Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret

A recent article on Medium quotes from a delightfully old Lifehacker article where a young Brad Isaac asks Jerry Seinfeld if he had any tips for a young comic. The advice is gold, and not just for comics:

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‚Ķ He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.

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.

What I love about this is that it’s what I’m trying to do every day on this blog: not breaking the chain. And then I thought that it would be cool if there was some type of visualization for this unbroken chain, and sure enough, WordPress.com’s Stats → Insights has me covered:

stats-insights

Skipping one day makes it easier to skip the next.

Not today.

Thoughts on Rest

Although I’m really enjoying my experiment with polyphasic sleep, I’ve been troubled by some of the implied values in the rhetoric surrounding its proponents. They desire more productive time in their life and are taking it from they only place they can: a full night’s sleep.

Being productive is a good thing in itself, but industrialization brought with it cold calculations of human worth based on productivity. You are only worth what you produce, and those who don’t or can’t produce are worthless. There is little room for joy or art or play in this view of the world, and there is no space for rest but what is absolutely required.

Rest is a theological concept that has to do with more than just sleep. Rest is connected to the idea of Sabbath, the day of rest mandated for the Jewish people by Yahweh. Sabbath became a broader concept for Christians, who were taught by Jesus that rest is not about legalastic observation of the Sabbath, but rather some broader concept of being in relationship with himself.1

Rest is here seen as a state of being and as a relationship to God in Christ. Rest seems to be a way to describe a life lived in harmony with God and God’s purposes. While productivity is no doubt a part of the rhythms of a restful life, it cannot be the main thing.

So, has my experiment with polyphasic sleep led to a frenzy of productivity? Not really. I’m still adjusting, which means that those extra hours of wakefulness haven’t been of the highest quality. But even when I’ve been alert, I’ve noticed that, so far, I’m not doing that much more, but what I am doing is much less stressful. It seems that having more time in the day produces the novel feeling that there’s enough time. I’m relaxed and unhurried. It’s delightfully strange.

We’ll see how things evolve as I keep on with this. Will I once again fill my waking hours to bursting? Will I maintain the more restful quality of life I’ve been experiencing over the last 2 weeks? Time will tell.


  1. See Mk 2:23-28 and Mat 11:28. 

Technology is Distracting

Article: Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic – New York Times

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

Irony: I stumbled across this article after doing some surfing after checking my email to procrastinate from the work that I’m supposed to be doing!

The article also debunks the myth that younger people are better at multi-tasking than older people. Lots of interesting stuff for our communication-saturated age.