One of my most favorite productivity tips is so simple, it sounds like a joke:
Step 1. Figure out what it is you want to do every day (say: writing for an hour a day)
Step 2. Get yourself a big ole calendar, the kind that hangs on the wall, and a big, fat marker, preferably red.
Step 3. Every time you accomplish your goal for the day, put a big X in the calendar.
Step 4. Don’t break the chain.
Jerry Seinfeld famously invented this method, and it works because it is so easy and so rewarding. It can be tailored for anything—exercising, cleaning your house, reading—but I love it for writing, and it’s my go-to technique for prodding myself along when I’m on deadline.
There is just something so satisfying about seeing all those Xs line up, fill up a week, a month, several pages of calendars. The rewards become cumulative, because each time you give yourself another X, it feels like you’re adding to a long chain of work you’ve already accomplished (which, hey—you are!). And focusing on the mantra “don’t break the chain” takes some of the stress off the goal. You’re not sitting down at the computer thinking “Oh man, I really should be doing this…” You’re thinking “Look at all those Xs! This can’t be the day I leave a spot blank!”
For me, I gave myself different challenges. I printed out a blank calendar and hung it on the wall. Every time I wrote a thousand words in a day, I drew a little picture for that day. If I wrote two thousand words, I got to color the picture in. If I wrote three thousand words? GLITTER!! It was stupid, but it was effective, and there were many days that I’d otherwise have looked at the clock and called it quits if not for the little voice inside of me saying “I WANT TO COLOR IN THE PICTURE!”
I’ve seen other people get themselves books of stickers or cutesy stamps, and those work great, too. The most important part? Find a goal, get a calendar, don’t break the chain.