About seven years ago, software developer Brad Isaac gave Lifehacker some advice he’d heard on productivity from Jerry Seinfeld:
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.
I’m a big believer in the Don’t Break the Chain productivity method. I use it to write fiction, and it’s the secret magic of one of the Nike+ Fuelband app’s better features: the ability to track and record your “streaks” of exercise.
Now available on iOS, Streaks is an iPhone app that, depending on how you think about it, either applies Nike+’s Streaks system to everything, or else is a digital version of Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity calendar. It’s not the only such app–I used one called Chains.cc up until recently–but I think it might be the best one.
Streaks allows you to track six tasks every day. Some are activity-based, like walking 10,000 steps or running, in which case, Streaks will tie into your iPhone’s HealthKit data to track them automatically. The others you have to track manually, tapping a button every time you, say, write a page of fiction or brush your teeth. And since some habits aren’t meant to be daily, Streaks gives you the option to schedule “skip days” without breaking your chain.
There are a couple reasons I like Streaks. First of all, it’s really simple, which is a big plus in an app like this. It automates what it can in your habit-tracking, and for the rest, all you need to remember to do is tap a big button on the central dashboard.
But I also love the self-imposed limits Streaks puts on its users. Like I said, I’ve tried the “Don’t Break The Chain” method with a lot of apps, which usually let you to track an infinite number of tasks. The problem is that the more tasks you’re tracking, the fewer habits you’re forming. Streaks’ upper limit of six tasks seems like a good compromise between variety and focus, forcing you make hard choices on the tasks you really want to turn into a daily part of your life.
You can download Streaks for iPhone for $4.99 here. Remember: don’t break the chain.