Until two weeks ago, my 2013 Neu Year calendar had received rather useless and sporadic attention. It wasn’t the calendar’s fault. The approaches I invented to visualize goals and track progress were confusing and hard to maintain. I had a hodge-podge of words, icons, colors, and lines. Blech. I needed something simpler.
Thankfully, my jumbled little brain finally offered up a memory about Jerry Seinfeld and his red X’s. Jerry’s now famous advice to a fellow writer was to get a big calendar and put a red X up for each day that he wrote. Keep making X’s and then you have a chain. Then? Just don’t break the chain.
With relatively little forethought, I wrote six phrases in six colors at the bottom of my Neu Year calendar:
- Blog posted
- Extra income
I’ve had a guitar since I was 15, but I’m not much better with it now than I was then. I might even be worse. Sticking with long-term goals has always been challenging for me. Okay, not just challenging — I’ve completely sucked at it. This ineptitude has been the source of much self-inflicted shame. I’m not ashamed that I don’t play guitar well — I’m ashamed that I want to play guitar well and have never done anything serious about it.
In my growing adoption of the Getting Things Done system, I’d already done a bit of work making lists about personal growth and things I want to improve. Health, wealth, happiness, and all that other good stuff. And while it’s good to remind myself that my health, happiness, and personal growth are important, I also need to know if I’m putting in the work to support that importance.
Each of the six chains I’m tracking are based on something binary; meaning that I can know without much analysis whether I’ve actually done it that day. There’s been a lot of typing and capturing and sketching and plotting over the past many months that I might have considered “blogging”, but that activity wasn’t resulting in much publishing. “Blog posted” is black and white. If I publish, I get a dot. No post, no dot.
“Exercise” gets marked if I intentionally raise my activity level for a good bit of time. It’s not about going to the gym or following a certain program. I just want to know whether or not I’m being consistent about my commitment to my health.
“Extra income” is binary. If I make extra money that day, I get a dot. Right now, that means making a sale on Etsy, Ebay, or Amazon. Going forward, I aspire to add dots from teaching more workshops and the occasional consulting gig. This chain is the most out of my control, and tracking it has already caused me to think more strategically about how to generate extra income in a predictable ways.
“Podcasting” and “guitar” are fairly straightforward. If I practice guitar (at least five minutes, hopefully longer), I get a dot. If I make progress on editing a podcast or record a new session, I get a dot. When I decide to put more attention on my podcasting projects, I’ll revise this one to “podcast posted”.
“Learning” is a bit more abstract. Reading a chapter from a design book chapter is a dot. So is making a concerted effort to understand and capture notes from an in-depth article. Going to talks, attending webinars, and other professional development things count, too. The amazing and smarty-pants people I meet at industry events and conferences tend to make me feel terribly under-read. Anxiety over that isn’t helping me get more reading done, but the silly desire to put a blue dot on my calendar is. Hey, I didn’t wire this brain, I just live with it.
So that’s my “don’t break the chain” system. I should have been in bed two hours ago, and in my exhaustion have no idea if this post makes any sense. I’m going to have to be okay with that. Waiting and fixing it tomorrow isn’t going to get me a dot today.
This post makes five connected days in my “blog posted” chain. Technically, I missed March 1, but only because this post and the last came in after midnight. If it’s cheating, it’s working, so I don’t really care. ↩