Anyone who has a serious commitment to better at least one area of their life needs to be careful about developing a tip-addiction.
We happen to live in an era in which we can get thousands of tips delivered to us in every single hour of every day. Thanks to the latest gadgets, we don’t even need to leave the sofa: we just pick up our tablets or remotes, and instantly conduct a successful search for our chosen channel of information. Within minutes, thousands of tips flood into our devices and within seconds we are able to start reading, listening, viewing, sharing and retweeting.
In the area of time management (which is actually self management at its core) the tips, tricks and shortcuts we find in this instant feed are mostly free. Some involve suggested behavior changes while others are recommendations for new apps, software and web services. News about gadgets, equipment and supplies is also included, much of which is intentionally shown to us in order to make a sale.
This stream of tips and channels will never go away, but as we flip through countless options it’s a good idea to ask ourselves what we are looking for. How do we search for new lifehacks? Where do we begin?
If you’re like most people, you use a simple strategy and wander from link to link until something catches your eye. In doing so, you might try to see what everyone else is doing so you can join the crowd. Or, perhaps, you go to an authority site and based on the latest recommendation from an expert, you follow suit.
On you go… until you lose interest, or energy, and only then do you stop. The stuff you opted into, or purchased, shows up within seconds or hours and in the end you may find something useful—but usually not anything profound. (A new cover for your iPad is not a true improvement.)
The following day you sit down in your office and repeat the cycle, hoping, once again, to hit the jackpot and find the miracle tip that blows the lid off your productivity. It’s an addiction to interesting, new, fascinating tips, but is this elaborate, random Easter egg hunt the best way to change the quality of your life?
Why random lifehacks don’t work
In time management the answer turns out to be “No.”
A week after I published my first book after a three year effort, I started receiving emails from a well-known Internet marketer promoting a program that would teach anyone how to write and publish their own book in a weekend. To my ear, hearing advertisements to teach us how to write a book in a weekend is like hearing promises to “Cut Your Pregnancy by 3 months! Guaranteed! Or Your Money Back!” Just. Not. Credible.
The same is true for ads that lead us you to believe that your productivity depends on the purchase of a shiny new $499 gadget.
Whether it’s being a great public speaker, mastering a musical instrument or becoming a great performer in a sport, the people who accomplish the best results know that it’s not about tips, tricks and shortcuts, and that equipment anyone can buy rarely makes a difference. They just don’t spent time trying on the sofa looking for random hacks that provide instant thrills.
Instead, according to experts such as Anders Ericsson, what’s required is deliberate practice in the areas in which we are the weakest. However, the problem in many areas such as time management is that there are hardly any tools developed to tell us how we’re doing, and where the weak spots lie. Given our knowledge of the power of metrics, and the fact that “you can’t improve what you can’t measure,” this places us in a difficult spot.
Unfortunately, most authors and program developers respond by simplifying the problem; they just assume that everyone is a beginner. What’s the result of this assumption?
We—their consumers—wince. We feel agitated when we read articles, pick up books or take programs that implicitly assume that we are novices who are taking our first steps. The truth is that we aren’t: we already have time- and self-management systems in place that have worked for several years. Sometimes decades. We don’t want to be treated as if we are starting from scratch, like five-year-olds at their first music lesson.
What we really need
What we really want to know is “How am I doing now?”
We need more help to figure out what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong. We can often do the rest ourselves, and figure out what we need to improve, and how how quickly. (That’s why we have Google.)
That’s very different from chasing after tips, or pretending that we don’t know what we know, or acting as if we are starting all over again from the beginning. We can save hours of time and effort.
When we start by gaining some insight into our current system, we can compare it against those that include world-class practices, whether we consider ourselves to be beginners or experts. Perhaps this is the biggest tip of all: the new Lifehacking doesn’t start by becoming addicted to a search for new tips. It begins when we commit to gaining an in-depth, unique understanding of what we currently do.
How do we gain this understanding? That will be the subject of my next post here at Lifehack.org.