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Confessions of a recovering lifehacker (johnpavlus.wordpress.com)
262 points by adambyrtek on May 23, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

> Maybe all the time I spend looking for better ways to do things is keeping me from, well, doing things.


People are complicating their lives just to decomplicate later. It's a vicious cycle designed to keep the market flowing. Needs are created in real time, we don't even know why we need certain things any more. We live under the anxiety created by the excess of excess.

With 99% of the so called "life hacks", we're just trying to eliminate a problem that we created by another "life hack". Oh a nice trick to keep the iPhone doing X? Cool! Why did I need X in the first place again??? I don't remember. And the iPhone...why did I buy it? I just play a silly game and use the contacts list most of the time.

There is a:

99% chance you don't need your email available 24x7

99% chance you don't need a new car

99% chance you don't need a cell phone turned on 24x7

99% chance that 99% of the shit ton of information you gather daily will be thrown out of your brain in just a few weeks

99% chance you don't need a stupid GPS guiding what you do, where you drive

99.99% chance you don't really need a new iPad, iThis, iThat, HTC that, whatever

99% chance you don't need the extra U$ 1000 on your sallary

99% chance you didn't need to be tweeting or checking your email while there was a nice person sitting next to you while you waited at the airport

99% chance you don't need to be all you can be better richer faster more

This is why the world is turning into a bunch of control freaky, unhappy, lonely, greedy and unhealthy bunch of individuals.

I discovered this one day. I said fuck it and went for a walk at the park. Since then, I've done the same thing daily and I don't miss the other 1567 things I used to do on the Internet instead of having a silly walk at the park.

"Life hacking" is a term that repels me. Modern life's demands are often insane. You don't hack it, instead you should run away as far as possible.

Most current work environments consist of 8 hour long streams of interruptions. You could say that dealing with the interruptions is the actual work now, and the work that you were supposed to do has been relegated to being a nuisance.

Of course, this results in the birth of the entire GTD and "life hacking" fads, because people foolishly believe that this mess is somehow manageable.

What you describe above could be seen as withdrawal symptoms from persistent hyper-stimulation and hyper-responsiveness. People are so used to constant external stimuli that require attention and feedback at the workplace, that they need to recreate these situations at home.

I think that in this regard, television is an old medium, because it is content with you just sitting on your lazy ass.

You could say that dealing with the interruptions is the actual work now, and the work that you were supposed to do has been relegated to being a nuisance.

So we don't need evented dev environments so much as we need evented people?

Yeah, it's kind of funny how everyone thinks that because I'm a computer programmer I must have a fancy phone with a data plan and always return all my calls and texts and everything immediately. Not that I can blame them, in my experience many of my peers are that way.

It's irritating how sites like LifeHacker imply that you need to be going 100mph all day every day, working with the latest gadgets using the latest technology to make more money to buy more stuff.

Maybe some of us are perfectly fine just working our day job on our line of business software and then going home and hanging out with our families and playing with our dogs.

I still have LifeHacker on my iGoogle homepage, but I rarely actually read the articles aside from the "top download for the week" ones, which are sometimes interesting just to see what new stuff is out there.

The main problem is that most of their "hacks" are written in such a way that implies that you are WASTING YOUR LIFE if you aren't following some kind of strict 37 Signals approved code and micro-managing every aspect of everything to death.

I kind of wish "life hacks" as we know them today could be replaced with a simple set of tricks, such as "melt a pen cap to remove weird screws" or "blanch onions to make peeling them easier". A blending of classic tricks (like the onions) and modern tricks (pen cap).

99% chance you don't need a cell phone turned on 24x7

Agreed, my phone automatically powers off at 11PM and on at 7:30AM, and I barely ever notice. I do notice the improved battery life though.

99% chance you don't need a stupid GPS guiding what you do, where you drive

While true, the cost of a GPS unit is so low it is easy to throw one in the glove box for that 1% when you do need it.

I realize this question is entirely contrary to the OP's point, but I really must know: how do you get your phone to automatically turn off and on? It must be a hardware feature, and not an app, right?

Heh, this is a $20 dumbphone from AT&T (Huawei U2800A). It is probably a hardware feature, PC RTC wakeup style. Not sure if the various appphones can wake up at a time, though there ought to be apps or settings to shut down at a time.

On Android I doubt you can completely shut the phone down and wake it up again, but you can certainly kill the network on timers.

There are the more complicated battery saving apps that do stuff like kill 3G while your screen is off and overnight.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=be1ay.flymode&... would be a pretty simple way of solving the problem too.

I do nearly the same thing, just with flight-mode from 1am to 7am. N900 event editor.

However, I agree with the parent to some extent; I could live just fine without tech for as long as required, but on the other hand the information super-firehose is fun and stimulating in ways a walk in the park just isn't. Keyword: moderation.

My 3-year-old Japanese dumb phone does that. It's a pretty common feature.

That's what Lifehacker used to be about. I don't know what it's about now since I can't see anything in the flood of posts.

Hey! Getting my app to do something of questionable utility in a completely stereotypical but pretty-looking way featured on Lifehacker is the keystone of my marketing plan!

>While true, the cost of a GPS unit is so low it is easy to throw one in the glove box for that 1% when you do need it.

They used to have these things calls "maps" that performed this job really really well. I think they were $10 for a really good one.

Haven't seen one of them in ages.

I personally find a GPS unit (or, now, a GPS app on my phone) to be way more convenient than a map. Safer, too, since I can pay more attention to the actual driving.

Sure, but the original point was about need, not convenience. Personally, I use google maps on my phone, since it's always in my pocket anyway.

"Need" is a difficult word to work with, here. Do you "need" electricity? Your ancestors got by fine without it. Beyond air, water, and food, you don't really need anything.

Also basic shelter. Often underrated when blocking out needs.

I have several in my car, and I make use of them. I find they are great for navigating freeways, but GPS is better in-town, particularly for locating an arbitrary house address or a business by name.

The best hack I know is to shake a head of garlic between two bowls for about 30 seconds to peel every single clove!

I've never heard the pen cap thing before. That, sir, is genius.

I agree with you, but don't understand the OP. Why does he stick to the "life hacker" term at all? The lifehacker blog is terrible, but we have always defended the term "hacker" against popular interpretations (=cracker). Can we still save the term "life hacker"? For me, that'd be someone without a cellphone.

There's a actually an established term for most of your list: Early Adopters. A marketing euphemism for people who waste their life and money trying out products you throw at them. It can be fun, but when I see people on Twitter with that term in their bio, I can't help but facepalm.

And then there's another group of people - those who tune their tools forever.

Both obsessions are incredibly common on HN. One harmless case in point, this submission on the front page left me clueless:


How many people on this planet have that many management duties that exchanging all stock apps is worth the time? Is it a Zen garden thing? (Sorry author - I have actually at half of those apps too :) )

Can we still save the term "life hacker"? For me, that'd be someone without a cellphone.

That would be me.

I don't own a cellphone since 2004. I've got tired of being constantly available (and disrupted), so I ditched the damn thing. It may not be practical for everybody, but it works for me. The world has its own pace and I have mine.

For me, the biggest inconvenience of not having a cellphone are those businesses (websites) that insist on a "cellphone #" being a required field during a sign-up or when requesting a quote.

Disclaimer: I run my own show.

Good for you! If it wasn't for my 3 year old daughter I'd have done the same thing and gone completely phone-less. As it stands I like knowing that in an emergency, I'm reachable. Instead I use a family plan that equates to about 20 dollars a month for my share which includes unlimted calls and texts.

I think with 'smartphones' being so expensive that phone contract prices in general have gone up. So far I've never owned a smart-phone and hopefully I can stay away from that bloated cost.

Disclaimer: I live in suburban amerika in a moderate-sized city with a low(er) cost of living. (Think LA is 1.5 x more expensive then here.)

...And yes, I threw in a Rammstein reference.

While I see the appeal of not having a mobile phone, I'd say that if you never had a smart-phone, you could give it a try before you say it's a bloated cost. It can actually improve your life in many ways and on my side it's definitely worth the cost even if I don't call anyone that often. I'd be even glad to own a smart-... thing. It doesn't have to have a phone function.

I do appreciate having a map with me, being able to transfer money wherever I am, take a photo without carrying a full camera, read a book on a plane without adding the weight to the luggage, have some music available when I'm bored, not having to print tickets when possible, having all my notes/calendar without carrying an actual notebook, and a number of other things that simply improve my life without any downsides.


No phone an a Wifi-only iPad might be a good choice for your first paragraph (assuming you have reliable wireless at your home), although the size would hinder mobility a decent bit.

Well, there always is "the small wifi ipad", which is called ipod touch ;). Actually, it may be a very good fit for that purpose.

You know I have an iPod touch and completely forgot about it haha

Brilliant. This reminds me of Knuth who stopped using email back in 1990 (!) [1]

[1] http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/email.html

If only my work is as important as his is!

You can say that Knuth went of the grid to accomplish something extraordinary, but I did it once I've realized that my life is actually mine to live and that the world would not end if I'm not reachable. I quit being Atlas and the sky didn't fall.

<raises hand /> I don't have a cellphone either. I can't think of anything to add to the annoyances you already mentioned, but I would just like to point out that in terms of not being interrupted, ditching my cellphone is about the best thing I've ever done.

Well in the link you pointed to, the author did it over a period of years. We'll assume he's drunk and it's only 1 year and a day. He seems to mention 6 default apps. That means he replaced 1 default app every ~2 months. That doesn't really indicate a bunch of time spent on it. It's just changes over a significant period accruing. Personally, I just don't give a shit enough to do that to my phone, but I do with Emacs.

The term Lifehack is just a catchy term to describe ways of optimising the things you do, that has slowly turned into a way of short-cutting things so you can fit even more stuff that isn't fun into your day.

Realistically, the only reason you should use lifehacks is to free your time up for things you enjoy. I occasionally use the pomodoro technique to get things done, but gave up massive GTD lists a long time ago.

I used to use super-organised lists and manage my time GTD-style, but I found that the big problem was whatever I did, there was always more stuff to do. In the end I just left it. No matter what I do work-wise, there will always be more. All you can do is set time limits and work within them.

Nowadays I just use Wunderlist to list what I currently need to do that's urgent, then cut off at 6pm. I never take phone calls after 8pm unless it's from my wife or family, which makes my life a whole lot simpler outside of work. The only downside is that I typically work a 6 day week. Still working on that, but I'm grateful that what I do for work is mostly actually fun.

I was with you until the "extra U$ 1000 on your salary" :) .

I've got great plans for those (getting married, buying a house, having kids).

You do it all with money? No, money can help, certainly. But I think the point of the (grand)parent post was life is more important than its hacks. In this, you seem to be in agreement.

> I said fuck it and went for a walk at the park.

The ultimate lifehack. Living it.

People are complicating their lives just to decomplicate later.

Well, it's something to do 'til the undertaker comes.


Life hacking might sometimes be what my grandfather called "working to get out of work" or rather, doing a lot of fiddling in order to avoid actual work.

I know I'm definitely guilty of this at times.

Maybe next time someone hassles us with why we don't "lifehack", we can respond with the following:

"I don't want to clean my room to avoid writing a paper for my entire life"

> 99% chance you don't ...

This is kind of why most startups I see, or at least, with web apps, I think will do nothing.

The other thing with most of them and almost society in general now is this great congregating of all things whilst not improving. There's an amusing selfishness that's hypocritically common now too.

I also wonder how exactly they're measuring their lives. By the amount of trivial things they get done? By how efficiently they can read a message on the internet? A lot of it comes down to 'neat party tricks.'

I'm a lifehacker:

If I don't want to do it, it doesn't make me money, and its not a family obligation, I don't do it.

How I hack email:

Employees and close friends get my email address. No one else should have it.

How I hack my phone:

Employees, close friends, and attractive girls have it. I never answer an unknown number. I never return a call from a company, they have to send something in writing.

How I hack making phone calls to companies:

Personal assistant does it.

How I hack snail mail:

My lawyer picks it up once a week, important stuff I see eventually.

Lifehacking isn't about optimizing an annoying task, its about not doing it.

"Lifehacking isn't about optimizing an annoying task, its about not doing it."

I would argue that most of us don't have personal assistants and lawyers to deal with our petty problems 24/7.

I'd argue that not doing something is just a form of optimization.

Case in point:

My current smartphone is at the manufacturer getting repaired, it has been 3 weeks now. In the meantime I picked up one of those cheap-as-all-hell-pay-as-you-go-phones...

In three weeks I've needed to charge it one time... considering how little I actually use my phone I've spent about $20 on minutes and I haven't used half of them yet.

I'll actually be a little sad when my smartphone comes back, I'm thinking about telling the manufacturer to just keep it.

I actually have 2 phones: a Nokia phone for calling and texting, and a smartphone that acts as a mini-tablet, for the data plan, mail, Skype, internet and games.

The Nokia phone lasts several days, the other one can be dead by midafternoon and is charged daily.

This is my jam, my phone battery lasts forever. I've been using a Nokia e71 + iPod Touch/iPad (no data plan any more) combo for a couple of years now.

95% of the time I ever NEED internet, I am at the office, home, or at a friend's place with wifi. I would rather spend the ~$1000/year all my friends spend on their iphone on other hobbies/ activities.

I hear you -- couldn't have said it better. (Then again -- there was a 99% chance you didn't need to check HN at this point...)

> 99% chance you don't need a stupid GPS guiding what you do, where you drive

I wish I were part of this 99% :(

I hear ya. It might be true for some people that they don't need a GPS, but having an always in my pocket GPS whenever I'm in an unfamiliar neighborhood reduces my stress level a lot.

>99% chance you don't need the extra U$ 1000 on your sallary

Have you SEEN Bay Area rent prices? I've got a decent salary and it still takes a big bite out of what's left after CA taxes.

99% chance you don't need to live in Bay Area ...

Learn to live a more mindful live... google mindfulness and so on... get into this (minus the esoteric crap) and you will be amazed what changes it can bring.

The ultimate lifehack: figuring out how to eliminate all the things you're hacking.

One of the interesting things about lifehacking is that it seems to be one of those things where "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" - kind of like the kid who takes Philosophy 101, learns a little bit about syllogisms and formal deductive fallacies like ad hominems, and goes around being obnoxious while never realizing that actually, most deductive fallacies are valid inductive arguments. (If a Nobel physicist claims something about a random point in quantum mechanics, he really is more likely to be correct than a guy sitting next to you on the bus, even though if you wrote this down on a syllogism test, this would be flagged as an 'argument from authority'.) We might call this "the valley of bad rationality" http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Valley_of_bad_rationality

In the case of lifehacking, it's more a case of "the valley of bad economics": of knowing just enough economics to understand that saving time is valuable and worth paying for upfront, but not being good enough to take the analysis any further and consider things like 1) how much time you are actually saving on net, 2) how long you are likely to be using any system and receiving the gains you paid for, 3) and whether you might not be overestimating both figures.

Frequently, you find that even large apparent gains are not actually justified solely on the basis of saving time because of the uncertainty and discounting of future gains you need to do.

To give some examples I recently worked through some numbers on various self-experiments I've done: http://lesswrong.com/lw/cih/value_of_information_8_examples/

The striking thing is that even the most dramatic self-experiments like using melatonin to improve my sleep did not justify very time-consuming (and more reliable) experiments, and the most efficient thing to do would just take melatonin on the strength of my background information and subjective impressions of efficacy.

In regards to your first paragraph: I understand your sentiments, but speaking of "argument from authority" in specific...

I always took this to mean that we can't believe something just because an expert says it. In other words, an expert should be more correct than the guy on the bus, but an argument needs to stand on its own -- it doesn't really matter who says it.

So you wouldn't be flagged for saying the Nobel physicist is more likely to be correct. You would be flagged if you said he is correct because he's a Nobel physicist.

Is my understanding correct? Disclaimer: I've never taken any Philosophy class. :)

I don't know what you mean by 'just because'. If a Nobel physicist tells me that in 24 dimensions, it's true that you can't frobnicate the fooar while preserving bariconicity, I'm going to believe that indeed, you can't so frobnicate things 'just because' he told me that.

So would I. But why? Because I don't know anything about quantum physics, and he's supposed to have a good grasp of the truth of the subject, so I would just take his word for it (a small act of faith). But his word is not what makes it true or false.

If the most celebrated nutritionist told me that eating nothing but baked beans was the healthiest diet in the world, I wouldn't believe him 'just because' he's an expert. I know enough about the subject of nutrition to consider his Baked Beans idea demented. So, I would ask him to show some sort of evidence.

P.S. I'll be reading more of your Value of Information: 8 examples article. Very interesting!

There's a reason why Steven Covey's "7 Habits" is such a popular book, and it's because it delivers a fantastic framework - not a list of 1000 self-help tips - for building a life organized around your principles.

He spends a whole chapter talking about the tyranny of the "urgent" and how we often allow it to crowd out the "important"... and how essential it is to plan/balance the necessity of one vs. the desires of the other.

I think I realized this intuitively when I was about 20 or so, but when you have your principles defined and commit to them daily, everything else flows from there... When you have a driving purpose in life, everything from confidence to leadership to relational skills to technical skills and even your desire for being physically in-shape all develop and naturally flow out from your overarching desire to meet that purpose. Covey calls it "true north", and it's a great metaphor -- when you know "true north", all paths that don't bring you in that direction immediately and quickly become irrelevant to your life.

Even better, you rarely need self-help books along the way, simply because life will teach you all the unique lessons and tricks you need to learn as you strive intentionally towards that mission.

With that said, once you've decided that you're doing things that matter, hack away, because time is still the currency of life.

On the other hand, one of Covey's habits is "sharpen the saw." Which is just another metaphor for Lifehacking. If you take a few minutes to optimize your tool, your work will be easier. On the other hand, if you spend your day sharpening the saw, at some point it's not going to get usably sharper, and you're just wasting time. You've got to find a way to strike the balance.

Oh I'm in full agreement with you... I was just trying to elucidate the point that I felt like John needed to drive home - the importance of asking the big questions first, because only then will we have a direction in life that makes it easy to discard all the distractions... otherwise we're merely placing bandaids over lesions rather than curing the disease.

I'm not in control of my email inbox; the thing fills up faster than I can deal with it. From a GTD lifehacking perspective this is bad. From a normal human perspective this is bad; I don't like to feel that I am perpetually disappointing people by not responding to them quickly.

I could put a lot of time and effort into getting it under control and keeping it under control. In fact I've tried a few times, although it always reverted back to out of control as soon as I got busy again.

Re-read that last sentence--I let it go "as soon as I got busy again." It took me a while but I realized that this is actually my own healthy attitude about email...it's not what keeps me busy. My real work is what keeps me busy, or my family, or my friends. Email is what I fit in around the real stuff I do.

I've accepted that email management means simply choosing who to disappoint on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. In a way it's flattering that all these people want my attention and efforts. But it's not sustainable. So I've consciously tried to shift my mental energy from trying to "fix" my email, to simply trying to make the best decisions about who to disappoint as I go along with my real work.

Yeah, the most important part of managing your e-mail is training people not to e-mail you 10 times a day expecting prompt responses, especially for things that are not really urgent.

The prevalence of cell phones and always-available internet has led a lot of people to believe that you need to always take every phone call, always respond to every text and e-mail.

I've developed a habit of waiting at least a day or two before responding to e-mails and phone calls. Let the message bounce around in your brain for a few days and actually make a well reasoned response.

You'd be amazed how often problems will resolve themselves, and training people not to expect you to respond immediately 24/7 will gradually reduce the amount of stuff you get sent.

It's very important to train people. Otherwise, they get the idea that their entitled to an instant response.

Wow I could have written this same exact blog post. "Maybe all the time I spend looking for better ways to do things is keeping me from, well, doing things." This realization also hit me not too long ago. Everything had to be setup just right, I had to know every little detail, and it had to be done efficiently. However, I realized I was getting absolutely nothing done. I learned much more and got more things done by just jumping into whatever I needed to accomplish.

"The perfect is the enemy of the good" - Voltaire

I've recently noticed that less planning and 'life hacking' in certain areas of my life have opened doors to more progress. For example, my desk at home. I used to have to have it sparse and minimal. Nothing could be on it but my keyboard, mouse, monitor and laptop. So, I'd spend time every day or week cleaning it off, making sure nothing ever got it on it, actually getting distracted from what I was working on for fear of something getting on my desk.

Around the first of the year I read a post about 'minimal porn' and 'desk porn' and it made me feel really petty and stupid. So, I decided to let my desk 'live and let live'. Whatever ended up on my desk (within reason) could stay. After a week or so, I was over the minimal desk thing. It never even crosses my mind now. My desk is for work and concentration, not staging of photos.

It's about finding a balance. I can't stand a cluttered desk, but I'm a cluttered person, generally. I take care of it by swiping everything off my desk once every other week and into the bin. If I can't immediately think of a reason to save something from the carnage, it's probably not important at all anymore.

I've yet to be burned by this and I take the approach to my closets at home, too. While spring cleaning, if I can't remember seeing some item in the last year, it goes to goodwill. My wife used to freak out about sentimental things, but she's come around. They're just things. If they're really that sentimental, put them someplace you can admire them every day.

You can solve this in a simple way: Spend a fixed percentage of your time on fixing your tools, the rest on the actual work. The fixed portion should not exceed 20% or so.

Like that you stay productive and you incrementally improve your work environment.

Obsessing over your work environment is just as counterproductive as obsessing over the work itself. A healthy balance is the main ingredient to increasing productivity in the longer term.

But how long do you spend setting up the time-tracking process that ensures you don't exceed you 20% time frame in a given day/week/month/year? And don't you also have to track that time as tool-time? How do you even do that without your time-tracking system up and running?!

Facetious, i know - but this is a confessional, the OP is basically saying he isn't capable of separating his time out like that - he would get drawn into the optimization process - like an addiction and blow past he's 20% allotment.

If a person is able to maintain the don't go over 20% of your time on optimization then by definition they aren't dealing with the same issue as the OP.

But how long do you spend setting up the time-tracking process that ensures you don't exceed you 20% time frame in a given day/week/month/year

Well, lots of devs have 10 sided dice...

But seriously, this could be determined stochastically per hour or pomodoro.

And for that matter, doesn't 1/5 of your time spent like this sound like you went down the rabbit-hole already?

That depends on what your expected payoff is.

That's what I need - a system to ensure the optimal divide between the time I spend working on optimizing my system and doing actual work! ;)

The point of the article was not to waste time/energy doing that, I thought.

The key is to combine "minimalistic living" with life hacks. Reduce your life down to the essentials, then use life hacks to go even further.

For example: you probably won't get away without paying your bills so a "life hack" that automates that process will take another load of your shoulders.'

On the other hand, a "life hack" for storing "all your stuff" might not be as good as simply "get rid of all your crap"

Also good point about life design, there's not much point in "saving x minutes" or earning "x dollars" if you don't do anything useful and worthwhile with it

All in all the most important thing is to have a process, call it kaizen, constant improvement, or whatever. Try different things, measure / see what works, learn from the mistakes, rinse - repeat

The rabbit hole is in that automation, though.

It's not so bad if your automation tools have a really long shelf life, and if the time that you spend learning to use them can easily be reused for other things. i.e. If you use Linux command-line tools.

I've been managing my email using mutt and basically the same set of procmail scripts since around 1999, and I'll easily get at least another 10 years out of them, as long as people continue to use email.

About 2 years ago when I got my smartphone, I installed an IMAP server (dovecot), configured it to use my existing maildir tree, and then pointed my phone at that. I'll probably get at least 10 years out of that, too.

All of this pre-dates Android, iOS, GMail, Evernote, etc., and it'll probably outlive them.

I find that once you realize there's a problem that can be solved it's often the case that a solution is available if you look for it. My bank for instance makes it easy to set up automatic payment of most of my bills. Yet if I never realize that this is an annoyance that could be solved I wouldn't have gone looking for that "feature".

"Reduce your life down to the essentials" is a hell of a rabbit hole as well.

It always puzzles me to read my own impression and un-articulated feelings written down by someone else way better than I'm at thinking about them less writing them down!

And yet another post for my list of HN post that had the biggest impact. Thumbs up!

Is the list public or do you prefer to keep it to yourself?

There was a ask HN thread not long ago.

The list, totally unrated, is:

There is no speed limit

This one

Most of pg's non-tech essays (since I don't understand the technical ones)

The SpaceX couverage (being in Aerospace, I'd like to hide in shame compared to what sapceX did, but a bright example of what actually is possible)

Being deaf (it open my mind to something I never really thought about)

Among others, of course!

I've stopped watching televisionm listening to radio, movies, or even browsing the internet. In fact, I disconnected the cable service, and told my internet provider to take a hike.

My life? A hundred times better. I can now focus. I play with my daughter for at least an hour every day. I've lost more than a hundred pounds. I now run marathons. I program like a madman. And I was able to begin doing my own startup (which is about to launch my first MVP).

Have I missed anything? No.I'd say I'm now living, instead of just being here.

Try it out. It works.

Edited to fix formatting. Sorry for the annoying one line paragraphs.

If you used Internet access to write this post, where do you draw the line?

Great question. I limit my use of the internet for work. That includes networking with other people on hacker news. I actualy sit outside my home office to get some open WIFI signal in order to connect.

This has greatly allowed me to focus. Because I can only connect to the Internet when I have to. It also allows me to really plan my day ahead. I can say "from 10am to 11am I will surf Hacker News for ideas, people, and new data points." Instead of just browsing relentelssly all day. It also allows me to label things as they appear in terms of importance.

I'm actually writing a short article about it. Will release it soon. Keep posted.

Do you listen to music?

Not regularly. When I do, it is mostly to classical piano, such as Chopin. It helps me to code by allowing me to go into some sort of trance. Can't explain it. With fast piano music I can visualize data structures easily. Weird, I know. Like some sort of Zen meditation.

When you are a programmer you always want to improve things. I have little python scripts for common tasks everywhere.

One of the things I have never tried to improve is my email. I check my personal email once a day, and almost never in the weekends. When I see a long email that takes a long time to make a point, I stop reading and go to the next. Some people don't really like it when I do this, but it keeps me sane.

The one time I tried to check my email more often and respond more often the amount of email I got exploded and I decided to stop.

Yesterday I had a discussion with someone about answering email. In which I said "Ten years ago a lot of people didn't even have an email address or a mobile phone and a lot of people didn't want one. Everything went fine without it". Sometimes I make myself feel old :P.

I sometimes think the world would be a better place without email and mobile phones, life would be a lot more relaxed. The only way to deal with them is to not use them as much as possible.

As with most things, there's a balance to it.

Should you spend 40 hours customizing your e-mail solution? Probably not.

Should you spend 1 hour and get it to an efficient state? Why the hell not. It'll save you some time later on.

This article is an overcorrection to a problem which stemmed from a lack of balance. The thing itself is not bad (engineering systems for your life), the imbalance of over-engineering was bad.

So yes, lifehacking to the extreme such that you spend more time working on systems than using those systems is probably a bad thing. But living your life as though no system could aid it is just as bad.

If you read GTD with the idea that David was a very eastern-religion influenced guy and studied martial arts and meditation, you sort of get this intuitively. There's a limit; a zen about it.

Don't over-engineer your life. Balance it using the tools available to you, so your tools just work and you don't have to think about the tools anymore. If you're spending too much time on the tools, you're doing it wrong.

The ultimate lifehacking is going from rag to riches by selling a completely useless "item" that some people find extremely valuable, thus further inflating it's perceived value.

You probably don't need much to do it, and the revenues from the sale will allow you to go around most of the obstacles that the vast majority of people have to go through in this life.

Wow! The life hacker recovery points were great.

1. Less lifehacking, more life-designing

2. The best app/tool/gadget/hack for the job is the one you have with you.

3. The least possible (practical) amount of organization is best.

4. You are very important, but only to certain people. Make sure you identify them correctly.

If you only try implement one of these you got to moving in the right direction.

"Syncing all your crap with all your other crap"

What an awesome quote ;-)

As with most trends, the thought starts off honest and well-intentioned and then grows into a sort of anti-self. See also: minimalism, GTD, moleskines.

In many ways, I think the key is not to sell your heart into something too quickly or even at all. Also, let other people be the early adopters -- examine their successes and failures.

Be ruthless about the tools you use and the methods you use. If they're too cumbersome, ditch them.

I often wonder if the frustration with this encumbrance is whether its because for a lot of things, digital tools aren't the best choice. Or at least some digital paradigms aren't, such as Omnifocus and Evernote vs. a rough paper analog such as Notational Velocity.

We can start living simpler life with fewer needs and be content and happy until some more aggressive, more ambitious people come and destroy us, as happened to some in history.

I'll try to make a law here: For every way you can use X to improve your life, there's 100 ways X will just waste your time or worse.

Corollary: Over half of the audience for self-help books need one to stop buying self help books.

So, lifehacking is just self help packaged in tweet-sized and blog-post sized attention span chunks?

Steve Pavlina wrote a related article titled Self Help Junkies: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2007/04/self-help-junkies/

Love this post -- breaks down the analysis paralysis that can settle in when confusing activity with results.

Constantly being systems only and not doing the work itself will make any system, no matter how optimized, ineffective.

Is lifehacking a trend? I remember in the good old days hacking was just hacking or social engineering. Now these 'hipster hackers' are giving it names like lifehacker, brogramming, etc. I'm getting old.

Here's the David Foster Wallace speech he recommends https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5THXa_H_N8 .

Yes, but presumably there exist people who are both getting things done and choosing the right things to do.

Also, I'd reconsider the fuchsia emphasis.

This really made my morning. I can finally stop re-reading GTD!

For the tl;dr -- Learn to discern the forest from the trees.

Thanks for sharing, it was a good read.

Finally the why and not the how

Balance is everything.

This article definitely makes some great insights, but it also rubs me wrong in several ways:

1. Mr. Pavlus asserts that all "life hacking" is a distraction. Yes, he says "9 out of 10" and "in a lot of cases," and he backpedals in the conclusion, but the tone of the article is really a total denouncement. I disagree with this. Like him, I think that it is very important to have life goals, priorities, and a focus on simplicity. However, I also think that once this is accomplished, it is easy to sift out the "hacks" and tools that A) further simplify your life rather than further complicate, and B) give a greater return of time and energy than what's required to implement, learn, and maintain them. I think that this article would have been better presented as an analysis of why we seek out these "life hacks" (If you're looking for them, at least you're not THAT far from the right mindset!), and a suggestion for improving the way we view and implement them.

It is certainly easy to get caught up in the excitement of improving your tools and organization, especially the electronic ones. Everything is just so smooth and colorful! But that doesn't mean it's always purely a distraction. It might be a waste of my time to spend an hour trying to tweak my GMail to work with some unholy union of Quicksilver and Applescript (It wasn't, I use that hotkey every day), but I don't think it's a waste to spend ten minutes learning GMail keyboard shortcuts I will use for a long time to come.

Here's how I resolve the gap. When I see something that I think will be useful for me, I stop right there and send it to my inbox to research later. Treating even the initial research as another task gives me time to let it simmer and unconsciously decide if I really need it, and more importantly, when it comes time to return to that research, I will be more impartial about evaluating that research against my other priorities. If I do decide to do it, I will be much more likely to focus on just that one new hack, and not go on a lifehacking spree.

By the way, my "inbox," and my entire GTD system, is just a set of tags and filters in my GMail. After having the idea, it took me about an hour to think through and implement, and it has improved my entire life. I consider it and GTD a great example of the good kind of lifehacking -- both A) and B) are satisfied.

2. This is a less important point - more of a technicality - but being someone who thinks everyone should at least know about GTD, I want to point out that a large part of the book is devoted to almost exactly this topic: Evaluating your life priorities at every level, and learning how to apply those to what you're doing at any given moment. It's the less sexy part of the system, but arguably the more important.

I've only read the book once myself, and I don't own it anymore. I gave it away to someone else, the proper fate of all good books. However, what I got from the book has stayed with me, and probably will for my whole life. I don't spend undue time and energy revisiting GTD and thinking about how much I can possibly optimize it, but I value it enormously, and my success with it prompts me to be at least somewhat open to new hacks if they seem equally valuable, and to advise others to do the same.

3. More of a case in point of the above: Mr. Pavlus' Game Genie example was apt, and he was right, it certainly didn't make the games any newer. But does that mean it was a waste of time? If changing the rules of the game slightly allows you to enjoy something you love in a fresh way, is that a distraction or is that life? Personally, I love video games, and I do something very similar. I do challenge runs and especially speedruns of games I love, old and new, so that I can continue to genuinely enjoy them well beyond the initial experience. That's what I think the best hacks are really about: Squeezing the most you can not out of your system, but out of life.

I've come to the conclusion that the hardest part of "lifehacking" is what I might call the Principle of Moderate Change.

Essentially, small changes can't be pushed by will alone, because they're easy to make but hard to maintain. They just don't make enough of a difference. If you try to get up 5 minutes earlier every morning, you're not going to become a "morning person". You're going to start making exceptions because there just isn't a real difference between waking up at 7:25 vs. 7:30. Likewise, people who try to "cut back" on cigarettes fail. After a month, they're back to their old rate. Small changes get wiped out if there isn't some long-term, glacial force (not conscious will) pushing them.

From a static perspective, you need enough magnitude in the change to escape the "drainage region" of whatever local optimum you're at, and move into another region. If we take the more featured dynamic perspective wherein those optima might be moving, we see that gradual life changes are happening all the time, but that will power alone is not causing them: the glacial shift in these local optima is what does this.

On the other hand, extreme changes are usually rejected, both by the individual (who never gains confidence in his ability to see the change through) and by people that one intends to influence. The only time people accept these kinds of changes is when there's a sense either of desperation or extreme opportunity, and those are rare circumstances.

So it seems that the most effective way to consciously manage one's life is to make meaningful changes of middling size-- not so small that they get rubbed out by the long-term glacial changes, but not so large that it's impossible to really believe that they will work. I think this is appropriate to self-management and leadership: getting the size of the change right.

The problem with lifehacking is that the appropriate moderate and large changes vary from one person to another, which means that a one-size-fits-all approach won't work. Getting up at 6:00 am will make some people a lot more productive, and others far less. The larger the change, the more individualized this question of appropriateness gets. So "lifehacking" usually focuses on relatively small changes but promises a larger impact. It's not surprising that most of these hacks fail to deliver and end up costing more energy (through constant change and the continual depletion inflicted by unnecessary self-control) than they add in productivity.

If some mundane thing is taking too much of your time, then by all means "hack" it so you can get on with your life. Otherwise you are engaging in our old friend premature optimization.

There are a lot of different kinds of wankery in the world. There's nothing wrong with indulging in wankery, but it's important to be honest that that's what you're doing. To relabel it "productivity enhancement" or "lifehacking" does not change what it is, and may mislead you into thinking you're actually accomplishing something when you're not.

Perhaps the art of finding clever improvements for finding clever improvements in life should be called "lifehacking-hacking"? Then some one will post an article about how to more efficiently post articles about how to more efficiently post articles about life tricks, which will be called "lifehacking-hacking-hacking."

If you're good at adapting to your environment you don't need to waste so much time trying to adapt your environment to you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-9w3dlcmyk

guys like this would be better off "hacking" their wrists.

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