Julie’s Week 1: Don’t Break the Chain, or Why the Hell Would You Try Something Like This?

Hello there. If you’re reading this, we’re probably not famous yet.
We’re probably still just two mild-mannered women writing professors who are known mostly to our own social and professional circles. Well, I’m not very mild-mannered; in fact, I’m kind of loud, and overly ambitious, and too quick to anger, and far too much of a smart-ass to succeed in the job I have. I’m returning to the office tomorrow and I’m legitimately scared of how many things I have to accomplish before classes begin. Last night I woke up at 3:43am in a reflux-induced coughing fit. My reconstructed left knee feels stiffer every day, and I can’t remember the last time I exercised. My spare bedroom has turned from a perky home office into a trash heap that I’m embarrassed to open the door to. There’s a pile of financial documents on my kitchen table. My chin is broken out, my teeth feel filmy, and my toenails make me look like a hobbit from the ankles down.
All of this brings me to why I’m writing—why we’re writing. We want to improve ourselves and our lives. A lot of the good habits I established when I was younger have eroded away, and many bad habits have crept insidiously into their places. That doesn’t mean that my life is a complete disaster (although it seems that way at times). Looking at my life now, I see a lot of accomplishments, and a lot of joy. However, I see lots of new fears and urgencies. The life of a 22-year-old recent college grad with a gym membership and a fondness for oddly-named cocktails is different from the life of an almost-35-year-old junior professor who gets panicky thinking about eye cream and her 401(k).
So, Dalyn and I created this blog. We’ll each be trying, tracking, and documenting one new habit or lifehack every week of 2015 (hence the name 52 Habits). These strategies are aimed at everything from improving our health to organizing our homes to increasing our academic productivity to nurturing our relationships. We’ll try to keep each habit going until the end of the year, so by December 31 we could each be tracking 52 potential new habits (yeah, that was my idea, and I’m not 100% sure it’s a realistic goal for a human being). Along the way, we’ll reveal our triumphs, our fears, our passions—our stories. Thanks to Dalyn for agreeing to go on this crazy journey with me, and thanks to you for reading about it.

All of this brings me to Week 1 (technically it’s Week 2, but this is the first full week of 2015 so, like, bite me). The first habit I’ve selected is Don’t Break the Chain, a strategy that has been around the lifehack blogosphere for some time. According to the almighty Internet, Don’t Break the Chain was developed by one Jerry Seinfeld to keep him consistently productive. It is incredibly simple—you just make an “X” in the square of a basic paper calendar for every day that you completed your chosen task. Eventually, you will create a “chain” of Xs and thus have the visual reminder not to break it. It’s a feedback loop, essentially.
Sorry for that.
IMG_2667Now, I don’t really do much paper anymore. Not that I don’t like paper. I love paper. I idolize paper, especially these pretty Moleskine and Rifle Paper Co. notebooks I keep in my work bag for when the perfect moment strikes (so far it hasn’t). My laptop is my main workstation and my iPhone is my Star Trek Tricorder, so I’ve grown accustomed to keeping a digital calendar, to-do list, notebook, file cabinet, etc. So, I will be keeping track of my chain(s) with a Chains.cc, a web application that is also available for iOS. My first chain is at least two hours of distraction-free work (course planning, grading, etc.) per day. I can do them all together, or space them out during the day.
IMG_2668I’ve used a lot of distraction-free software, but the one that I like best is Self-Control (free, OS X only) which blocks sites and mail servers that I specify for chosen amounts of time. The trick is that you will not be able to access those sites for that specified time period at all, even if you restart your computer or delete the application. If you think you won’t need that, cool for you, but after ten straight years of graduate school I have known new and terrifying abysses of procrastination into which I no longer wish to fall.
So, this week, for me: Don’t Break the Chain using Chains.cc, with 2 hours of distraction-free work using Self-Control.
Let’s do this.

4 thoughts on “Julie’s Week 1: Don’t Break the Chain, or Why the Hell Would You Try Something Like This?

  1. “I have known new and terrifying abysses of procrastination into which I no longer wish to fall.”

    I am in the same boat, so clearly I’ll be joining you & Dalyn. Also, any productivity blog that references Fleetwood Mac (I love them to an almost embarrassing extent) is automatically added to my Feedly list.

    In terms of tracking my productivity & scheduling myself, I’m somewhere in the middle of paper and electronic. I have a paper planner, because I freaking love writing things down & color-coding them, and I also have Remember the Milk, because I love how I can plan out different projects with it. I’m traveling back home today, so my goal is to read journal articles on grant writing & pedagogy for the longer plane trip (it’s right at 2 hours).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds excellent, Ashley! And thanks for your interest in this project. I drove back to Arkansas from Pittsburgh this weekend, and I listened to Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass to try to pump myself up . Of course, there’s nothing like some Fleetwood Mac. So, don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow.


  3. Thanks, Jen. I will definitely be clearing out that room, probably over spring break, and I’ll detail how it went. Be warned: it’s terrifying.
    Hope you like Self-Control! It’s my favorite, and I have tried them all.


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