There is a great story that writer and entrepreneur Gary Keller shares in his fantastic book The One Thing, about comedian Jerry Seinfeld and the advice that he gives aspiring comedians to be successful and productive:
“Write one joke everyday. Put a red X on the calendar for everyday you work on your craft. You create a chain of days. Your job becomes this: Don’t break the chain.”
This is a concept that I’ve encountered many times, in various books and speeches. Stephen King and Steven Pressfield both talk about it in the context of writing. Many other business writers, including Darren Hardy, and Greg McKeown have basically said the same thing (using different anecdotes). Also, when I look at my own life, at the goals that I set for myself, at the things I succeed in, and the things that I fall short at, I can see that this concept is truth, plain and simple:
There are certain behaviours that are more critical to the accomplishment of our goals than other behaviours. The task for us is to identify these critical behaviours, and then develop a mode of living – a habit – so that these behaviours are done every single day.
This is the chain – each link of the chain is the repetition of the critical behaviour, not breaking the chain involves ensuring that each day (at least each working day) we are doing the things that are going to lead to the best results.
This concept applies to anything – any goal and any pursuit. For any result that you want there are certain actions that you can take that are more effective than other actions. We’ve heard this so many times in our lives – the Pareto Principle? The 80 / 20 rule? But more often than not, when I audit my own behaviour I find that it is very easy to fall into a pattern of routine where I am doing things, on a day to day basis, that aren’t critical behaviours.
Part of the problem is the nature of our “always connected” society. Social media, checking email, and instantly responding can be very addictive. It is compounded by the pressure that we feel in not responding quickly (ever notice that “has read” component on Facebook messaging) – and the irrational demands that people have accepted into their lives about how quickly an email must be responded to. But it is rare that I’ve seen a situation where immediately responding to every email that we get is the most critical action that we can take for our goals.
It takes a very brave (and smart) person to be able to let emails go unanswered until their critical behaviours for the day are completed.
Those are the people however who often accomplish great things – the people who are brutally focused and prioritize their life to such an extent that the most important things, the things are going to generate the most results, are the things that get done every day.
Think about your 3 most important goals – the three goals that if you accomplished them in 2015 you would feel that the year had been your best year ever.
I 100% guarantee that for each of your goals there are a range of various actions that you could take that would move you closer to achieving them. Now within this range of actions there are certain actions that are more likely to drive results. These are your “critical actions”. These are actions that you must strive to do every day. These are the ones you must focus on, even if you have to neglect others.
What is critical to your life, your job, your business, and your goals? Do those things, every day, and don’t break the chain.