommended half an hour a day: running through the checklist, I can report, feels robotic and dutiful, and not much fun. On the other hand, by 8am daily, I’d finished eight or nine things that would otherwise have nagged at me for the rest of the day. Sometimes, the secret of inculcating better habits is to forget all that inculcating business, and just do them.
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Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less [Kindle Edition]
BY SJ SCOTT
Publication Date: May 26, 2014
DISCOVER:: How to Add DOZENS of Positive Changes to Your Daily Routine
Want to improve your life, but don’t have enough time? Right now you could easily think of a dozen ways to instantly improve your life. Odds are, these ideas will only take a few minutes apiece to complete. The problem? You might feel like there’s not enough time to do all of them. One solution can be found using the power of “habit stacking.”
One Routine + Multiple Habits = Habit Stacking
We all know it’s not easy to add dozens of new habits to your day. But what you might not realize is it’s fairly easy to build a single new routine. The essence of habit stacking is to take a series of small changes (like eating a piece of fruit or sending a loving text message to your significant other) and build a ritual that you follow on a daily basis.
Habit stacking works because you eliminate the stress of trying to change too many things at once. Your goal is to simply focus on a single routine that only takes about 15 to 30 minutes to complete. Within this routine is a series of actions (or small changes). All you have to do is to create a checklist and follow it every single day. That’s the essence of habit stacking.
LEARN: 97 Small Habits that Can Change Your Life
In the book “Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes Or Less,” you will discover 97 quick habits that can instantly improve your life. Plus you’ll discover how to create a simple routine (managed by a checklist) that you repeat on a daily basis. Even better, you’ll discover a few tools that will keep you motivated and consistent. So even if you’re completely stressed out, you’ll still find the time and energy to complete these actions on a consistent basis.
By completing dozens of small habits on a daily basis, you’ll be able to make giant leaps forward in your business, strengthen your personal relationships, stay on top of your finances, get organized and improve your health.
DOWNLOAD:: Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes Or Less
“Habit Stacking” contains a catalog of ideas you can use to take action in your life. You will learn:
- How Habit Stacking Helps You Add MULTIPLE Small Changes
- 8 Elements of a Habit Stacking Routine
- Two Examples of a Habit Stacking Routine
- 8 Steps for Building a Habit Stacking Routine
- Productivity Small Changes (#1 to #17)
- Relationships Small Changes (#18 to #31)
- Finances Small Changes (#32 to #44)
- Organization Small Changes (#45 to #60)
- Spirituality & Mental Wellbeing Small Changes (#61 to #84)
- Health & Physical Fitness Small Changes (#76 to #85)
- Leisure (Small Changes #86 to #97)
- Habit Stacking Disruptions and Challenges: What to Do!
It is to add multiple changes to your life all at once. All you need to do is to add habit stacking routines to your day.
Would You Like To Know More?
Download and start building powerful habits into your day.
Scroll to the top of the page and select the buy button.
Do you have a reach goal? Are you working toward something big and life-changing?
Saving for a home? Training for a marathon? Earning a degree? If you don’t have one
right now, you can likely remember a time when you were chipping away at one. While I
have had many reach goals, (getting two sons to college, remodeling a 40 year-old home),
the process of writing my doctoral dissertation is a great example of how using a routine
called habit stacking can help you accomplish your goal faster. I didn’t know I was habit
stacking, but according to S.J. Scott’s “Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five
Minutes or Less” (see book review), that is exactly what I did.
The doctoral dissertation is a research paper. It can take on several forms, but there are
many milestones and standards governing its completion. Its defense is the last step in
earning the PhD designation. Many candidates never complete the years-long process.
It is solitary and daunting. To get mine done, I established a series of small habits that
became my daily routine. Sticking to the routine created a sense of urgency and gave
structure to an otherwise rudderless journey. I could easily still be working on it were it
not for the routines that I developed then. I continue to use some of them today.
The first habit was to realize that my most productive hours were before noon. Thisdiscovery made it necessary to jettison all of my morning time wasters and get up earlier.I joined a daily 5:30am boot camp. I read the paper and did household tasks and shopping
in the afternoons and evenings. I went to bed early and stuck to the same sleep routineduring the week and on the weekends.
The second habit was to create the two-hour rule. The two-hour rule stated that after boot camp, shower, and breakfast, I had to spend two focused hours on the dissertation.If I couldn’t get into a good writing or research flow, I would organize or do administrative
tasks. I made myself spend a minimum of two hours on task and then would decidewhether to stop or continue. Ninety percent of the time I would end up with six or moresolid hours of progress.
The third habit was to delegate tasks that drove me nuts. I hated typing APA citations and
formatting pages. I found a starving grad student to work on the APA citations. I accepted
a friend’s generous offer to format and proofread. Without their help, I could still be
grinding away or locked securely in a rubber room. Instead, I earned my PhD designation
and ended up with my dream job. Scott equates these small habits to the
that open big doors
. In my case, they literally did
Patricia M. Fuller has dedicated the last 15 years to designing and delivering wellness programs as a project
manager and contractor for Price waterhouse Coopers, LLP. Her training events earn consistently excellent
ratings for her holistic approach and her real world application.
Prior to concentrating in wellness, Pat taught accounting and auditing as an adjunct professor at the University
of Tampa. She earned her CPA designation in 1992 as a senior associate for Coopers & Lybrand. She has a
Masters in Business Administration from the University of Utah.
Pat has a PhD in holistic nutrition. In 2010, she was board certified by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing
Board. Her areas of research include stress management and eating habits. She is a Certified Wellcoach and
a member of the Institute of Coaching. She is an annual attendee to The Harvard Medical School Conference,
Coaching In Leadership & Healthcare.
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Scott and I are definitely reading from the same playbook. He maintains that
small practices repeated consistently over time lead to big changes. The reason
that people have trouble making life changes is they take on too much at once.
Apparently, we all have a limit to the amount of information that we can retain
in our short-term memories – he terms this our “cognitive load.” The average person’s cognitive load is seven “chunks” of information.
He gives 97 examples of changes in six different areas. Each must take less than
five minutes, improve your life and make sense for you. Since reading the book,
I have taken on a few more and am finding it helpful. My hope is that you find
at least one that resonates