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#8: Authenticity, Jerry Seinfeld, & Productivity

He’s not the new DB - he’s the ODB
Fun fact: the night I macked on my future life partner I played her ODB’s first album. Yes, it was a test.

Hey – we made it through another week! Our president doesn’t tweet nonsense all the time, and apparently the center of the universe is Joe Manchin. Still, an improvement the previous 4 years. Hey Dirtay – Congress has your money!

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What is authenticity if not actually doing the things you claim you care about day in and day out?

Jessica Abel
Dave Chappelle
Name this sketch

I spoke at length about authenticity two weeks ago in the Neil Gaiman issue (the first of many, I’m sure – eventually I’ll re-read The Sandman for the first time in years and finally notice all the thing 16yo me totally missed).

I’ve taken a break from Growing Gills as my week of uber-productivity a fortnight ago gave a me good excuse to read other things but this quote stuck with me. It’s a more pointed version of Aristotle’s supposed statement “We are what we repeatedly do.”

Maybe it’s what kicked off my current streak of productivity. Things tend to simmer in my brain before they manifest and I started pondering the quote at least 4+ weeks ago. If there’s one thing the pandemic has done is give us plenty of time to think.

Think about what we do. Think about what we want, or need, to do. Think about who we spend time with. Think about how we spend our time.

I came across this on Twitter yesterday:

I’ve done pretty well in the past year, compared to the rest of my family. And I’ve managed to create a lifestyle built around my family, including wearing flip flops 90% of the time.

But I still like not rushing around. I don’t miss being around people. Once we got past the constant stress of our daily political & life-threatening shitshow, I became productive. And that’s not something I intend on changing, because I don’t need a zillion acquaintances but I do need to get my stories out.

After years spent avoiding what I should be doing (for various reasons, including some extremely negative childhood experiences that I keep having to rehash while working on my memoir), I’m finally doing what I should be doing. And being true to myself by making sure I make daily progress towards completing my stories.

Mike from Dazed & Confused
I wanna dance too but that hair is NEVER gonna happen.

Authenticity feels good, even if I veer into the misanthropic. Not saying I don’t need people, but I’ll take quality over quantity. And 27 years after falling in love with Dazed & Confused, this is me:

I’m just being honest about being a misanthrope.

Mike, Dazed & Confused

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Let’s talk a little about productivity, or how I keep my motivation to get shit done.

delicious sushi with raw fish
This is what came up when I searched stock photos for productivity. Who am I to argue?

Step 1: Have a deep fn desire to do [ what it is that moves you ]
Step 2: Do it every gd day, in more than token efforts
Step 3: Keep doing it every gd day

That’s the basics of it but if I don’t keep an eye on what I’m really doing, it’s easy to fall into the I’ll catch up tomorrow trap.

Years ago while reading way too many articles on productivity I came across Jerry Seinfeld’s method of productivity: Don’t break the chain:

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.

Jerry Seinfeld, via Brad Isaac
Jerry Seinfeld

Notice the date on that article – it’s from 2007. I didn’t really start putting this method to use until 2015 (that might be allowing things to simmer to an extreme). I did a shit-ton of martial arts between 2013 & 2015. I don’t recall why I stopped but as I noticed my body revert back to middle age I decided to work out every day. And the app I used for the 7 minute scientific workout kept track of how often I did it.

It turns out that maintaining a streak is incredibly effective. Seinfeld was right – once you get a streak going, your only only job is to not break the chain. Mostly this is about creating daily habits and sticking to them but keeping track of them is, I find, even more motivating.

Fast forward to last year, when I found a decent app to keep track of the habits I wanted to create. In spring I learned of Kids Comic Unite (ref link) and found my people. And decided to make an honest go of making comics, which meant tangible, daily progress.

I thought back to doing a 100 days of making comics challenge 2 years ago, which required 30 minutes of comic work daily. I often did a lot more, and I finished the first challenge imperfectly, missing 4 or 5 days. The second challenge was perfect – I spent 30 minutes on making comics every single day for 100 days. While the streak was nice, the result was actually having comics done – that’s when the bulk of my works on my two webcomics was done.

Done app
The amount of color is how much of your weekly goal you’ve met so far, the number is how long your streak is.

When I decided last year use my newfound free time to dedicate myself to comics, I needed an app to keep track of the streak and found that there were a LOT of habit trackers out there. I settled on one called Done, which lets me do the following:

  1. Keep track of 3 habits in the free version. I considered upgrading but adding more things to keep track of felt like work.
  2. Track a flexible amount of times per week instead of strictly daily. This is important because life. Some days shit happens or other responsibilities need attention.

I want to work out 5x a week, spend at least 7h a week on comics, and 3.5h a week drawing. Most weeks now I exceed the minimum for writing and drawing by quite a bit.

Sometimes I’m drawing a comic, which counts for both comics and drawing- and that’s fine. I want to draw every day to consistently improve and any drawing counts. Other times I might only write a comic while drawing stuff to improve (yesterday I worked on an outline and practiced drawing hands).

Keeping track of both the consistency of my efforts and the actual amount of time spent has made a big difference in my productivity. I learned that my old minimums were needlessly low and I could increase them as I got more hooked on getting stuff done. And that keeping track makes me accountable to myself.

I’m still working on actual goal-setting on a weekly basis (ie what I want to get done that week) but the progress alone is intoxicating.

It looks like life is going to get back to normal this year, if the Republicans don’t completely fuck everyone over. I’m going to try my best to continue my pandemic-fueled productivity, come hell or high water.

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What I’m Reading

Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

I’ve made it through half of Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers (ref link) in the past week. I’ll write about it at length when I’m done but it’s a fascinating read. The general idea: people like things to be surprising but familiar, and success is often due to pure dumb luck and network effects.

However, one of my story ideas falls firmly in the ‘surprising but familiar’ realm and I’ve been working my ass off on the outline, being inspired by Thompson’s book. (And also because my turn with my critique group is on Tuesday O.o).

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That’s all folks!

Wow – writing was two hours on the nose today! Maybe I’m getting better at this.

Did this issue get you thinking? Leave a comment & tell me what’s one your mind.

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