No, this isn’t about spam mail claiming you will have seven years’ bad luck unless you forward it to 100 other people. It’s about motivation, consistency and – after a while – pure obstinacy!
I came across the notion of ‘Don’t break the chain’ in a recent blog post by crime author Catherine Ryan Howard. Always generous with advice, Catherine offered up some productivity tips and one of them was to not break the chain. She recommended putting a calendar on the wall and marking off each day you complete a writing goal, e.g. write 500 words. Once a few of those boxes get crossed off, you feel encouraged to keep going the next day and the next because you don’t want to see a gap. You want to keep the chain connected.
When I read the post, I realised I was already doing what Catherine suggested. However, I didn’t set out expressly to do it. And I don’t even have a calendar. It’s actually a diary, and it began as a simple record of what I accomplished writing-wise each day – I was keen to track my progress over the weeks and months and see what trends might emerge. I also didn’t have a target such as 500 words a day, the main reason for that being I’m in editing mode (for what seems like forever…) and therefore building up word count isn’t currently an objective for me – I’m just trying to fix what’s there.
Still, it was at this point that I perceived I was in fact making a solid daily effort to avoid any blank spaces in the diary and that was when I consciously began to subscribe to the mentality of not breaking the chain. But the mantra is simply ‘do something every day’. It might be a minor item like renewing my website domain name. Or it might be that I’ve put in ten hours of editing on my manuscript. It all gets jotted down and the pages get filled up. To be honest, the small tasks sort of feel like cheats because they don’t necessarily take up a huge amount of time, but I figure any little job that takes me a step closer to my publishing dream is a contribution worth noting.
And I’m pleased to announce that I have not broken the chain since the 3rd of January. That is 96 days in a row! This figure is very satisfying to me. Avoiding gaps in the diary is a great motivator – I’m so obstinate with it now that I’m determined to keep it going as long as I can!
On occasion, however, I get a trifle concerned about burnout. Taking no break at all from day to day can be quite wearing as I continue to put pressure on myself to fill those diary entries. But then, that’s why the days with the small tasks are good, I guess – I get a little something done but my brain gets a rest as well.
I’m certain I’ll have to break the chain eventually but I’ll try not to be too disappointed when it happens. I’ll look at it as a chance to beat it next time with an even longer streak!
Are you working on any kind of project, writing or otherwise, which might benefit from this approach? Like Catherine Ryan Howard, I highly recommend it – it’s a routine which makes you persevere like nothing else can (apart from a looming deadline perhaps…!). Do let me know if you try it and whether it helps!