Since 2014, my YouTube channel has gained more than 2.5 million subscribers and over 160 million views.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons in that time, and I have several “rules” that I believe have contributed to my channel’s growth.
This is the number one rule. If I could only share one piece of advice with you, it would be this one. I called The 1% Rule.
Here it is:
Put yourself on a publishing schedule. Daily, weekly, once a month – the right schedule for you will vary, but having a schedule is key.
For each piece of content you create, focus on getting 1% better in an area that interests you.
That’s it. This rule is simple, and it allows you to do things that are fun every time you pick up the camera, hook up your mic, or start typing. Regardless of medium or niche, you can follow the 1% Rule.
Why the 1% Rule is So Important
When I started trying to make videos, I wasted a ton of time for one reason: perfectionism. I felt like I needed to create the perfect first video – but there was one problem.
All the creators I was watching at the time had expensive cameras and lenses. Their backgrounds were full of blurry, creamy bokeh. Their microphones were super-expensive. They had nice lighting and background props.
I didn’t have any of this expensive gear, and I felt like I couldn’t make the perfect video until I had it.
I was right about part of that: I couldn’t (and still can’t) make the perfect video.
But guess what? No one else can either. Perfection is unattainable. In fact, even “good enough” is hard to achieve.
Ira Glass, the famed host of This American Life, calls this the “Taste Gap”. You’re a creative; you have great taste. But since you haven’t actually made much yet, you can’t create art that’s up to your taste standards.
Here’s the whole quote – it’s worth reading and re-reading (bolding added by me):
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.
And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.
And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Let me repeat that, in case you’re half-reading this on your phone while binging a Netflix show (I see you, Derek):
You only gain skill as a creator by doing a huge volume of work.
You have to put in the reps. And the reps only help you improve if you’re challenging yourself each time. Both ingredients have to be there – repetition and challenge. In the weightlifting world, we call this progressive overload. The muscles grow through repetitions and constantly increasing weights.
The same thing happens with creative skill. Hence, the 1% Rule.
6 years separate these two videos; can you see the difference in production quality?
There are two types of things you don’t know:
- Things you know you don’t know
- Things you don’t know that you don’t know
The latter type is called second-order incompetence, and you will always have a lot of it – but you have a huge amount of it when you’re in the beginning stages of your journey as a creator.
Five things I didn’t know when I started as YouTuber:
- Putting a “hair light” above you will create really nice contrast and separation between your head and your background. Look for this in movies – you’ll see it all the time.
- A key principle of motion design is “easing” – acceleration and deceleration, which looks more natural than linear motion. This can be improved further by deforming the thing being animated at the start and end of movement. Disney animators do this all the time.
- Microphones have different polar patterns – areas around the mic where sound is picked up or rejected. Additionally, the tube of a shotgun microphone can increase reverberations (bad echoes) in indoor spaces. This is why pro sound operators in Hollywood often use hypercardioid mics in indoor settings instead of traditional shotgun mics.
- There’s a type of cut called a “J cut” in editing – instead of cutting the audio and video between two shots at the same time, the audio is cut before the video by a few frames. When done right, this feels more natural to the viewer – even though they often can’t say why.
- “Ducking” is a concept in sound design that involves reducing the volume of background music when the person in the shot is speaking. You can even automate this – and it makes the whole thing sound better.
All five of these things help me make better videos. Not perfect videos, mind you – but better ones.
And I didn’t know about any of them when I was starting out! I also didn’t know about 10,000 other things that I know now.
Tech details that help me operate expensive cinema cameras. Nervous system improvements that let me get better shots with a gimbal. Set design knowledge that tells me where to put lights in the background of a shot. Editing tricks that make videos much more entertaining.
When I was starting out, I had no idea about any of this stuff.
So how the heck was I ever going to make a “perfect” video?
Perfection is a pipe dream. You don’t know what you don’t know, and there’s a million things out there that could make your next video 10x better.
The only useful goal is to make something better than last time.
How to Pick What to Work On
How do you decide which thing you should improve on with each video? Simple – follow your interests.
Content creation is not a short-term game. Building an audience, and a body of impressive work, takes time. You have to love it or you’ll burn out.
One way that I’ve kept my interest in making content high over the past 11 years is by constantly looking for ways to get better.
A primary way I do this is by watching other people’s content. When I see something I like, my brain often goes,
“How the heck do they do that?’
…and then I go figure out how.
I can give you a whole laundry list of areas in which you could improve (and maybe I will later), but the key principle is to follow your interest.
This is exactly what I’ve done.
One week, I’ll be interested in set design.
The next, learning how to apply EQ and compression to improve my audio.
Another, figuring out how to animate text in After Effects to make a quote look cooler.
1%, 1%, 1%.
Over time, the little improvements add up, and suddenly you’re knowledgeable about those 10,000 things you didn’t know about before.
Want to see an example of the 1% Rule in action? Check out my personal 1% Rule journal: