Not many time management strategies have their origins in comedy, but Don’t Break the Chain is no joke when it comes to building habits. 

Don’t Break the Chain is about turning your goals into a visual representation of your continued success. This strategy hits on multiple psychological principles for motivation. We’ll touch more on that later.

I’ve been trying this technique out for the month of January, and I’m here to give you an honest opinion on how Don’t Break the Chain works. I’ve tested a lot of different time management hacks, but this is a new one for me. 

This article will explore the laughs, the psychology, and the real results behind this technique. So, buckle up and get ready to discover how sticking to your goals can be as fun as telling a good joke.

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What is the Don’t Break the Chain Technique?

Don’t Break the Chain is a productivity method that maintains a visual record of consecutive days when a task or activity is successfully completed. The idea is to create a chain of successful days by consistently performing the desired behavior without any breaks. This productivity technique is often used to build a new habit, break bad habits like smoking, or achieve goals. 

I used this method to track how often I hit my goals during my workday. My “chain” looks a lot like the image below. 

Don't Break the Chain graphic

I made my own rules to hit my deadlines Monday-Friday, so the weekends weren’t part of my chain. I liked the feeling of taking out my figurative big red magic marker and crossing off each day I accomplished my task.

What is the origin of Don’t Break the Chain?

The Don’t Break the Chain technique is associated with the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Yep, you read that right; this productivity hack came to us from the creator of everyone’s favorite 90s sitcom, Seinfeld.

The story goes that when an up-and-coming comedian asked Seinfeld for advice on becoming a better comic, Seinfeld shared his method for success: Don’t Break the Chain. He allegedly used this strategy for years to write better jokes and improve his craft as a comedian.

"Don't break the chain!" - Jerry Seinfeld

Seinfeld used a calendar to track his progress visually and marked an “X” every day he successfully wrote new material. The goal was to create a chain of X’s and not break it. Hence the name, Don’t Break the Chain. This method is also known as the “Seinfeld Strategy.” 

In recent years, many people have adopted it to build positive habits and goals outside of comedy writing. This month, I decided to join them. Here are the steps I took to master this beautifully simple mental trick. 

How to implement the Don’t Break the Chain technique

Here is a step-by-step guide to creating your chain:  

  1. Choose a specific task or activity that you want to make a daily habit of or accomplish regularly. Or, pick a bad habit you want to break. I set the goal of hitting all of my work deadlines.
  2. Determine how you want to track this goal and find a way to mark each day you complete the task. We’ve included a simple template (more on this below) to help you get started, plus some ideas for other ways to track your progress. Use whatever works best for you because consistency is key here.
  3. Start the chain by successfully performing the task on the first day.
  4. Set a goal to continue the chain without any breaks. Each successful day adds a link to the chain.
  5. If you break your chain, don’t get discouraged. Start over fresh and stay motivated to be on track. 

Speaking of not breaking the chain, I have some tips on that, too.

How not to Break the Chain

Once your chain is created, how can you prevent yourself from breaking it? 

I’ve been trying this method for a few weeks, and here are my tips as a newbie (who does happen to be a long-time productivity nut). 

  1. Start small. Begin with manageable goals and use the momentum from hitting these goals to continue to move your goalpost. Small successes make it easier to stay consistent, and consistency is the ultimate goal of this strategy.
  2. Create reminders. Use visual cues or alarms to remind yourself of your daily goal. Reminders help incorporate the exercise into your routine. For me, I set a reminder at the end of my workday to add my X and confirm I hit all my goals.
  3. Be adaptable. Things happen, and sometimes you won’t hit your goals — but that’s okay! Be flexible and find ways to work towards your goal, even on busy days.
  4. Track improvement publicly. Consider sharing your progress on social media or with loved ones. If you’re working towards goals at your job, consider sharing them with your manager. If your goal is personal, share it with your friends and family.
  5. Change things up. If the routine becomes repetitive, set new goals to keep things interesting. You can even experiment with a different approach to the same goal. 

Remember, the goal is consistency, not perfection. Embrace the uncomfortable feeling of occasionally breaking your chain and enjoy the satisfaction of creating a chain of accomplishments.

What’s the deal with Don’t Break the Chain? The psychology behind the method.  

The Don’t Break the Chain technique capitalizes on psychological principles to foster consistency and positive habit formation. It’s hard to say if Jerry Seinfeld knew that when he created this strategy. Likely, he just knew that it worked for him. 

I’m a productivity nerd, so I wondered why this strategy works for so many people. I found that it has some pretty legitimate basis in psychology. 

How Don’t Break the Chain works psychologically

It activates your brain’s reward system. According to the National Institute of Health, the brain’s reward system is a natural process in which the brain associates stimuli (situations, events, or activities) with a positive outcome. When you teach your brain that completing a task will result in a desired outcome (checking a box), your brain is more inclined to motivate you to get things done. 

The power of small wins. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg uses the phrase “small wins” to describe how subtle behavior changes can set off a chain reaction of more positive changes. Harnessing small wins is the goal of Don’t Break the Chain, and it has been proven to increase productivity.  

Positive reinforcement. If you’ve ever picked up a parenting book or trained a puppy, you know all about the power of positive reinforcement. Don’t Break the Chain uses this positive encouragement by visually representing wins as links in an unbroken chain. 

Benefits of compounding. In Atomic Habits, James Clear notes the power of compounding when working on establishing a habit loop. The idea behind compounding habits is that every decision we make creates a behavior that, in time, becomes a part of our lives. In Don’t Break the Chain, you’re slowly conditioning yourself to hit your goals, and eventually, it will become second nature. 

Honestly, I was impressed by the science and psychology backing this simple strategy. It turns out our friend Jerry knew what he was doing. 

Tools and resources

I’m obsessed with optimizing my tech stack to save time, and productivity hacks are no different. I wanted to find tools and resources to support my quest to practice the Don’t Break the Chain strategy. 

Some of these worked for me, and some didn’t. I included them all just in case they work well for you. 

  • Calendar apps. In a modern take on the big wall calendar Seinfeld used, you can use digital calendar apps like Google Calendar or Apple Calendar to mark off each day you complete a task. The nice thing about this is that they live directly on your phone, so your goals will always be top of mind.
  • Don’t Break the Chain app. There are a few Don’t Break the Chain apps I checked out when I started this process, and ultimately, I didn’t like how they were set up. That said, it’s still worth checking them out to see if they work for you. Head to the app store and search “Don’t Break the Chain,” and several options will pop up.
  • Goal-tracking tools. Platforms like Trello or Asana allow you to set and track goals. I like how you can use these tools to create a visual board to monitor your progress and tasks completed. However, you will hit a paywall if you want to use the more advanced options.
  • Time tracking tools. Tracking my time in Hubstaff was already part of my routine, but I noticed that it helped me stay accountable and organized while I used this strategy. You can use workforce management tools like Hubstaff to track your time and productivity and get detailed insights into how productive you are. 
Hubstaff time and activity report

Free Don’t Break the Chain template 

If you’re looking for a simple and free template, we’ve got just the thing. It’s not an automated tool, but it is excellent for people just starting out using the Don’t Break the Chain method.

Don't Break the Chain template

To use this template, right-click on the image and save it to your desktop. Once saved, you can print it off for a physical reminder or edit the template on your computer or device to use on the go. 

Final words about Don’t Break the Chain

So, there you have it – the Don’t Break the Chain technique, where every day is a step in your journey to crushing your goals. 

My final thoughts? I liked using this strategy alongside other techniques to keep myself productive. I don’t think it stands alone as a way to manage your time and productivity, but alongside other methods and tools, it can be a great way to visualize your progress. 

If you manage to keep your chain unbroken, congratulations! And if your chain resembles more of a zigzag, don’t worry. We’re all learning together. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve tried this productivity method out or if you have any other productivity hacks I should try!

Category: Time Management