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20 Productivity Hacks That You Probably Thought Would Always Work

20 Productivity Hacks That You Probably Thought Would Always Work

From its first appearance in the early days of Web 1.0, people have defined the term “lifehack” in different ways.

For some, a lifehack is an unknown technique brought to the attention of the public through the Internet. They are often smart, save time, create organization and increase happiness. For others, a lifehack is an unethical way of cheating the system. Discussions on Reddit burn over the right and wrong aspects of getting free food in hotels or evading parking fines.

Either way, Oxford Dictionary Online added the word in June of 2011. Before that, HackCollege appeared in 2006 and Lifehack.org itself appeared in 2005. The Internet brims with all kinds of lifehacks, some of which are poorly understood. Others create the opposite of the intended effect. Yet others can be downright destructive.

Let’s examine the darkside of lifehacks and explore the alternatives. And if you think I’m being picky, just read this post in the voice of George Carlin and smile a little at the cantankerous parts.

1. It Takes 21 Days To Form A Lifelong Habit.

Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Put in 21 days of writing, jogging, eating well and you’re set for life.

Not so fast, Sweetie-Pie.

The 21-day habit change myth has its origin in a book by Maxwell Maltz called Psycho-Cybernetics. It’s a self-help classic from 1960, but that doesn’t mean it’s loaded with truth.

In fact, the “cybernetics” part comes from the idea that the same programming used in guided missiles can change human behavior. By making the right choices, you can “close the loops” of various processes and “set and forget” things that you do. Kind of like how you learn to drive a car and can then daydream your way from home to work without having an accident. But Maltz applied this idea to habits almost as an afterthought. He first came up with the idea in the context of self-image following plastic surgery. As a plastic surgeon himself, he noted that people needed approximately 21 days to adjust to the name face they saw in the mirror.

Since then, the 21 Day Habit Formation idea has been a meme repeated countless times around the globe.

Real research by scientists like Phillippa Lally has shown that it actually takes between 66 and 90 days to form a habit. Even then, this is no guarantee that good habit will stick to you harder than a crack addiction. A lot depends on your age, the nature of the habit and your overall health during the process. Plus, it seems that it doesn’t need to be every single day. 80% of the time tends to do just as well as daily application.

So as a good rule of thumb, plan to spend 12 weeks on any new behavior you want to use to “hack” or improve your life.

2. Spaced-Repetition Software Will Help You Learn.

In truth, spaced-repetition based around flashcards can help. However, this approach doesn’t work equally well for everyone.

Worse, the rote learning at the core of spaced-repetition software can be a harmful waste of time.

Above all, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually learn anything. Repeating something from memory, after all, doesn’t mean you’ve synthesized the information. And more than synthesize what you’ve memorized, you want to be able to use it to create new knowledge. For reasons we’ll talk about shortly, you’re much better off creating your own index cards by hand. And you should do this alongside listening to and reviewing recorded lectures and reading books that put the information in context.

3. You Can Learn A Language In 3 Months

There’s no doubt about it. You can make amazing strides in learning a new language in a short period of time, but this short time span comes from Benny Lewis, author of Fluent in 3 Months.

Huge respect to the guy, but if you read the book, you’ll find out that the title comes from the immigration policies of most countries. After three months, you’ve either got to leave or go through the process of getting a visa. Thus, Lewis worked at getting as fluent in the language of the land as possible in that short period of time before moving on.

You should definitely read this book and make use of its techniques. Just make sure you have a good idea of what “fluent” actually means. And just as “lifehack” has many meanings, the definition of “fluency” is not universally agreed upon.  Language learning enthusiasts use the word “fluency” in many ways.

Spend some time thinking about what fluency means to you and work towards that goal before you get started.

4. 10,000 Hours Of Practice Will Make You A Master

Like the 30 days to form a habit myth, the belief that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become a master artist, musician or athlete is dangerous.

The truth is that you can hack practice in many fields. This means learning about “dedicated practice.” It means breaking down large actions into component parts and then getting really good at them before tackling the whole. On guitar, for example, instead of trying to learn an entire Metallica song in one go, you learn just one part. Then, when you’ve gotten it down, you add another.

You also don’t practice a song by going back to the beginning and starting again every time you make a mistake. Rather, you stop and analyze that mistake and practice just that part until you smooth it out. Then you resume playing it in the context of the entire song. You can apply this principle to just about anything you’re trying to master, including language learning, and it won’t take 10,000 hours.

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That said, if you love what you’re doing, you’ll wind up spending at least that much time on the activity anyway. So dedicated practice is a cool way to get results quickly and find out if you really enjoy the effort (not the time) you’ll need to put into it.

5. Procrastination Is Bad

Feel good guru Eckhart Tolle says in the Power of Now that the worst thing about procrastination is that no one bothers to enjoy it.

Face it, people. Procrastination is going to happen. Plan and prepare for it.

Accept it. Make it your friend. The sooner you take that knife of guilt out of your heart, the better. Stop pushing procrastination away and you’ll find yourself making it less of a barrier in your life by default.

6. The Internet Is Addictive

As with many myths, there’s some truth to this one, but as with all the ways people give themselves a headache over procrastination, lifehacking your way out of spending so much time online may not be the solution.

For example, chimes that remind you to stand up can be ignored. Software that locks your computer for five minutes every hour can be disabled, and rest assured that you will ignore the chimes and will disable the software. It’s normal to cut phony fixes like these
out of your life.

Instead of these lifehacks, try making appointments that you can’t cancel. Pay for a course that would be a great loss if you didn’t go. Have a walking partner that you meet with every couple of days.

And as the famous saying goes, never eat alone.

7. Cramming Everything Into Evernote Is A Good Thing

Hey – there’s no doubt about it that Evernote is the king of its kind, but what are you losing?

It turns out, quite a lot.

Richard Wiseman presents research on the positive effects of handwriting in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. You don’t need a whole whack of science to figure out why handwriting is such a good cognitive exercise. For one thing, it uses far more muscles. It also requires hand-eye coordination that typing for some of us doesn’t use in the same way.

It’s not just hand-eye coordination. It’s the wealth of fine motor control exercise needed to write legible letters. You also exercise memory to remember the sizes, slants characteristics of letters and punctuation. All this healthy body and brain fitness is lost on Evernote and similar technologies.

But does that mean you need to chuck your favorite apps into the trash?

No way, Jose.

It just means that you will benefit a great deal by incorporating handwriting into your daily life ,and it’s easy to do.

Send a postcard to a loved one or friend. Write in a journal. Dash out a poem.

You’ll be glad for it.

8. The Internet Is Shortening Your Attention Span

Have you notice how articles on the Internet are getting longer instead of shorter?

Guess why?

It’s because people actually read, that’s why. When they’re interested in a subject, they want information about it by the pound.

Sure, there is evidence to suggest that we don’t read the same on line as we do from books. That’s why so much online writing has involved to have 2-3 sentence paragraphs. Sometimes there’s just one sentence long. Like this one.

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Either way, online writing is evolving, and as it grows with the needs of readers in the 21st Century, keeping your attention on valuable content means length.

You just can’t learn enough to improve your life in a 500 word blog post, and if you do feel that your attention span is suffering, here’s what to do: Take active steps to increase your own attention span. The following exercise will extent your focus and improve your ability to learn.

It’s easy to do.

When I was in school, they called it U.S.S.R. Not, not that U.S.S.R. Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading.

Just open a book, either on paper or Kindle and read at least 10 pages every day.

If it’s a novel, really focus in on what characters look like and the settings. If it’s non-fiction, create questions in your mind as you read.If it’s a personal development book, think about how you’re going to apply the ideas in your own life.

You’ll amaze yourself by just how much you learn and how your focus and attention span improves in just 10 pages a day, and if that seems like a stretch to you, get started with just 5.

The point is to get started and keep going. Those two actions combined are perhaps one of the ultimate hacks you’ll ever use.

9. The Internet Is Free

At the core of so many life hacks lay the idea that the Internet is free. This is one of the most seductive myths on the planet, but the Internet isn’t free and neither are the devices you use to plug in.

So if you really want some hacks in the “Internet is free” department, get a job reviewing technology. Makes sure the publication supplies you with devices. These can range from smart phones to laptops. Also, if you work at home, you can usually deduct the costs of the hardware, software and online connections you can use.

Old school lifehacks, but lifehacks all the same.

10. The Big Brother Is Watching You Hack

You can find all kinds of hacks that will keep you out of the eyes of the NSA and other organziations that want to cramp your online lifestyle. Some of these are okay, others not so okay.

The reality is that the ulimate lifehack is not evading criminal behavior. Let’s look at this lifehack demystified. To hack it is simple. Just be doing things online that are worth the attention. You draw the public and private eye of the government because you’re creating helping people. Create more value than you’re taking and you won’t need to hide.

11. The Zig Ziglar Lifehack Demystified

On the matter of creating value for others, there is one word of caution.

Zig Ziglar famously said that if you help enough other people get what they want, you’ll get what you want.

But is this really true?

The reality is that you can bust your ass helping people who only want to take advantage of you, and if you’re doing it for free, they might not take the value you’re creating seriously.

Just as the Internet is not free, neither is the help you offer people without cost. No matter what you do, you will always spend either time, money or energy. Often all three.

The real lifehack in this area is to define how you can help people, but make sure that the value you give receives proper recognition. Also, take care of your health. You won’t be helping others for long if you’re burned out, broke and unhealthy.

12. Burning More Calories Than You Eat Will Help You Lose Weight

That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Too bad it doesn’t work.

The real way to lose weight is to eat the right things at the right times and in the right amounts according to your body type and your fitness. In some cases, you may even want to eat more calories to increase the amount you can burn. When it comes to fitness and weightloss, there are some principles that are universal, but always need to be geared towards you.

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In other words, calibrating your diet, rather than generalizing it is the real lifehack you should use. Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body is a must-read book for more information about doing this.

13. Success comes in Sevens

We all know the titles of the books by heart. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” be Stephen Covey is just one of many to put a number to what works. However, the reality is that no one habit (or three, seven, nine or 2500) is going to get you real results unless you take action.

Action should not be a habit. It should be a devotion. The action you take should always involve things that give you energy. Because anything you do that takes energy away is worse than a bad habit.

Now that you know that the secret of success cannot isn’t contained by numbers, let’s move on to …

14. You Can Do Good Research Online

Have you ever heard the phrase, “according to research conducted online”? It should make you cringe. Why?

Because less than 15% of human knowledge exists online. Millions of books and journals never have and probably never will join the ranks of digitized reading and research material. This means that the only way to do effective research remains visiting a library and looking at books.

Not only will you find materials that cannot be found online to deepen your research and intelligence. You’ll also be able to practice the old school form of hyperlinking by looking at all the books surrounding the one you want. Instead of just pulling down one book, pull down ten. And as you skim through them, pay extra attention to the indexes at the back. Use these too find yet other books that probably aren’t online either.

In this way you’ll learn, grow and have a cutting edge over those who do their research only online.

15. Memorizing Shopping Lists Will Improve Your Memory

You’ve probably seen posts on the Internet about using Memory Palaces to memorize information.

Most of them tell you to practice using your shopping list. Like carrots and milk and stuff. Really?

The only meal you’re going to make out of that recipe is … boredom!

Here’s what to do instead:

Learn how to use a Memory Palace. Then think about something you could practice memorizing that will make a positive impact on your life. Even if it’s just the lyrics of a song that would make you happy to sing along with, work with that.

Once you’ve got it and understand the technique, you’ll see how this miraculous lifehack applies to memorizing anything. Then, and only then, will information never be dry, dull or boring again.

16. You Can Pick Up Chicks Wearing Funny Hats And Doing Card Tricks

Pick-up Artists and their lifehack culture is hilarious. You’ve probably come across one of their hyped-up sales pages selling programs that teach you how to get women.

Two of the major lessons you’ll learn from them involve learning card tricks and “peacocking.”

First of all, you’d better learn some damn good card tricks if you’re hoping to get a girl into bed. I mean, seriously. When was the last time you saw a girl turned on by finding a duplicate of the Queen of Hearts she picked in your pocket? You might as well recite your memorized shopping list to her.

“Peacocking” is the idea that if you wear a hat that stands out or some kind of crazy hairdo, you’ll stand out. It’s kind of like the idea that you can lifehack your way into mating season.

Here’s what to do instead:

Learn how to spot whether a girl is attracted to you in the first place. It’s not that hard to do.

There’s a bit of controversy around what I’m about to tell you, but decent science demonstrates that hidden sex signals exist. Like when a woman sweeps the floor with her eyes after looking at you. Or shows you the open palm of her hand after sweeping back her hair.

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If she doesn’t like you, she might look up and to the left or right. Or she may put her hand against her chin with the knuckles out to symbolically bar you.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Go out and watch the world and see for yourself. When you can interpret the signals right, you won’t have to do card tricks or wear a funny hat. “Hello” will do.

17. Positive Thinking Will Solve All Your Problems

Personally, I’m a huge fan of positive thinking. It has literally changed my life. However, like so many cures sold at the pharmacy, happy thoughts can also be poisonous.

The truth is that grief, sadness and critical thinking about the realities of life are all healthy. You can put yourself in real danger if you try to slather these over with the icing of positive affirmations and happy slogans. The real lifehack is to embrace unhappiness and sorrow when it arrives. Invite it in and hold it close to your heart.

Call it Emotional Martial Arts. In most versions that’s exactly how you weaken your enemy: by bringing him closer to you, not pushing him away. By the same token, you can work on not getting too involved. Kind of like how a mother comforts a crying child without entering the problem itself.

Don’t get your ego involved. As Bruce Lee once said, “No self, no enemy.” Above all, realize that one day, you’re going to die. Most problems are temporary and don’t really matter. Look them realistically in the eye, solve them and move on. That’s a lifehack that will rarely fail and you can smile to your heart’s content as you dance in victory.

18. You Can Be Original

Have you ever thought about what “original” means? Don’t worry. There isn’t a quiz at the end of this post.

But here’s a concept that can improve your life: Original means “of origin.”

That means that one of the most original things you can do is to go back to what already exists. Study it. See how you can improve it. Make it your own, and never, ever let “originality” get in your way.

It’s not that there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s that until you’ve seriously studied everything that does exist in your interest area, you have almost no chance of being unique.

19. Visualization Will Help You Achieve Your Goals

As always, there is some truth to this, but the fact of the matter is that most people get it wrong.

Like people who want to build muscle. They picture a version of themselves buff and ripped and already at the end of the journey. What’s the problem with this?

Easy. They’re setting the goal too high.

Here’s what you should visualize instead:

Getting down on the floor and doing one push-up. Just one. And then do it.

In fact, try to do just one pushup – I bet you’ll fail and wind up doing more than you expected. The next day, visualize yourself doing five. And try to do just five.

The point is that visualization can help you, but what you see in our mind has to be realistic. It should be a stepping stone toward what you want to achieve. Not a leap to the top of the Empire State Building.

20. Lifehacks Make Your Life Easier

This is the most pervasive lifehack of all. Why?

Because you don’t want life to be easier. You want it to be more interesting. More productive. Geared toward getting better results. But easier?

Never forget that “ease” makes up over half of the word “disease.” Instead, go for the lifehack of constant challenge. Look for hacks that make you work smarter instead of easier.

Choose lifehacks that take all your hard work and streamline them into superior outcomes. Then write this line from the playwright Howard Barker on to your soul: “Because it was hard, we were honored.”

And come back and re-read this post from time to time. It will keep you in good stead when the fluff gets too much and you need to have some of those many syrupy lifehacks demystified.

Featured photo credit: Factory workers on the job via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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