You have probably heard of Jerry Seinfeld, an enormously successful, consistent, and productive television comedian. One night after a stand-up comedy set in the 1990’s, he told amateur comedian Brad Isaac that the secret to success was to show up and produce every 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.” Jerry made no mention of quality, quantity, length of time, or any of the traditional metrics of progress. His only requirement was showing up and producing, no matter what.
We can take Jerry’s philosophy and apply it to any project. The key to a relatively stress-free project completion is to simply start and contribute to them, no matter what, and no matter how insignificantly, every single day. I suggest that you start it as soon as possible – today, in fact, if you can.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to write a book. No matter what, you’re required to make progress. It could be just a couple of lines, or a formatting edit, or even deleting material – just make sure you open and change the files every day. If you are stuck on writing content this week, work on your acknowledgements. If you’re attending to a personal emergency, remove a couple of redundant words from a chapter. If you come across a brilliant article relevant to your work, pop the citation into your references.
For example, on day one, give yourself the minimum requirement of starting the document. Save something like a “book.docx” file and make sure it lives in a backed up location. I highly recommend Dropbox; in fact, for my own personal book project, I synchronized my computer’s desktop with my Dropbox so that my book file is not only perfectly recoverable from any save point, but I can also have a reminder every day to open the file. After that, if you’re up for it, start applying your book’s margins, fonts, spacing, etc. (Or you can push it to the next day; after all, you have already fulfilled your first painless daily requirement.)
Let this strategy be a liberation for you. When you feel particularly motivated to add to your projects, go ahead. If not, simply make a positive change in some small way. No matter what you change that day, be satisfied that you have moved forward in a tangible way and pat yourself on the back.
Some days you’ll be on a roll and work for hours – on other days you’ll only have enough motivation to make small edits here and there.
But whatever you do, don’t break the chain.