On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
At its peak, Seinfeld was the most popular show on TV. Seasons six and nine, in particular were the number one shows on Nielsen at the time, with the finale being viewed by 76 million people. For its creator and eponymous leading star, the show earned him $267 million in 1998, alone.
At the top of his game and popularity, Jerry Seinfeld decided to pull the plug and end the show. While the desire to go out on top was one of the reasons the show stopped, in an interview with Harvard Business Review, Seinfeld also admitted he was burnt out from handling every aspect of the show.
“If you’re efficient, you’re doing it the wrong way. The right way is the hard way,” Seinfeld told HBR. “The show was successful because I micromanaged it—every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting. That’s my way of life.”
As one of the greatest comedians of all time — someone who has been practicing the art of standup comedy since the ’70s — Seinfeld approaches his work like the ultimate craftsman; he sees himself more like an athlete perfecting his technique than an artist trying to search for inspiration.
I like money, but it’s never been about the money. It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai. I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.JERRY SEINFELD INTENDS TO DIE STANDING UP | THE NEW YORK TIMES
Jerry Seinfeld’s daily writing routine
In a 2020 interview with The New York Times, Seinfeld described his typical daily routine during the COVID-19 pandemic — the first thing he does in the morning is splash water on his face.
“I got it from the movie “The Hustler,” with Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman. That’s how I change modes from lying down to standing up,” he told David Itzkoff. “It’s like on Broadway: You need a curtain to come down between the first act and the second act. To me, that’s water on your face. And then I look at my face with water dripping off it. And that’s when I go [claps hands together], ‘All right. Let’s go.’ I want to look like Muhammad Ali on a coffee-table book.”
Seinfeld also revealed that not much has changed since his early comedy years — he still writes every day. “I still have a writing session every day. It’s another thing that organizes your mind. The coffee goes here. The pad goes here. The notes go here,” he explained. “My writing technique is just: You can’t do anything else. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. The writing is such an ordeal. That sustains me.”
As part of his writing process, Seinfeld is also known for coming up with the famous productivity hack – the “Don’t break the chain” technique. Brad Isaacs, who doing comedy around the same time as Seinfeld explains the method in a Lifehacker interview – “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.”
Seinfeld showed Isaacs a calendar system he used to make sure he wrote every day. “He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall,” Isaacs said. “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.Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret | Lifehacker
In addition to his writing sessions, Seinfeld is also driven by his love of working out the jokes on-stage. “If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he told Jonah Weiner in a 2012 interview, aptly-titled, Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up.
“I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”
Then, before he gets on-stage, Seinfeld does his pre-show routine:
Every comedian, like every athlete, has a little routine. Mine is to look at my notes until five minutes before the show. When my tour producer says, “Five minutes,” I put on the jacket, and when the jacket goes on, it’s like my body knows, “OK, now we’ve got to do our trick.” And then I stand, and I like to just walk back and forth, and that’s it. That’s my little preshow routine. I never vary it. It just feels comfortable.Life’s Work: An Interview with Jerry Seinfeld | Harvard Business Review
In a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, Seinfeld went into detail about his current exercise and meditation routine, which finds the comedian practicing Transcendental Meditation twice a day, training with weights for an hour, three times a week, and HIIT training, also three times a week.
“I think your body needs that stress, that stressor,” Seinfeld told Ferriss. “And I think it builds the resilience of the nervous system, and I think Transcendental Meditation is the absolutely ultimate work tool.”
Before you go…
Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.