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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!

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    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 January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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