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How Jerry Seinfeld is training me for a marathon

As I prepare to run my second marathon (and let’s be honest, “run” is generous for how my first marathon went--it was more of a perpetual stumble) I fully acknowledge that my biggest obstacle is consistency. I’ve always struggled to get out each day and put the mileage in, regularly skipping a day (or five) and opting to unhealthily churn out the long runs on weekends. I was terribly inconsistent--that is, until I enlisted Jerry Seinfeld as my coach.

A few months back I read about Jerry Seinfield’s Productivity Secret over at Lifehacker. As recounted by Brad Issac, a software programmer and blogger who boldly asked Seinfeld for advice on writing jokes, Seinfield introduced him to the “Don’t Break the Chain” method:

"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 next is to not break the chain.'

'Don't break the chain,' he said again for emphasis."

It might seem too simple to work, but the genius is in the simplicity--and we all know there’s something deeply satisfying about physically crossing something off a to-do list. I decided to give it a try.

I hoofed it down to Staples and bought a four-month dry erase calendar. Using one of Hal Higdon’s Training Programs I mapped out the miles I needed to run each day until race day. Two months in and, the results, so far, are not too shabby.

Though I clearly struggled to get going in July, drawing a big red “X” to mark off the days, and challenging myself to not break the chain, has proven to be a lot of fun. It’s also given me great insight into my shortcomings (for instance, I really struggle to get out and run on Thursdays) and given me more control over how I can improve. The goal is to keep the chain going as long as possible--not to achieve perfection. Compared to my first marathon, I’m on track for a much better performance already.

What tasks, in your agency or life, might Seinfeld’s method help you achieve? What other methods do you use to keep yourself motivated over a long period of time or turn mundane tasks into a game?

Lifehacker has a great breakdown of how you can apply this tip to a range of tasks and solve your procrastination problems.

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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