Category Archives: Creativity / Productivity

Don’t Break the Chain

I’m currently working on a novel and I have a goal of writing 1000 words a day.

I also subscribe to the Getting Things Done way of life, and I try to do a daily review of my projects and tasks, just to keep them fresh in my head, and to see if there are any easy things I could knock out.

And another thing that I’m trying to do is to gear up for a fall 2014 re-entry into the workforce when my kid starts kindergarten, so I’m doing design and coding work on personal projects for a few hours four days a week.

These are the big projects in my life right now. I care about them a lot, and I’m very motivated to complete each of them.

The trouble is this: If I skip a day on any or all of them, there’s really no tangible repercussion.

Who’s going to know if I don’t work on my novel today? The house probably won’t burn down if I don’t see that it’s time to change the furnace filter. And 09/14 is a long way off, and I probably won’t forget that one new jQuery method I read about yesterday, so I can sit on the couch and watch Star Trek on Netflix tonight, right?

But if I do that too much, my novel goes unwritten, important tasks slip through the cracks, and skills atrophy.

I’m not a machine. Willpower is a finite resource, and my brain is susceptible to maladies like fatigue, illness, or distractions. So I need to find a way to make doing these tasks with very intangible benefits more appealing than doing something more fun and tactile, like watching Star Trek or playing a game or staying in bed.

There’s an old article I read on Lifehacker about a productivity technique used by Jerry Seinfeld. I read this thing years ago, but it stuck with me through the years:

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 next is to not break the chain.”

I’m a believer in the effect of habit and rhythm on productivity, so upon reading this, I could imagine the power of this technique.

As a GTDer, I know the power of crossing an item off of a list. Feels great. And this chaining method gives you that satisfaction of X-ing off a day. But it also gives you the added bonus of being able to sit back and admire your work.

Problem is, I don’t really have a place to put a physical calendar of that size where I’d be able to see and admire it every day, though. I do, however, have a free iOS app called Good Habits.

It’s a calendar based habit tracker, and it works really well for setting up multiple habits tracked individually. It’s kept me on track with my various long-range projects surprisingly well.

So while it may be true that no one will know if I don’t get my 1000 words in today, I’ll know.

Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret

Good Habits

Good Habits Review on

Confidence v. Doubt

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being skeptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential.



Ten Things I Have Learned(

Interview with Terry Pratchett

Interview with Terry Pratchett by Aida Edemariam of The Guardian. He talks about his newest book, writing with Alzheimer’s, and the politics of assisted suicide, amongst other interesting things.

I Shall Wear Midnight, a young adult novel, was launched in central London at midnight on Tuesday, but, as has been the way throughout a career that has so far produced 50 novels (38 of them set on Discworld) and generated more than 65m book sales – Pratchett is already 60,000 words into the next book.

And for the last two and a half years, ever since he was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy, a rare form of Alzheimer’s, and lost the physical ability to write, he has dictated those words into voice-recognition software. At first, in fact, he talks to me about the machine as if I am a machine (which is not entirely unwarranted: there is a tape recorder sitting on the table between us). “… And the nice thing is, contrary to what you might initially expect, comma” – we both burst out laughing – “yes, sorry about this, full stop.”


Terry Pratchett: ‘I’m open to joy. But I’m also more cynical’

Dealing with criticism: if it doesn’t hurt a little, it’s probably worthless

Lots of good stuff is going up over at lately that’s right in line with what I’m trying to figure out and get better at.

I really like this sample critique that Larry Brooks did for a writer. This is a service that Brooks provides, and I’d say that it’s a valuable one, especially if you don’t have anyone who your letting really dig into your work for you. And I think it’s rare that you’d find someone willing to go this far into your stuff in your own backyard.

Read the critique and analysis. Imagine how hard it must have been for that writer to endure the tearing down of his work. The repeated “you have potential” just wouldn’t be enough of a warm fuzzy to offset the systematic dissection of his story. But I guess the lesson is that you need to be able to get kicked in the face, smile, and really try to see how that kick was actually helpful in some way.

And I think that the writer being analyzed would agree that this document is very helpful.


An Intimate Look at One Writer’s Feedback

Struggling to self-promote

This past weekend there was a local indie comics convention. I wasn’t able to make it as a customer or as an exhibitor.

Part of the issue is that I just don’t have the time or the material to put up the sort of table that I want at this point. But the other part is that I’m just not that comfortable with self-promotion yet.

So I pay special attention to articles like this one by Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club on getting over your self-doubt in order to get done what you need to get done.


How to Smash Through Self Doubt to Become a Better Self Promoter

Should your top idea be your top idea?

Very interesting analysis by Paul Graham of what things in your life get to take advantage of the spare cycles in your subconscious.

I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.


The Top Idea in Your Mindh