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Work Efficiently with the Don’t Break the Chain Technique

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Don’t Break the Chain

Photo by Alan Light

This is the second part of a series where we’ll offer a new productivity hack each week to help you do your homework more efficiently. Check out our first post on the Pomodoro Technique here. This week we explore: Don’t Break the Chain, otherwise known as The Seinfeld Technique.

What it is: Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is not necessarily the first person you’d think of as someone with a productivity innovation. After all, Seinfeld was famously the show about nothing. But that doesn’t mean Seinfeld himself is a “do nothing” guy.

That’s why he invented Don’t Break the Chain. The premise is that habits come from doing something every single day, without fail. With Don’t Break the Chain, you designate a task or activity that you will work on every day for a consistent period of time. Once you have completed it, you get the satisfaction of marking it off on a big chart. And if you break the chain, you have to start all over again. For many people, that visual cue is enough to make them press forward with something they otherwise wouldn’t do.

Need more inspiration? Consider the Streakers, those folks who commit to run every day, no matter what the weather!

How it works: With Don’t Break the Chain, you identify the activities that you need to do consistently. They might be subject specific, like working on some sort of science-related homework every day, or they might be related to a bigger goal like committing to study for the SAT every day. You also can throw in personal goals like learning a new hobby or exercising regularly.

The technique is not as appropriate for one-off tasks or assignments because the more specific and consistent the activity, the easier it is to track.

Each day you finish the task, you mark it off on a big chart. Simple…but effective!

Who it’s best for:

  • Teens who have goals that lend themselves to working a little bit each day. This technique is great for mastering foreign languages, math, reading, and also other goals like exercise.
  • Teens who do best with structure, consistency and schedules. If their schedule says they need to read for 20 minutes, they are apt to follow it.
  • Teens who have trouble making decisions. With Don’t Break the Chain you don’t have to waffle over whether you’re going to work on your college essay or if the weather is conducive to a run, the choice is already made.
  • Teens who are prone to procrastination. Putting something off or skipping something one day makes it that much easier to do it the next.

How to get started:

  1. Identify the activities you want to include in Don’t Break the Chain. Don’t make it too many at once. Three is an ideal number to start with. You can always add more.
  2. Determine the minimum amount of time you will work on them each day; i.e. reading for 30 minutes; college search activities for 30 minutes; vocab flash cards for 15 minutes. Not all your school work will be included here, since much of it doesn’t get done every single day, but include repetitive tasks that should be done consistently or those that are easy to put off.
  3. Determine how you will treat vacations. Some people power through; others prefer to consider those “off days,” yet don’t want to break the chain. Consider using another notation, like “V” instead of “X” for those days that you have deliberately identified that you can’t do your action but don’t deserve to be punished for “breaking the chain.”
  4. Create a calendar that you post prominently and begin!

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