The year 2020 will soon be in our rearview mirror—not soon enough, you might say, and I won’t contradict you. I know the turning of the year on Thursday is just the turning of another day, but I’m grateful for this arbitrary demarcation, and the annual ritual of taking stock and thinking through which habits are working and which habits aren’t.

As you think about goals and resolutions for 2021, it might help to think about the distinction between goals related to end results and goals related to the daily means toward those end results.

I’ve been re-reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work (a book I commend to you). Newport cites an old Lifehacker article called “Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret.” A young comic named Brad Isaac asked Seinfeld if he had any career tips, and this is what he got:
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that…

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.”

Habit member Carolyn Leiloglou has been doing something similar with a paper-clip chain.

Do you have a goal to, say, write a book in 2021? That’s a good and worthy goal. I support you in it. But if you make such a goal, make sure you also have some goals related to daily habits. Make it a goal to write a page every day, or write an hour every day, or half an hour. Start a chain. Then don’t break the chain. You’ll make that big goal if you can keep up the daily habit.