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Last Updated on November 11, 2020

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It
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This is the seventh and final article describing The New Lifehacking. In this series, I described the need for you, a Lifehacker, to focus on making fundamental changes to your habitual methods, rather than chasing the latest gadget or tip. The best way to accomplish this change is to gain an understanding of your current systematic methods, and to use this knowledge to set new targets.

However, using this approach by itself, as logical as it sounds, could close the door to future improvements.

If you only focus on your own methods and keep your head down, you could miss opportunities to improve. The fact is, inspiration to change often arises from the stories, examples and insights of other people, and in order to keep things fresh, you need to be open to these new, possibly contrarian, concepts.

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How Do You Look for New Ideas and Gadgets?

If you are a new Lifehacker, you search cautiously. There are new books, blog posts, lists and gadgets coming out all the time, and there’s no way to cover every possible improvement–you simply can’t keep up. You can trust, however, that there are others on the Internet who will curate these concepts for you and continuously share them until they start to resonate.

After an idea or shortcut gets mentioned a few times in an intelligent way by people that you respect, it’s probably time to pay attention and add the new resource to a list of items to research. This is one way to crowdsource the job of sifting through new ideas in a way that saves you a lot of time and effort.

How Do You Evaluate New Ideas and Gadgets?

While you need to be open to new suggestions for possible improvement, you need to adopt an entirely different process in order to evaluate them. A healthy dose of skepticism is required if you are to escape the trap of grabbing the latest-greatest-hottest “thingy,” only to see it fail. The fact is, a particular improvement may help one person and at the same time hinder others. You need to look at your current habits and practices, plus your own evaluation and ask yourself if the investment in time, energy and focus is worth the payoff at the end.

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For example, I had to make some cost/benefit decisions when I considered switching over from a Palm T PDA to a Blackberry a few years ago. I tried my best to make the change slowly, aware that some of my habits needed to change in order to accommodate the new device.

Here are a few that I had to alter:

New Habit #1.

Recharging the device became a nightly requirement, versus a bi-weekly option. This meant plugging in the device each night. Therefore, I always needed to be near a charger and a power source.

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New Habit #2.

I switched from carrying around a paper pad to capture new tasks, to typing them into my Blackberry with its small keyboard. This meant I had less to take with me from place to place, but it also meant that ideas took longer to record. Also, when I’m on a call and need to record an appointment or phone number, the process of switching over from one function to another is fraught with danger. I still drop the occasional call.

New Habit #3.

Replacing a feature phone with a smartphone means switching from an inexpensive, robust device to one that’s expensive and more fragile. This requires me to be more careful, learning how to protect against theft, physical and adverse physical elements. I had to learn to treat my phone as if it were a precious device that simply couldn’t be just left anywhere.

New Habit #4.

As a Palm user, I was never tempted to use the device while driving. Today’s smartphone user is afflicted with the temptation to break state laws and commonsense rules of thumb by attempting to multitask in moving vehicles. Fortunately, I never developed this particular habit but that’s only because I try hard to be vigilant against all forms of distractions, especially when I’m driving. It takes mental effort to be that vigilant; it’s an entirely new habit.

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How Do You Implement New Ideas and Gadgets?

Once the decision has been made to adopt a new improvement, it’s important to make the switch consciously, with a high degree of awareness. There are likely to be a few surprises that require extra attention, and some new habits that turn out to be harder to learn than you thought. For example, I had a hard time learning to plug in my smartphone each night.

The point is maintain as many old, productive habits as possible while implementing the handful of new ones that you believe will make a difference. Unfortunately, it’s devilishly easy to make things worse, and even *much* worse. People who jump from one technology to another can attest to this fact–witness those who fail to switch to large screen smartphones that don’t comfortably fit in a holster. The size of the device forces them to abandon a trusted old habit, in search of a new one. Some simply switch back to their old devices because the “improvement” makes things worse for them.

The New Lifehacking is all about executing intelligent, individual change management. This transformation might not happen at a pace that the author of a book or an inventor of a gadget might want, but at the end of the day we, the new lifehackers, answer only to ourselves, deciding whether or not an improvement makes the deep difference that we want.

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Featured photo credit: Emily Park via unsplash.com

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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