In my opinion, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the greatest comedians of the past 50 years.
And while I enjoy his sense of humor, I also like the commitment he seems to show to his craft and his willingness to try new outlets for his work. In these ways, he reminds me a lot of Bruce Springsteen.
As an example, Seinfeld created a very different type of show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, while Springsteen went to Broadway and put on a one-man act showcasing his stories and music.
In this week’s Pinkcast, Dan Pink shares one of the most valuable lessons he learned from reading Jerry’s book – Is This Anything, watching a documentary about his craft, and listening to this interview with Tim Ferriss.
The technique is known as “Don’t Break the Chain”.
Here’s the 99-second video that explains how it works; it’s actually quite simple, and I’m happy to say it’s something I practice every day as well:
The basic premise behind the idea arose from Jerry’s desire, when he was younger, to write better jokes. He knew the best way to write better jokes was to write a lot of jokes, and the only way to write a lot of jokes was to write every day.
So Jerry went out and got a large wall calendar, and when he wrote a joke the first day, he put an X on the date. When he wrote a joke the next day, he put an X on that date. Before long he had a chain of X’s. His only job then was to not break the chain.
Research suggests that consistency beats intensity; doing something regularly is far more effective than doing it every once in a while like a maniac.
And that’s what Jerry was doing, focusing on being consistent with his joke writing.
Like many of you, I write a blog post every day (I know many of you reading this also write something every day).
I’m not sure it has made me any more effective as a blogger, but that streak, like Jerry Seinfeld’s, is what keeps me going, especially during those first three years when I would rarely get a single like or comment on any of my blog posts.
While Dan suggests going out and buying a wall calendar and a marker to keep track of your chain, I don’t see a need for such items.
WordPress makes it pretty easy to know if you’ve missed a day or two…
*image from Kelly Croy
P.S. I’m not sure who came up with the idea first, but while looking for an image to go with this post, I came across something referred to as the “Tom Hanks Trick for Productivity“, which sounds exactly the same as Jerry Seinfeld’s approach. Allegedly, actor Tom Hanks likes to hold himself accountable for his writing by making an “X” on an old-school calendar each day that he writes. He likes to make as long a chain of connecting “Xs” as possible. Obviously, the longest chain produces the most writing, but more importantly, the longest chain also reinforces the positive habit he wants, writing.
If I were to give a name to my technique, I would call it the “Beat Cal Ripken Approach”. Now if only such an approach could make me be as financially successful as Seinfeld, Hanks, or Ripken…