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The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

The 90 Best Lifehacks of 2009: The Year in Review

    Another year is winding down, and that means it’s time to take a look back at what we’ve done here at Lifehack over the last 12 months. 2009 was a scary year for a lot of people – corporate layoffs, a shaky global economy, stunningly vicious politics, old wars grinding on and new ones flaring up. In the midst of all this, though, many saw opportunities; with the myth of life-long corporate employment shattered as some of the world’s biggest companies teetered on the brink of collapse, entrepreneurship enjoyed a major resurgence. This rise in self-reliance extends beyond our work life, too – people are embracing a do-it-yourself, person-to-person lifestyle where status and the display of wealth matter much less than authenticity and social interaction.

    All of this is reflected in the posts that went up on this site over the last year. What follows is a list of the 90 most popular, most commented on, and most talked-about posts from 2009, and as you can see, in addition to our usual mix of posts about personal productivity, organization, webware, and creativity, a large number of posts about personal finance and self-employment made the top of the list. It’s not surprising that Lifehack’s staff and contributors would write posts that reflect the tenor of the times, nor that such posts would resonate most with our audience.

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    What emerges from all this is a treasure trove of good advice, ranging from the lofty and idealistic to the immediately practical. We promise to continue to provide quality tips and advice about work, technology, money, and just plain living in the new year and beyond. If you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our feed and follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss any of the great posts we have in store for 2010!

    Software and Technology

    2009 was notable for the maturing of online applications, the explosion of applications for mobile phones, and the mainstreaming of social networking services like Twitter and Facebook. Popular stories at Lifehack covered tips for the use (and not abuse) of social networking services, tips on using your computer effectively and securely, and recommendations for applications online, on your PC, and on your Android phones.

    1. Getting Productive with the Webware 100 (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Searching for a Shared Virtual Workspace? (Clemens Rettich)
    3. Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business? (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. From Here to Tweeternity: A Practical Guide to Getting Started on Twitter (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. Six Ways to Transform your Presentation (Paul Sloane)
    6. Managing Your Social Network Addiction (Ibrahim Husain)
    7. 8 Keys to Internet Security (Dustin M. Wax)
    8. The First 10 Free Apps to Install on a New Windows PC (Dustin M. Wax)
    9. 12 Free Android Apps to Help Get Things Done (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. Your Guide to Apps that Eliminate Distractions (Joel Falconer)

    Lifestyle: Family, Fitness, and Finance

    Money issues were on everyone’s minds this year, and our writers served up plenty of advice about managing both your money and your expectations. Advice about families and parenting was popular this year – or sometimes controversial, like Craig Harper’s poorly understood advice to take ownership of your past and recognize that whoever wronged you in the past, only you can set things right for yourself. And, since today’s worker is all-too-often someone who spends most of her or his day sitting, our writers’ advice on getting some activity into your life was well appreciated.

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    1. How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids (Erin Kurt)
    2. If Your Childhood Sucked – It’s Time to Stop Blaming Your Parents! (Craig Harper)
    3. How to Recognize Imminent Danger: 7 Essential Safety Rules (Mary Jaksch)
    4. 30 Money Sites to Check Out in 2009 (Thursday Bram)
    5. 3 Scary Misconceptions About Money (Joel Falconer)
    6. Great Ways to Become Poor and Stay Poor (Paul Sloane)
    7. Weight Loss Groundhog Day (Craig Harper)
    8. Pain and Posture: The Basics (Jamie Nischan)
    9. How to Start Running – Without Feeling Like a Failure (Mary Jaksch)
    10. A Workout for Geeks (Daryl Furuyama)

    Personal Productivity and Creativity

    Advice about getting productive makes up the core of Lifehack’s content, so naturally our most popular and most talked about posts this year were just that. From developing the right mindset to promoting creativity to finding inspiration and motivation, we offered tons of advice on getting things done.

    1. 12 Lists That Help You Get Things Done (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Procrastination – NOT a Problem! (Francis Wade)
    3. 10 Best Productivity Books of 2009 (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. 11 Ways to Think Outside the Box (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. 8 Ways to Kill Clutter in 5 Minutes (David Pierce)
    6. Reaching Your Goals – Dutch Style (Christine Buske)
    7. New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why (Steve Errey)
    8. How to Make Decisions Under Pressure (Joel Falconer)
    9. Limits and Creativity (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. The Daily Grind: A Matter of Momentum (Joel Falconer)
    11. 4 Pocket-Sized Tools to Help You Generate Killer Ideas Any Time, Anywhere (Chuck Frey)
    12. How to Think What Nobody Else Thinks (Paul Sloane)
    13. 9 Lists To Keep Updated, and Keep Handy (David Pierce)
    14. 10 Reasons Paper is The Most Flexible Productivity Platform (Joel Falconer)
    15. 3 Tips to Improve Memory Quickly (Steve Martile)
    16. How to Wake Up and Instantly Achieve Something Everyday (Paul Dickinson)
    17. Stripped GTD: 3 Habits That Make You More Productive (David Pierce)
    18. Ten Great Ways to Crush Creativity (Paul Sloane)
    19. Scoring 100% in Time Management (Francis Wade)
    20. 7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It (Annabel Candy)

    My incomplete series on getting back on track with a productivity system, “GTD Refresh”, was quite popular but was never completed. The next step for me was supposed to be eliminating my email backlog and adopting an “Inbox Zero” approach, but frankly, email won. This year – I’m going to try again in 2010 and so you may well see more “GTD Refresh posts in the not-too-distant future.

    2009 was bookended by two publications with something to offer the would-be personal productivity expert. David Allen’s Making It All Work revisited the core concepts of GTD and expanded on elements that had been weakly developed in his earlier work. You can read my lengthy review here: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

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    And our most popular series, my “Back to Basics” posts from 2008, were collected, revised, and expanded (with 2 new chapters) in the release of Back to Basics Productivity which will be joined in 2010 by several more ebook releases.

    Work and Career

    With the economy huddling in on itself this year, even non-entrepreneurs had to learn to be more entrepreneurial. Promotions, raises, or just holding onto your job and pay level, required a demonstration of unusual career intelligence, and our writers offered a heaping portion of it. And for those in our workforce who took the plunge – voluntarily or not – into self-employment, advice on personal branding, small-business promotion, and entrepreneurship were in no short supply.

    1. What to Do if You Don’t Get Along with Your Boss (Paul Sloane)
    2. Darth Vader’s “Management” Secrets (Art Carden)
    3. 21 Entrepreneurship Websites Worth Checking Out
    4. 3 Areas You Must Invest in During an Economic Recession (Dan Schawbel)
    5. Personal Branding Basics (Dan Schawbel)
    6. Seven Great Questions to Ask at a Job Interview (Paul Sloane)
    7. Why A Good Web Site Matters To Your Business (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    8. How to do Good AND Make a Profit (Arvind Devalia)
    9. 12 Tips for Better Business Writing (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. 10 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Job (Paul Sloane)

    Productivity Pr0n

    It may seem distracting, even materialistic, to drool over office supplies, but let’s face it: I do it, you do it, and geeks around the world do it. And with good reason, actually: the right tool can (in David Pierce’s words) make all the difference. Moleskine’s were popular as always, but a list of alternative notebooks caught the eye of those put off by the style or cost of the famous pocket notebook. Pens also got a lot of attention – it may seem silly to those who are (or pretend to be) perfectly comfortable with their 12-for-a-dollar stick pens, but there truly is no feeling quite like that of a quality writing instrument gliding over the page. And for funsies, there’s are review of the Prada Link, because gadgets are way cool.

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    1. 13 Ways of Looking at an Index Card (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Stationery Pr0n: Japanese Pens and More from JetPens.com (Dustin M. Wax)
    3. Why a Great Pen Makes All the Difference (David Pierce)
    4. 5 Reasons to Pay Good Money for a Moleskine (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. 13 Things to Do with a Moleskine Notebook (Dustin M. Wax)
    6. 10 Great Moleskine Hacks (Dustin M. Wax)
    7. 9 Places to Always Keep Pen and Paper Handy (David Pierce)
    8. 10 Affordable Pens Geeks Love (Dustin M. Wax)
    9. 10 Great Notebooks Productive People Love (Dustin M. Wax)
    10. The Trend of Productivity Accessories is Here (Leon Ho)

    Life Lessons

    Finally, the catch-all for what’s left. There are some brilliant people writing on Lifehack – small business experts, marketing gurus, life coaches, creativity specialists, and so on. It stands to reason that not all their advice could be slotted into easy categories. So below you’ll find advice on relating with others, mastering your own weaknesses and giving rein to your strengths, developing a charitable mindset, dealing with hardships, and more.

    1. 10 Small Ways to Make the World a Better Place (Dustin M. Wax)
    2. Have You Started Planning for a Successful 2010? Here’s How! (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    3. Rethink the Season of Giving (Dustin M. Wax)
    4. 7 Ways to Deal with Annoying People and Still Get Things Done (Dustin M. Wax)
    5. 12 Personality Types to Avoid to Make 2009 Your Best Year (Craig Harper)
    6. Life Lessons of the Dread Pirate Roberts (Dustin M. Wax)
    7. Six Great Ways to Vent Your Frustrations (Danielle Marie Crume)
    8. How to Stay Motivated and On-Track When You’re Struggling (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    9. Change The Way You See Fear And Change Your Life (Susan Baroncini-Moe)
    10. The Five Reasons Why You Are Not Fulfilling Your Potential (Paul Sloane)
    11. How to Be Offended (Dustin M. Wax)
    12. Improve Your Charitable Giving: Let Not Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Is Doing (Art Carden)
    13. 10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    14. 7 Steps to Start Lucid Dreaming (Steven Aitchinson)
    15. Changing Your Personal Reality (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Craig Harper)
    16. Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self (Dustin M. Wax)
    17. Go on a Date with Life and More Ways to Go on a Date with Life (Dustin M. Wax)
    18. Being a Man in the 21st Century (Part 1) and (Part 2) (Dustin M. Wax)
    19. The Work of Worry (Dustin M. Wax)
    20. Your Happiness Plan (Craig Harper)

    Were there any other posts here in the last year that helped you or gave you a new perspective on your work, life, or the people around you? Let us know in the comments!

    Finally, I want to take a moment to recognize all the staff writers and guest contributors who worked hard to provide our readers with wisdom and insight in 2009. On the staff, there’s Leon Ho (site owner), myself (project manager), and our staff writers Joel Falconer and Thursday Bram, now departed. Our contributors and guests consist of:

    • Steven Aitchison
    • Susan Baroncini-Moe
    • Christine Buske
    • Annabel Candy
    • Art Carden
    • Kit Cooper
    • Danielle Marie Crume
    • Arvind Devalia
    • Paul Dickinson
    • Steve Errey
    • Chuck Frey
    • Daryl Furuyama
    • Danny Gamache
    • Lisa Gates
    • Elisabeta  Ghidiu
    • Craig  Harper
    • Liora Hess
    • Ibrahim Husain
    • Mary Jaksch
    • Erin Kurt
    • Angus Lau
    • Alexandra Levit
    • Steve Martile
    • Jamie Nischan
    • David Pierce
    • Clemens Rettich
    • Dan Schawbel
    • Paul Sloane
    • Mike St. Pierre
    • Francis Wade

    Thanks to all of them, and to you, our readers, for making 2009 a great year!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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