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Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 7: The Joy of Lifehacking

Toward a New Vision of Productivity, Part 7: The Joy of Lifehacking

 

Toward a New Vision of Productivity
    This is the seventh part of a 12-part series I am posting from the end of December and into January 2009, examining the current understanding of productivity and where the concept might be heading in the future. I invite Lifehack’s readers to be an active part of this conversation, both in comments here and on your own sites (if you have one). For more discussion along these lines, be sure to check out Beyond Productivity: Living from the Inside Out, a new series of discussions featuring Charlie Gilkey, Andre Kibbe, Duff McDuffee, Jonathan Mead, Sara Pemberton, and me. Right now, only the Introduction is up, but a podcast of our talks will be avilable shortly. Stay tuned…

    This series has been pretty serious so far – too serious. So I want to take a moment to discuss lifehacks, those little tips and tricks that lend this site its name.

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    The concept of the lifehack was born in Danny O’Brien’s now-famous Emerging Technology Conference presentation, Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks. O’Brien used the term “life hack” to refer to the application of the programming mindset to life problems – using shell scripts and filters to process email, for example. For hackers, the goal is to create logical, reproducible systems using minimal resources; a good hack is one where code written for one function can be repurposed to do another function, or where user input can be eliminated through smart automation.

    These are good principles to apply to our lives in general – the less repetitive work we have to do, the happier we are as a general rule. And multi-purposing things for several tasks is not only handy but it’s efficient. Thus a hack like Merlin Mann’s Hipster PDA really appeals to a lot of people – a handful of index cards and a binder clip are instantly transformed into a pocket notebook. Great stuff!

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    Unfortunately, lifehacks have gotten a bad name for themselves. In his Alternate Productivity Manifesto, Clay Collins writes, “Hacks, tweaks, tricks, etc. have emerged from a productivity hobbyist culture, are largely insufficient at solving bigger life problems, and often do not increase productivity.” In a guest post at Lifehacker, he defined the productivity hobbyist mindset, adding “If, month after month, you continue searching for the latest tip, tweak, or hack, it may mean that your approach to solving productivity problems just isn’t working.”

    Fair enough. If you spend more time working on being productive than actually being productive, you might want to reassess some things. But I think the line between being productive and being a “productivity hobbyist” is way overdrawn. Having fun is an important part of the hacker ethic that gave birth to lifehacks in the first place.

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    It is a product of our sober, thrifty, work-loving Puritan ancestors – and their equivalents around the globe – that we’ve come to disassociate “fun” and “work” to such a strong extent. “If it was fun,” we say, “it wouldn’t be called ‘work’.” The best hackers reject that dichotomy. If it wasn’t fun, they would say, it wouldn’t be work worth doing!

    Even David Allen recognizes the importance of blending fun and work in a productive lifestyle. Consider his approach to filing: he recommends you keep a stack of filing folders and a digital label maker close at hand wherever you work. Now, handwriting your labels would be more efficient and take less time, and few of us have handwriting so bad that we’d be remotely hampered trying to find our files later. But label makers are fun, and they produce files that are aesthetically pleasing – and Allen knows that if it isn’t fun, most people won’t do any filing.

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    In many cases, lifehacks aren’t about huge gains in efficiency or speed – some of them, like setting up a version control repository to track all your documents, are downright time-consuming, and put several new steps in between us and our work on a regular basis, for a rather dubious gain in overall efficiency. But that’s not the point – for a lot of us, it’s the elegance of the new system that matters, or the learning experience of getting it going, or just the curiosity to see “what happens if I do things this way instead of that way?”

    And if that newfound elegance, knowledge, or curiosity leads to work eventually getting done that might not have – or might not have been as much fun – otherwise, then that’s damn good productivity.

    In the end, we can’t measure productivity in terms of units of output. The true measure of productivity is “happiness created” and a lot of lifehacks make the act of working one that produces more happiness. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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