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Jerry Seinfeld: ‘Success Is the Enemy of Irritability and Crankiness' — How to Stay Productive and Motivated

In this July 17, 2019, file photo, Jerry Seinfeld attends the LA Tastemaker event for Comedians in Cars at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills City.
Emma McIntyre | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

It's been more than 20 years since Jerry Seinfeld's eponymous television show, which ran for nine seasons, ended. But Seinfeld, 66, still works as a comic and made $51 million dollars in 2020, according to Forbes.

So to what does Seinfeld credit his creativity and career longevity? "Having a very cranky nature," he said during a recent episode of the podcast, "The Tim Ferriss Show."

While Seinfeld may have been partially joking, he does have a process. Here the tips that keep Seinfeld motivated — and you can use them, too.

Accept frustrations

Seinfeld said the majority of his job requires writing, editing and developing jokes, often re-writing every word in a joke several times on a legal pad until it feels perfect. Indeed, "work time" can be incredibly frustrating and occupying, he said.  

But that's the same drive that keeps Seinfeld working: "Success is the enemy of irritability and crankiness," he said. "Because now you have money, and you can remove the difficulties from your life and that's not good."

As someone who has made a lot of money, Seinfeld said, "the thing that did that really solve almost all of that issue is I got married," he said. Being married and having kids means that the material will "never run out," he said.

Set a time limit

"If you're going to write, make yourself a writing session," or a determine a digestible time that you're going to use to write or work on something, Seinfeld said. For example, you could set an alarm for 30 minutes or 10 minutes, depending upon what you feel like you can handle.

"Don't just sit down with an open ended," he said, "that's a ridiculous torture to put on a human being's head."

When you have an end point in sight, it also creates a reward to strive for, Steinfeld said on the podcast. "If you have the guts and the balls to sit down and write, you need a reward at the other end of that session," he said.

Enjoy the accomplishment

To stay organized, Seinfeld said he has two phases of writing: "the free, play, creative phase, and then there is the polish and construction phase." He often sits down with "15 or 20 pages of stuff that's in various stages of development," plus a smaller notebook with random notes and ideas, he said.

An idea "is like an archery target 50 yards away," he told Ferriss. "I take out my bow and my arrow, and I go, let me see if I can hit that." On a good day, he said he'll write about half a page of a legal pad.

Seinfeld likes to spend "inordinate amounts of time refining and perfecting every single word" until he's ready to share his material.

In fact, Seinfeld said he has a rule that he won't show people his writing right away. "I will always wait 24 hours before I say anything to anyone about what I wrote," he said. That way, he can enjoy the satisfaction of having written something, without another person's opinion getting in the way.

Check out: Barack Obama: ‘I am not well organized’ — 3 ways he stays productive

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