We’re half way through this mini-course on building an incredible filmmaking career, and today’s the day where I show you the most powerful piece of this puzzle. You ready?
To recap real quick, in the last two lessons you designed your ideal film career from scratch, then you identified the small handful of activities that will be most effective for getting you there.
Now we're going to… wait for it… learn how to do those activities consistently. Preferably every single day!
Not surprisingly, the best way to do that is simply to build a rock solid daily routine, and put your most important work at the center of that routine.
It’s definitely not rocket science, but this, my friend, is perhaps the single most important thing you can do if you want to make substantial, consistent progress in your career.
Honestly, if you do this—just showing up every day and focusing on work that moves the needle—I bet you could make more progress in the next six months than you have in the past three years. All with a routine that takes no more than 20-30 minutes a day. No joke.
Intrigued? Read on for how exactly to build such a routine.
How to build your daily routine so that it becomes a habit
Once you’ve figured out what things you should be working on to make progress in your career (see the last lesson), it’s time to build a routine around them. More importantly, you want to be able to build a routine that you won’t give up on within a few weeks once “life gets in the way.”
The secret sauce of making any kind of daily routine stick like this is to make it habitual. In other words, we need to train our brains to perform the actions automatically every day.
When a behavior is automatic (or mostly automatic), showing up and doing the work requires less motivation and willpower than it would otherwise. This is important, because when you don’t need to rely on fuzzy concepts like motivation, you’re significantly more likely to follow through on your goals, no matter how you’re feeling day to day.
Luckily, there’s all sorts of fascinating and useful psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics research that shows us precisely how to build automatic behaviors into our lives. Here are a few of my favorite tips.
Start small and focus on consistency
This is perhaps the most important thing for building a new habit. If you take nothing else away from this whole mini-course, make it this, because it’s useful no matter what you’re trying to accomplish in life.
We all have a tendency to want to “start big” when we dive into a new goal. For instance, if we’re looking to get healthy, instead of changing one small thing about our diet, we’ll completely revamp every piece of our diet and tell ourselves we’ll go to the gym five times a week.
The same thing happens with our career goals. We’ll get really excited at the start of something, do a bunch of planning, commit to ton of action, and then fizzle out after a few weeks.
Not surprisingly, this “all or nothing” approach almost always leads to burnout and frustration, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s unsustainable, which is the opposite of what we want.
On the flip side of that, almost every piece of research out there shows that the key to behavior change is to start small, focus on consistency, build momentum, and gradually add new behaviors over time. That’s what works.
The Jerry Seinfeld Technique
One of the best techniques out there for building a consistent daily habit is Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar technique. If you’re not already familiar, the origin story goes like this.
An aspiring comic came up to Seinfeld after a show one night, and asked for advice on how to push his career forward.
Seinfeld told him that there was no secret to succeeding other than to write better jokes. The key to writing better jokes, he said, was simply to write a lot of jokes, and the key to writing a lot of jokes was to write new jokes every single day. Then came the big reveal, the method behind everything.
Seinfeld told the young comic to get a big wall calendar and a red marker. “Every day you write new material, put a big red X through that day. Do the same the next day. Once you’ve got a few days in a row, a chain will start to form. Then your job is not to break the chain. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day or you’re not inspired. Just don’t let yourself break the chain.”
Basically, start small and focus your energy on consistency above all else. Keep track of your streaks (either on a calendar or digitally) because once you have a few days under your belt, you won’t want the streak to end. It will become a form of intrinsic motivation in and of itself, which just adds fuel to the fire to keep going.
Same time. Same place. Every day
In all of the scientific literature on habit formation, there’s one consistent theme. Our habits are always triggered by something. There’s a stimulus of some sort that prompts us to do a behavior.
Now, there are all sorts of different triggers for habits. However, your environment and the time of day happen to be two of the most powerful and consistent ones, so we’re going to take advantage of that.
So my recommendation here is that you do your routine at the same time and same place every single day, to best of your ability. This is such a powerful way to program your brain around your routine, and the easiest way to make it truly automatic.
Bonus tip: add the routine to your calendar, then set up a reminder on your phone/computer for just before the routine’s supposed to start. This is another way to reinforce the trigger and make it stick in the long run.
Chain it to an existing habit
If you're not keen on using the exact time of day as a trigger, or putting it on your calendar, you might choose to chain your routine to an existing habit.
The trick here is to find something you do automatically every single day without fail, where you have some free time (or misspent time) afterwards.
So for instance, my first writing/work session of the day happens right after I make my first cup of coffee every day. My early morning coffee doesn’t always happen at the same time, and sometimes not even at the same place, but I never miss it.
For you, it might be a meal, part of your daily hygienic routine, or something else. As long as you do it every day and you can fit your routine directly afterwards, it’s a good candidate to be used as a trigger.
The last key piece of making your routine truly habitual is to reward yourself afterwards.
One of the big reasons that habits form is that our brains want to make rewarding behavior automatic. After all, we’re biologically designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So when our brains get a rewarding stimulus, they take note and work to make it happen again.
That’s why finding a small reward for your daily routine is so essential.
Now, in a perfect world, the work itself would be the reward. Knowing that you just did something awesome for your career can be a rewarding feeling, but it’s a good idea to find something that will consistently feel rewarding to start.
This could be an external reward like a piece of chocolate, fruit, or a cup of coffee. It could be giving yourself a few minutes to watch silly kitten videos on YouTube, or listen to a band you enjoy. It could be literally anything, so long as it’s enjoyable to you.
If you follow up your daily work routine with this reward consistently, your brain will begin to associate the routine with the reward, and it will rewire itself to make the routine habitual. Such is the way of the brain.
Your assignment for today, should you choose to accept it
Alright friend, you now have the building blocks for how to build a daily routine and make it habitual. Put 20-30 minutes of focused, intentional work into that routine, and you’ve got yourself consistent daily progress towards your career goals.
As always, I’ve prepared a few interactive workbook questions so that you can actually apply this material right here and right now. After all, it’s worthless if you don’t actually use it for anything.