Life hacks

To what extent is your life just a sequence of tricks, shortcuts, and workarounds that you’ve learned over time?

The term “life hacks” is being used these days to describe discrete techniques and heuristics that can make you more productive and (sometimes) happier. As the author of an upcoming book entitled Life Hacks, Danny O’Brien, says, “Hacks are often a way of cutting through an apparently complex system with a really simple, nonobvious fix.” Here’s a favorite of mine that I use fairly often. If you’re afraid you might forget to take some important thing to work tomorrow, put your car keys underneath it.

Various blogs are devoted to this topic. One is even called Lifehacker. I read Lifehacker regularly, and I regularly find something useful to try. The Danny O’Brien quote above comes from an interview on that site (here’s another good interview with O’Brien’s co-author Merlin Mann). Still, I find myself wondering, what is it really that makes some people particularly productive? A pack of clever tricks and what else? O’Brien himself puts it well: “If I’m honest … most of this capability doesn’t come from habits. It just comes from being born insufferably talented.” In other words, super-talented people have learned some useful tricks, and these tricks take them from being merely 8.6 times more effective than you are to 8.95 times more effective. Think of all the people who try to play music more beautifully by buying the most expensive instrument. It only gets you so far.

What I’d really like to see is a blog called LifeDiaries, or something like that, dedicated to how productive people manage large chunks of their time. What is it that you do with discipline day after day? I bet super-productive people are not only more talented than you… they also work much much harder. It’s nice to know things like that. When you’re so obviously outclassed, it becomes easier to relax, drink a beer, and concentrate on something you really enjoy.

Finally, here’s my life hack contribution to you, free of charge: first, have a brilliant idea. Then do a really good job making it happen.

I oughta write a book.

2 thoughts on “Life hacks”

  1. A few thoughts:

    – that was an explicit Monty Python reference, right? (“How to cure all known diseases. First, have a really good idea and then, when the scientific community start to listen to you, you just tell them how and make sure they get it all down right so there’ll be no more diseases.”)

    – I’m vaguely reminded of a movie that, I think, starred Patrick Stewart, as a former intelligence agent who was worried that he was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s. Good movie to see when you’re in the right mood (i.e. interested in the mind and how it works). He had put together some hacks for real life, and his reaction to crisis was based on a prepared series of truly moby hacks.

    – The only hack I can provide is not really a hack, more a straightforward survival mechanism: keep a small pad and a pen on that little table your alarm clock sits on next to the bed, so that when your wife tells you something at 11pm that You Are Not Allowed To Forget, you can just write it down.

  2. Yes, that was a Monty Python reference. You’ve spotted my obscure Tom Lehrer references too. I need to start footnoting and cross-references into a Pythonography or WikiLehrerPedia or something. For those of you in the cheap seats, here’s the complete quote on how to rid the world of all known diseases.

    “Well, first of all, become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there’ll never be any diseases ever again.”

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