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Are You Lifehacking Too Much?

Are You Lifehacking Too Much?
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    Nick Cernis of Put Things Off recently declared that productivity is dead. He said that “our obsession with ‘productivity’ is getting in the way of our lives.” Nick started out by saying that the productivity industry is out of control, and that it’s making us less efficient, not more. I agree with Nick, and I can tell you why the productivity industry is like that: it’s about making money.

    The Productivity Industry is Out of Control

    Somewhere along the way, many productivity merchants realized that us “Productivians,” as Nick lovingly refers to us, will try just about anything if it gives us an extra thirty seconds at the end of the day. So the useful information stopped and the crap that leaves readers unsatisfied became the norm, because productivity is like food: if it doesn’t satisfy you, you’ll go get more until it does.

    Only in this case, unlike food, the chances of you getting full the more you consume are pretty slim.

    One of the things I learned quickly when I started writing for Lifehack was that this is a site run by people who are truly concerned with finding the most efficient and effective ways of not only working, but living. Writing here, the concept of hacking your life begins to permeate the way you think, breathe and sleep.

    The Industry Succeeds By Putting Your Focus In The Wrong Place

    When I first realized that there was something wrong with the productivity industry, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made it wrong. But writing at Lifehack meant that I not only thought about writing and productivity on a daily basis but also writing about productivity. I had to watch the industry and figure out how to write for it.

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    I did not like what I was noticing as I did my research, and I decided that the research would serve as an indication of what not to do. You know the saying:

    “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

    The productivity industry succeeds by giving customers productivity tips, but not teaching them how productivity works and why. That’s why I knew there was something wrong with the productivity industry: if it worked, then it would teach people right the first time and there wouldn’t be so many repeat customers looking for ‘the secret.’ Lifehacking sites are the exception because their focus is not on systems, but what could reasonably be called extensions to systems; hacks to make life easier.

    The focus is put on consuming information, not taking action.

    So, is lifehacking and productivity making you less effective because you’re addicted to the information, but not to actually implementing things? Or are your efforts sabotaged from the get-go because the system you’re using was designed to sell, not work?

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    Step In The Right Direction

    I know that the bulk of people reading about productivity don’t end up getting more productive. It’s not always because the information is bad; it’s often incomplete, but still works (as part of the aforementioned effort to get repeat customers), or more likely, the user is too lazy to put these things into action.

    There is nothing productive about reading productivity blogs incessantly. And I’ll take Anxiety over a paper to-do list any day, but sometimes the best way of getting things done is to make a list of things you need to do and just do them. It’s never done for you while you’re reading, though. Reading about productivity is a good use of time because it teaches you how to save time, but under three conditions:

    1. The information is honest, complete, and effective,
    2. The information, harking back to the proverb I quoted earlier, doesn’t give the answer to you, but teaches you how it works, and
    3. You implement it.

    If the productivity interest has made you less effective, it’s mostly because the focus is on intaking information and not acting on it. So how do you step in the right direction?

    1. Cut down your information channels

    There is very little quality information around, and I’m not just talking about productivity information. There is tonne upon tonne of crap with only a few nuggets of gold well-hidden in the pile. As Dustin recently wrote, what we need is not less information, but more good quality information. The first step to being able to take in more good quality information is to cut down the poor quality stuff.

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    I’m assuming that you do most of your reading, especially on productivity, from a feed reader, but there’s also a strong following in productivity books, too, so the same advice applies.

    Go through each of your feeds, books, regularly visited sites, and ask yourself: Has this actually helped me lately?

    Then it’s a matter of introspection: is that because I failed to implement good information, or because the information was poor?

    Usually it’s impossible to tell if the information is poor until you’ve done some implementation, so if you can’t decide, put some information to use until you can make a judgement. We want plenty of good information; the point here isn’t minimalism, but getting rid of everything that’s not helping you.

    When you can determine where you’re getting the greatest benefits, you can easily cut everything else out without the fear that you’re going to miss “the secret” to productivity (the secret being, in my opinion, to just do it).

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    More on managing information here.

    2. Start Implementing The Good Stuff

    Steve Pavlina’s 30 day trial is an excellent tool. You can use it on just about everything. When you find information that is going to be useful, the temptation is to flag or star it, or print it out for later. Instead, put it into action with a 30 day trial and see if your productivity benefits from the effort.

    If you don’t start implementing the high quality advice you’re now receiving, then there’s no use reading it all – you could be more productive doing work than learning to be productive!

    Is your addiction to sites like this one, Lifehacker, 43 Folders, Zen Habits and Steve Pavlina actually making you less effective? These are all great sites – the problem isn’t with them; the problem is with the reader. If you fall into this category, do something about it before you realize how many years of productive time you’ve wasted!

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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