Friday, June 11, 2010

Don't Be Like Seinfeld - Break the Chain

"Don't break the chain," - Seinfeld

There was a popular meme floating around a few years ago about how Seinfeld increased his productivity. He basically put Xs on a calendar for each day he wrote. And made himself feel like shit if he broke the chain of X's. The guilt encouraged him to write every day.

I call bullshit. Who knows though. Maybe it's true, maybe it helped him write and write and write. But I can't help also take in the evidence that if you want to improve at something or perform your best you shouldn't be doing the same thing every day.


They don't run and run and run.

Look up marathon schedules on Google. You'll find hundreds of schedules and training plans. 99% of them have one thing in common. Some days you run long, some days you run faster, some days you run short, some days you just don't do anything.

Here's a podcast of Jim Coudal at South by Southwest. He talks about "A General Theory of Creative Relativity". The whole hour long is good, which is a whole other blog post. But fast forward this thing to the last 50 seconds.

The comment maker brings up how an athlete can peak on a Saturday. Train normal on Monday, walk on Tuesday, nothing on Wed, medium on Thursday, and a short hard workout on Friday.


I'm doing p90x. You've probably seen the infomercial. It's this crazy home fitness thing.

"P90X is a revolutionary system of 12 sweat-inducing, muscle-pumping workouts, designed to transform your body from regular to ripped in just 90 days." Blah blah.

This thing has been working. And it's not magic. It's just hard friggin work for 90 days.

I get one day off a week. The other 6 days, it's a different workout every single day. Yoga, resistance, cardio, abs, plyometrics. It's all over the place.

p90x likes to call this "muscle confusion" :) Fine, muscle confusion. Seriously though, I've been doing some kind of fitness training for years and years now and if you meet with a trainer, I doubt you'll find a single one that would tell you to do the same thing every day without taking a day of rest.

Ad Copywriters

I've been reading a book recently called Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan. Amazon will tell you it's a "A Guide to Creating Great Ads". It's not. It's a book about: creativity, working better, working with constraints, being simple.

Luke mentions:

A guy named James Web Young, a copywriter from the 1940's, laid out a five step process of idea generation that still holds water today.

1. You gather as much information on the problem as you can. You read, you underline stuff, you ask questions, you visit the factory.

2. You sit down and actively attack the problem.

3. You drop the whole thing and go do something else while your subconcious mind works on the problem.

4. "Eureka!"

5. You figure out how to implement your idea.


So Inkling is now encrypting all our sensitive data (market questions, comments, etc.) for clients who want it in our database. One thing we use to do that is a plugin a guy named Sean Huber wrote for Ruby.

We had tested extensively but the night it was released. Bang, broken. But not broken all the time. Just randomly it was broken. We couldn't figure it out.

I spent the next 3 days just staring at this code every single day. I had no idea what was wrong. But I had a weekend at my in laws. Weekends at my in-laws I appreciate for a lot of reasons, but a huge one is that I rarely even crack open the laptop for 2 days.

As I was driving back home staring at the car in front of me, I decided to let my mind wonder on our problem again.

But since I had worked already so hard on the problem, I could see the code in my head. And sure enough, just sitting there in the car thinking about the code, it came to me why we were seeing such random bugs we couldn't reproduce. I could see in my head the exact line of Sean's code that was causing the problem.

And on Monday morning, I patched up the plugin to handle the problem.


There's tons of different takes on this. But the point is, if you want to play at a peak or you want to avoid reaching a plateau, you don't do the same thing every day.

Maybe for the Seinfeld thing, my issue isn't so much about just not breaking the chain, but you give this advice to someone and their likely to go out and work on the same project every day, on the same thing. Develop, develop, develop.

And how come we do this at our jobs?

How come when I worked for other people, all I got told is tasks that needed to get done, and I was expected to develop develop and develop.

I worked on moving a pretty large Java application from Weblogic to Oracle's application server. I worked on this day after day. After day. For months. Maybe that works well for routine work, but this wasn't routine. It might have done a lot better had someone been like "yo, don't work on that every day, it's not right".

Go look for a formula somewhere else. But the point of all of this is that for some reason most workplaces just don't get that if you want creativity and optimal awesomeness, you can't expect people to work and work and work.

And not just workplaces and your boss, but I don't think individually we really get this either.

When we started Inkling I remember coding 12 hours almost every single day, every day of the week for many months. We got great stuff done. But I can't help wonder if I could have performed even better had I made sure I was taking at least one day a week to not work, and some days I only code 4 hours, some days I work on SEO, and some days I talk to clients, some days I work on something I've never even considered working on before, variety variety, etc.

I'll leave this subject with this (found on Kitsune Noir):

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