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… 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.

How WordPress Saved The Spectator Tribune

It was supposed to be different. And it is. It was supposed to celebrate the Prairies in a way that hadn’t been done before. And it does.

…[A]d sales lagged, and writers unable to sustain a career in writing or journalism on the promise of payment sometime in the future began finding new, paid work. The site began to slow down… and for some readers using certain hardware it didn’t work at all. Expert coding needed to happen and immediately. It didn’t, and the site spent a few months limping along, unable to display ads, barely able to display stories.

That’s Toban Dyck, the Spectator Tribune’s founder, and editor-in-chief, in What once was old is new again about the re-launch of their prairie-focused site. Toban’s also an old friend who got in touch at the end of 2014, looking for advice on how to solve his site’s woes.

The site had been built by some folks he knew back when he lived in the Toronto area. It had been largely pro-bono and, as time passed, the site became less of a priority for them to the point of complete abandonment, falling into the disrepair described above.

It used to be that this guaranteed to be a fatal scenario. An underfunded publication can’t get its developers to fix its ailing site, so it just fades away into the ether. Since they’re the only ones who know how the damn thing works, you’d have to hire an expensive expert (that you can’t afford) to salvage your content and migrate to a (hopefully more open) system.

But, thankfully, the site was built on WordPress, the open source publishing platform chosen by 24% of the web. The only hard thing about finding a WordPress expert is deciding which one to work with. Just change the theme, change some plugins, and maybe change the web host,1 and you’ve got yourself a whole new site with all your old content.

I wasn’t able to be involved personally, but I did help Toban connect with a local WordPress developer, Ryan Santschi.2 He didn’t need to be local, but local was right for a locally-focused publication.

Our ad sales will now have a local focus, our writers, some who have stayed with us and others who have lay dormant until things smoothed out, are ready to contribute excellent content, and some of the features the site was exciting about at its conception, like events, videos, and its daily ticker, will now work and be able to adapt, thanks to an in-house web developer.

The new site looks great, loads in a heartbeat, and works well on a variety of devices. I really hope that this is the first step back towards the promise that the Spectator Trib showed in its early days. I’m glad that WordPress helped to give them their second shot.


  1. None of these things are necessarily easy, but in the WordPress world, they’re well-understood. 
  2. Ryan was also the lead organizer of WordCamp Winnipeg 2015

I Now Work at Automattic

I’m happy to report that I’m hanging up my freelance hat and putting on my gainfully-employed hat as a member of the Automattic team, which I’ve already written about more fully if you’re curious about the details. The short version is that I get to help make WordPress.com.

There are too many factors to tease out in a move like this, but one of the significant personal ones for me came down to values: I was dissatisfied with my attempts to find a work-life balance. Even when I wasn’t working, I was thinking about work too much, preventing me from being properly present to those around me. And it wasn’t getting any better.

Employment isn’t going to be a magic bullet, but I’m hopeful that this shift will help me to find a better balance so that I’m actually present to my wife, family, friends, and community when I’m not working. I also look forward to having colleagues, since the freelance life can feel pretty isolated at times. All in all, I’m really excited!

On Footnotes

The purpose of notes is to present citations, background, or further discussion and background that doesn’t belong in the text. (Also: snarky jokes.) The design challenge of notes is to 1) indicate that there is a note, 2) provide a reference to that note, and 3) print the note in a place where it can be accessed. The very existence of notes implies 4) not unduly interrupting the flow of the main text.

Footnotes and endnotes are in essential agreement on points 1 and 2. They provide superscripted numerals (or occasionally symbols) as a reference key, with the corresponding number opening the note in the notes section. Parenthetical notes are barbarous and should not be used by anyone, ever. For those who are required to use them for departmental reasons,1 my sympathies for finding yourself amongst fools.

Where footnotes and endnotes disagree is along the spectrum of design challenges 3 and 4. Endnote advocates seem to prefer 4 to 3, keeping the main text clean and relegating notes to a separate section that nobody ever reads so that authors can be dishonest. In other words, endnotes advocates are either liars or supporters of liars.

Footnotes, on the other hand, favours design challenge 3 by placing the relevant note content at the bottom of every page where they are easily accessed. Properly designed footnotes will never interrupt or distract from the main text, so 4 is not really an issue.2 The beauty of footnotes is that they can and are read when desired. Nothing beats a good joke or rambling tangent in a footnote.

Parenthetical notes succeed on points 1-3. You are aware there is a note, you don’t need to track it down, and it is immediately accessible. But it is such a catastrophe on point 4 that it produces ugly text that no sane person wants to read. Because it interrupts the text so oafishly, those who employ parenthetical notes never use them for more than citations, which is the least interesting (but still needed) form of note.

These three notes forms are print-based and you may at this point be wondering how this all translates onto the web. This very article utilizes footnotes, which could seem like an attempt to inappropriately stuff print metaphors into a foreign medium. What about notes designs that are web-native? Since there’s no pagination on the web, aren’t my footnotes really just endnotes with easier access throught linking?

When it comes to reference notes, the web is unbeatable: it has hyperlinks. Notes are unnecessary for web-based references that can be linked to, but what if you’re referencing a print book with page numbers? Links won’t do the job (yet?). Hyperlinks do, however, make notes on the same page more immediately accessible through same-page anchors (it’s how they’re accessed on this page3), but it’s still somewhat annoying to have to click.

What I’m even more interested in are digital notes implementations that try something new within the medium. I think that the HTML/CSS/JavaScript web stack offers some fascinating possibilities (as do native apps). Instapaper, for example, recently implemented a digital-native notes design in its recent 4.0 release.

I have an idea or two for notes on web pages that I don’t want to discuss until I can show them. I love using notes as a writer, and love reading them as a reader, so I’d really love to create something that moves the form forward. Until then, keep thinking in tangents and noting it: that’s where the gold is.


  1. I simply cannot comprehend anyone choosing to use parenthetical notes. If you use or advocate for them you have been brainwashed and probably drool a lot. 
  2. Despite my obvious favouritism towards footnotes, large quantities of footnotes produce problems. Trouble occurs if more than 1/3 of a page is taken up with footnotes, or if a single note needs to be spread across multiple pages. 
  3. I now write all of my blog posts in Markdown, which is a great way to write. I use my own fork of the Markdown on Save WordPress plugin, although my changes are being merged in. 

Thank You

This recent commitment to blogging every day is going to be hard. How will I come up with enough to say? What if it stinks? Do I really have to write every day?

Then I realized that my perspective was all wrong. I get to write every day, and the crazy thing is that some people will actually read this. We have these things called the World Wide Web and easy-to-use software like WordPress that let me instantly make my thoughts available to nearly everyone on the planet.

This potential is beyond the wildest dreams of most authors in most places at most times. And I take it for granted every time I feel like not speaking with you, dear reader. So thank you. Thank you for having let your flitting about the web cease long enough to alight upon these words.

That 500 Posts Goal

When I relaunched this blog with its current design, I added post counts in an attempt to game myself into posting more often, with the goal of achieving 500 posts by the end of the year. That goal would have required posting in the neighbourhood of 2.5 times per week. I’ve posted only 15 times.

But, in conjunction with some newly available time, I idly wondered if that goal was even still feasible. Some quick math revealed that I needed 67 more posts to hit 500. I then discovered that there were 67 days left in 2011. Eerie.

So, I’m going for it. Not everything I post is going to be an essay, which was definitely the writing form that this design optimized itself for. That optimization has likely played a role in discouraging me from writing shorter-form posts. I might use this as an opportunity to play with post formats, especially now that there’s a usable UI.