How the top 1% actually makes progress (aka the Seinfeld Solution)

Productivity sucks.

For one, it’s hard. I mean, let’s face it – every single time I sit down to “get something done”, it almost never happens. At first, I thought it was just me. I thought that maybe there was some malfunction in my brain that made it physically impossible for me to focus on important tasks when the sweet, sweet Facebook newsfeed is only a click away. It’s sad, actually.

The F key on my Macbook is starting to fade out.

What’s even sadder is that oftentimes I don’t even WANT to be on Facebook (or insert your poison of choice). I just feel drawn to the distraction like a moth drawn to light. Don’t even get me started on Netflix. I’ve literally watched over 5 years of Weeds this week alone.

photo credit: Flickr/dm74

photo credit: Flickr/dm74

What am I doing with my life?

That’s why I always laugh when I see more of these “productivity” apps come out every month. Who needs another app? I don’t need another piece of digital pocket change jangling around in my already crowded brain? How is another set of clicks, swipes and scrolls actually going to help me get anything else done? I already have enough to do.

Sometimes I think I’m going nuts with all the things I have to think about at the same time.

So, in a moment of desperation a few months ago, I started asking you (tribe members) if you were having trouble getting things done in your life too. Mostly, I just wanted to make sure completely I wasn’t batshit crazy. Here’s what some of you had to say (don’t feel like screenshotting the emails and blurring the names right now so I’m just copy/pasting – work with me):

“Sometimes, I have so many things swirling around in my head that I just get confused and as a reflex, I do nothing.”

“I spend so much time thinking about how to get things done that I don’t actually get anything done. It’s like spending hours drawing up a map, then never using it.”

“I’m always trying to make progress in work/life, but I constantly find myself stopping and starting…so I never really get any traction.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

You have no idea how gratifying it was to hear this stuff. I mean, honestly.

Now I know it’s not just me. You’re batshit crazy too! I can relate to all three of these, especially the last one.

I often find myself starting a new project, idea or pursuit then somehow, someway….letting it fade into the mist. Until eventually, it’s no longer part of my life. I treat it like a dead child and mourn for it…but rarely speak of it. Countless times I have tried to get something done and for whatever reason…just couldn’t. I couldn’t really put my finger on it…but it seemed like more than pure lack of willpower was at play here.

Not being able to follow through on the things we want to do sucks.

It sucks if you want to launch a successful startup. In fact, it sucks if you just want to improve your life in any way at all.

So, I took a hard look at my habits and my interactions with the people and things that I deemed important to me.

I discovered something very interesting. Something that has been a HUGE factor in me starting 3 profitable businesses in the last 12 months and ejecting myself out of 9-to-5 misery.

Here’s what I’ve been doing. Let me know what you think.

Maybe it’s not about willpower?

You can’t “will” yourself to be more productive with your time.

You’re not a lemon. You can’t just squeeze more juice out. It doesn’t work like that, young padawan.

To be honest, I don’t even think I have what most people would call “willpower”. If you’re talking about mental fortitude, well I probably use 60% of my energy just getting out of bed in the morning. Maybe 70% on days where I have something un-fun to do. Yes, I made that word up.

If I had to use willpower to be productive, I’d never get anything done.

I legitimately don’t have the wherewithal to combat the temptations of all the fun things I’d rather do (instead of bootstrapping these businesses) on a daily basis. I like having fun, training and “chilling” too much.

But therein lies the problem. On the one hand, I don’t want to do anything but things that excite and inspire me. On the other hand, in order to EVENTUALLY have the ability to only do what I want, I have to make some serious moves now. Moves that require me to be extremely productive.

So I had to find a way.

I’d always thought that the reason elite performers in the top 1% of their disciplines were able to do so much more than me was because they had some sort of x-factor that allowed them to work harder, longer and better than me. Or, I made up all these limiting self-beliefs that they had unfair advantages that I’d never have (“of course he’s more productive than me…he has a personal chef to cook for him while he’s working”). All that is BS, naturally.

Then it occurred to me – maybe it’s not willpower at work here. Maybe these people aren’t “forcing” themselves to get stronger, faster, smarter or more successful.

Maybe it goes much deeper.

Maybe the reason that the world’s most productive people ARE so productive is because they have their entire life designed to get better at their work.

Note: Make sure you read to the end of this article, where there’s a special gift waiting for you :)

The Seinfeld Solution

In 1998, Jerry Seinfeld made $267 million dollars from the 9th and final season of his hit show Seinfeld. Yes, thats a quarter billiondollars. No, that’s not a typo. NBC begged him to do a 10th season to the tune of $5M per episode for 22 episodes (WTF?!). He declined. Needless to say, it was a great decade for him. But the 2000’s have been quite good to him as well – deals from syndication of his now classic show bring in a steady paycheck of about $85 million per year. Not bad, Jerry. Not bad at all.

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photo credit: Lifehacker

But let’s take it back. Back, before he was a borderline billionaire comedian. Back before he was even a household name.

How does one amass the talent, skill and productivity to write joke after joke, show after show, year after year at such a high level?

In an interview with Lifehacker, comedian Brad Isaac shares the story of a chance encounter he had with Seinfeld backstage. He asked Jerry if he had any “tips for a young comic”.

Here’s how Brad describes the conversation:

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.

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 is to not break the chain.”

 

Take note here. You’ll notice Jerry didn’t mention anything about having good jokes. He didn’t even mention how long the activity had to last. The task is very simple: write something every day, put an X on the calendar and don’t break the chain.

Using your brain’s programming against itself

It’s almost simple enough to be counterintuitive – but let’s think about what’s happening here. There are a few very sophisticated processes going on. Think about how you could use this model with the skill or process you’re trying to become more productive with:

  • The act of doing something every day programs you to make it a default behavior. Most of us don’t have to force ourselves to brush our teeth in the morning. There’s no mental strain or cognitive dissonance with brushing your teeth. You just do it…because that’s who you are. You are a person who likes clean teeth and fresh breath. Seinfeld managed to integrate writing jokes into his daily routine day after day. Over time, he associated his identity with the writing and from there, it’s much easier to follow through.
  • Default behaviors, repeated day in and day out become habits. Habitual pursuits almost ALWAYS improve because of sheer frequency. In Jerry’s case, writing every day ensures that he’s bound to stumble on some funny material. 365 days of straight writing guarantees some nuggets of wisdom just by the sheer volume of material he’ll have created over time.

In effect, you’re using your own human tendency for habit creation to work AGAINST your natural tendency to procrastinate, stall and be otherwise unproductive. Rather than setting nebulous goals and hoping that you have the power to push through, you are actively installing new software (aka habit) in your brain’s computer to ensure that the program (aka goal) gets run. With enough consistency over time, the new software WILL get installed. You literally will not have a choice but to complete the habit every day. From there, success is on cruise control.

The only thing you have to do is NOT break the chain.

How to use this (and how it’s worked for me)

I’ve had great success with hardwiring new habits into my daily rituals. The best part about creating a new habit is that after a while, you forget that it’s a “new” habit. It becomes so natural that you no longer even need to keep track. It’s just what you do. I’ve done this with a few different things that used to be a struggle for me to do consistently, and now I manage to do them every day without even a second thought:

  • Making my bed (was at a 67 day streak before I stopped tracking. My mom would be SHOCKED)
  • Meditating (was at a 70+ day streak before I didn’t need to track anymore)
  • Reading (40+ days and counting)
  • and 4 or 5 other habits

But here’s the catch…

Some days I was only able to throw the bed together.

Sometimes my meditation wasn’t good.

Often I only read a few pages.

But none of that matters because above all, I did it every single day. Consistently. And I haven’t stopped.

These may not seem like huge challenges, but imagine what it’s like to string together weeks and weeks of things you previously struggled with. Like compound interest, effort over time adds up to create something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

This is the secret sauce. This is how the top 1% of all performers are productive at a level that seems impossible to us earthlings.

Before Michael Phelps won the most gold medals in history, he was on a 10+ year hot streak of not missing a single planned day of training. Don’t be fooled, some of the days his training wasn’t good. But he still showed up. It’s that simple.

Don’t break the chain.

Let’s say you want to learn programming for your startup, but are completely overwhelmed by what you need to know. That’s fine, and it’s perfectly normal. Start with small bites. If you learn programming, rain or shine, hell or high water, for 365 days in a row without breaking the chain, you will make progress. Period. Even if you consider yourself way below average at the beginning. At just an hour per day, that’s almost 400 hours of consistent programming after a year. How good could you get at something with 400 hours?

Look at Karen, who taught herself to dance in one year using the Seinfeld Solution:

Check out more of her story here: Dance in a Year

Karen proves that even over a year’s time, you can make remarkable progress in things that at first seemed near impossible to tackle. If you put in the time in little bite-sized chunks without skipping a beat, you can accelerate to advanced levels quickly.

Your only task is….you guessed it….don’t break the chain.

It doesn’t matter what the field, pursuit or project is. Consistency over time is mastery. To track my progress with new habits I’m working on, I often use the habit-building app Lift as my digital calendar to track my “chain”. It’s one of the few worthwhile productivity/lifestyle apps out there.

What new habits are you planning to integrate on a daily basis to help you become more productive and advanced in your career and life?

Leave me a comment below. Let me know!

Later,

Daniel

PS – If you don’t feel like going to the store right now, and want to get started right away I made this 2015 Seinfeld Solution Calendar for you. It’s free :)
Get The 2015 Seinfeld Solution Calendar

244 comments
madhoor
madhoor

the art of being successful nd systematic wud b to train /programme/ talk to our subconcious mind the  nite before retiring for the day that these jobs hav to b done the next day it becomes easier nd v dont forget that easily

MickaParungao
MickaParungao

it's a nice article! I really want to write damn good and interesting books but haven't done a single step for it hmm why? my grammar is bad and every paragraph i make words keep on repeating, yes my vocabulary sucks and i hate it so i will start by reading anything about english grammar and stories 2 hours each day followed by writing a page about anything. Don't break the chain it is! :)

Julie Kimber
Julie Kimber

Amazing.  So simple - it's almost embarrassing.  I printed 5 of the calendars.  I'm going to do little bits each day in 5 areas of self-improvement.  When I look at the enormity of what needs to be accomplished, I freeze and do NOTHING!  This is a great idea for us "all or nothing" people - learning to make progress in steps measured only by the consistency of our effort.  Love it.  I will keep you posted on my "chains".


You're really on to something here too.  So glad I found you on Under30CEO.  I am a devoted tribe member.


Stacieas
Stacieas

Nice article! Lift looks like a compelling productivity app! I'm also a fan of GQueues, it works really well with David Allens "Getting Things Done" concepts. For me? "Projectizing" things. It's much easier to get things done if you write out all the steps to do them, otherwise multi-step tasks feel too daunting and I procrastinate. Thanks for the article, looking forward to hearing more!

ShawnGreene
ShawnGreene

Dear Daniel, thank you for imparting your process and wisdom on the readers. I've made several positive changes in my life in just this fashion. It works!

Waseem
Waseem

That's a really not-so-nice but a very useful way to put what you just said above.

I am developing a habit of writing a journal daily 3+ days...

Gilliansolution
Gilliansolution

I love this Seinfeld Solution. I printed out my calendar. Now I just need to find a red pen. I am returning to my work of freelance writing after 15 years doing market research. Writing everyday is what I need to do. Procrastination is my enemy. Thank you rich20something. I'll let you know how it works.

ChelsieA
ChelsieA

This is actually a really interesting article that requires action and motivation to achieve a goal. I think that it would be easier if the goal was something you loved or you had pictures that you saw everyday that reminds you what the end result could be.

For example I would like to walk the length of the Great Wall of China in 2 years so to form the habit I will walk every day. But to motivate myself because I hate walking I have a picture on my wall of the great Wall.

Luke F
Luke F

Love that your content is not just "feel good" but ACTIONABLE! I am implementing these strategies ASAP. Thanks for helping me get to the next level Daniel!

JB
JB

Great overview of many of the reasons I struggle with productivity. I love the idea about limiting your to do list from his other article. I'm going to try out the app Lift. As a kid I loved to put stickers on a chart after I had done something and watch them add up. I think this will help me develop a solid foundation with the goals I have chosen. Thanks!!

Stephane Jozil
Stephane Jozil

Hello Daniel! I just read your post and I was very amazed to find how similar it is for me when it comes to productivity , having willpower and accomplish new goals I fixed all the time. To be completely honest I was releived to discover I was not the only one. The post opens my eyes on a lot of behaviours that I have and give me a lot of insights to break the bad habits... Having said that , tomorrow the first thing I'm gonna do is to find a calendar and a marker , I'm gonna start very simply with reading every day , do my bed and go to the gym. I'll write you to tell you how I'm doing. Again thanks a lot ! Stephane from Haiti.

Gauravshrivastava
Gauravshrivastava

great suggestion, worth inculcating in life without any further delay

Trevor
Trevor

Solid life advice. I'll try out Lift. Thanks for writing it!


Nicole
Nicole

I loved your article... very insightful!

Jinx Popo
Jinx Popo

Im really impressed with your practical analysis of connecting "habits" and "goals". It makes alot of sense, we see this all around successful people around us but it is so hard to learn. I definitely like "programming advice".

Mala
Mala

Love the calendar idea! I've been trying to do voiceover more seriously for a long time, but having a full time job, a three year old, and a husband who travels all the time for his job has made it seem very tough. I alway get started well and then the efforts inevitably dwindle. I'm going to go get a calendar and start making my chain! Thank you so much for the insight!!

SemajRichardson
SemajRichardson

I really enjoyed reading this article Daniel. Your writing style is pretty awesome. I like the simplicity of the story and how easily applicable it is to life. Currently for me two big things that I am focusing on are building my network and social circle, and further developing my fluency in Spanish, so these are the areas in which I will push myself to see how long I can go without breaking the chain

thomas4dima
thomas4dima

Fantastic and captivating. 


I probably need a big calendar for my self and start soon.

JeffAmend
JeffAmend

Very awesome read. I'm excited at figuring out what it is I need to be more productive on and start building my chain. Thoughts so far...

1. Pushups

2. Making successful friends

3. Learn how to use Quickbooks

ykh
ykh

1. Run

2. Push up 

Dreamsalive
Dreamsalive

Great article, I can very much relate. I'm sometimes always thinking of what I need & want to get done & stressing out over planning how to do it! But I'm learning how to to just do it, & then your happy you accomplished your goals for the day. So instead of worrying simply put in action & your results will follow.

Look forward to more great articles!! : ))

r3t3p3d
r3t3p3d

Great point, For the moment, I've just had a piece of paper next to my desk with small squares on it, so breaking the chain hasn't taken THAT much attention in my mind.
Seeing as I HAVE a calendar, I should probably get started chaining on it !


Good post ! (I've been trying it in the context of 30Day Trials, didn't know people used them for entire years ! But i guess it's pretty intelligent, when you think about it !)

Jesus R
Jesus R

Often times I feel stressed out when I time the activities that I am going to do for example, learn basic programming for 45 minutes. Instead of timing I can see how less stressful it would be by simply making it the goal to do the activity.This is good information and thank you for sharing it with us. 


Andrei
Andrei

Hey Daniel. Great write up of the Sienfeld method! Love it how you break it down and show how it worked for you.


I worked well for me for getting up early to work out (with a combination of a reward following the trigger-action-reward as described in The Power of Habit). Ironically, I was so impressed how well it worked that I haven't really thought about applying it to other habits that I'd like to develop. So thanks for the refresher!


I think the next couple of things on my list are freelancing (e.g. apply to one project / day on Elance) and Excel / VBA programming.


Thanks again for the awesome post! Keep 'em coming!

Katy
Katy

I'm gonna try the solution, great blog, will share on my fb page.

Ray
Ray

Thanks Daniel. It all hits home. I'm going to make my list, get out the calendar and get going. Tired of sitting on the sidelines and making excuses. Inspirational post and video.

Dalingcebo
Dalingcebo

Daniel, yes I know this really works. I have done it, before mostly in my exercise routine and I can do it now. The other real issue about me is I love the US entrepreneurship spirit. But I do not have a real experience for it. If you try to connect to it, before you can do it you have to buy something. 

Buying I have done many,many times and it was all good but never produce even a dollar for me. Really I don't blame anyone except maybe the fact that my first encounter with a computer was way after my university years.

Now I know what is real and what is not, as far as online business is concerned, I am ready and eager to do it for real now, but I am not too sure on some product I can sell in this part of the world. My country is very open to new ways of doing business but sceptical at the same time. That I can sell anywhere in the world, I accept that but I should begin at home, right?

But the fact that I do not have the actual person by my side who is Real and has actually done it, has been a biggest challenge so far. But thanks God that I have the "sexy" Daniel by my side. And the chain I will definately connect again. Let's do this Daniel, I trust you 100%. 

Mark Keeler
Mark Keeler

Nice read on developing good habits.  We ought to make this mandatory reading for high school students!

Amirul Mokhtar
Amirul Mokhtar

First of all, I want to thank you Daniel for this easy to read and very interesting article. 


The concept is as simple as making your bed every day without skipping a day but you make it sound as if it was the greatest thing ever. Like you won the nobel peace prize for it or somethin.


Anywho, here is a list of new habits I'm planning to integrate:

1. Make bed and keep it clear (no clothes or books on the bed)

2. Do laundry and fold/hang laundry right after

3. Read a book

4. Limit to one cup of sugary drink per day

5. Share a tip/advice on social networking site

6. 1 comment on 1 blog

arunabhacharya
arunabhacharya

Great Post..By repetition we develop patterns in our sub-conscious mind and then it becomes our primary habit.

phillipguy
phillipguy

Daniel this is gold! I've done something similar from Jerry's advice I found on reddit and it helps. I like to see your count if days though on how long it took before you stopped tracking. Obviously some habits are harder to form than others.

Although I use lift for a couple of habits, I think I want to use a wall calendar for my primary habit.

Thanks D!

Jamelle
Jamelle

Amazing information. Consistency is vital!

mrsopportunity
mrsopportunity

Great information, I will start tomorrow and won't break the chain. Thanks!

andogram23
andogram23

Well thought out article. Persistence is very valuable trait. Find mentors, coaches, and systems of support to accelerate your learning.

Kevin
Kevin

Great post. I know apps can be just one more thing to do, but I use Lift (similar concept to a wall calendar) and Simpleology (a little more comprehensive) to transform activities into habits that force behavioral change. Good luck to everyone looking to accomplish great things!

Cijo Paul
Cijo Paul

This is great. I've made a habit out of chewing my food 32 times before I swallow that helped me eat exactly how much I wanted to eat. I became conscious about what I was putting in my body. And now thanks to you I'm planning to link it to other areas of my life. Thanks Dan :)

Cijo Paul
Cijo Paul

This is great. I've made a habit out of chewing my food 32 times before I swallow that helped me eat exactly how much I wanted to eat. I became conscious about what I was putting in my body. And now thanks to you I'm planning to link it to other areas of my life. Thanks!

PBrown
PBrown

This is such a wonderful read! Thank you so much for all of your insight! I'm a very disciplined person, but I've recently caught myself making up excuses if something didn't get done; only to feel really bad about it later. Simple things like getting up as early as you can to maximize your day and working out would all get pushed to the back burner. I plan to keep the chain going and be consistent over time so I'll form habits that seem like second nature to me, regardless of what's going on in life.

Kathydep
Kathydep

Great article! I heard of this before but never really tried it. Now I'm going to put this to the test. Thank you. 

Lane Coe
Lane Coe

Nice article.  Most people would need a calendar to keep track of their attempts to not break the chain on their other calendar.  Too many people are not motivated enough to make a difference in their lives.


I get it!  it's hard to break the cycle of 9-5, two week vacation (if you can afford it), and party on weekends.  Too many shows on TV like Seinfeld to distract them from their miserable life.  


It really makes me sad.


What happened to people? 


The USA used to be a country of inventors, entrepreneurs, Oilmen, and Cowboys.  Now?  not so much.


Sorry for the vent.  I just heard from a teacher friend that the school system is told to not fail any students.  Just let them take the tests over and over again until they pass and ship them out the door with a diploma in their lazy ass hands.  Plus, and this really pisses me off, there in no more homework.


WTF?


Again, Lo Siento, I am here to praise you on your awesomeness. 


I don't have a problem with motivation.  I could fill a hundred calendars.  My big issue is focus.  I want to do it all.  NOW


As a Copywriter(LaneCoe.com)/Video Producer/Musician/Entrepreneur/BBQ Chef/Professional Schemer of all things concerning money.  I have a lot of directions that my focus is pulled towards.


Once again, nice article, you are doing great work.  Encourage people to be better.  Help them make a better life.  And please show them that life is not just about getting through it.  


It is about enjoying the ride!

CBlaze
CBlaze

I just finished reading 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg. Great book that explains in great detail why and how this works. Though I am a fan of the details, it's refreshing to hear them boiled down to something as simple as "Don't break the chain." The less you have to think about it, the more likely you will be to do it. Thanks for sharing!

Ediri Obor
Ediri Obor

This is all Darren Hardy's "The Compound Effect" is all about! I liked your article though, pretty easy to read through and it had a relaxed tone

alexwbrokesmith
alexwbrokesmith

The article was interesting but the email that led me here was embarrassing. We don't care if you consider yourself sexy etc. I'll be coming back to read more articles