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Why Do We Always Slack off?

Why Do We Always Slack off?

Life Hackers, have you ever paused to think why hacking your habits and behavior occupies you from time to time? Or why doing things better and faster will always earn you the respect of those around you?

Let’s take a minute to take a closer look at our evolutionary past and and the first human hackers.

In the past, we were part of a hunter/gatherer society; all were working to get an edge in an unforgiving environment. The tools we used and the techniques we invented gave us an advantage over rivals and made our existence more bearable, sometimes even triggering the next evolutionary leap.

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Take for instance the story of fire…

In the beginning (about 1.7 million years ago), humans discovered they could use fire. They didn’t know how to control it at first, but little by little they learned its advantages, how to manipulate it, and ultimately even how to create it from scratch (no pun intended).

Before we knew how to create fire, we used to “harvest it” from our environment which required a great deal of effort. It doesn’t grow on trees; quite the opposite, it sets them ablaze. Tribes would fight each other to own it and would invest considerable time and effort to maintain it.
…And then, someone found how to create it themselves.

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Just imagine the Eureka moment in which humans learned how to create fire and were able to reproduce the process. Imagine the ensuing era and the leap we’ve all made as a result. Those same feelings/hormone surges/thoughts the cave men and women felt back then are the ones you’re experiencing today when you hack a need.

Hacking was a trait that was developed in us through years of trial and error, or in other words, evolution. It was a trait driven by necessity. One can argue it is the key to our evolution. For me, hacking is much more than just about inventing or changing the functionality of a tool or behavior; hacking is about me masting my environment, but I, as most of you, also find myself slacking from time to time (i.e. not doing the things I need to do when they need doing). This brings up an important question: if my ancestors developed the hacking trait, why do I experience behaviors today that hold me back? Or, in other words, why do I slack?

Well, two reasons that come to mind:

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#1 Distractions over time

From the discovery of fire to maintaining it, and eventually creating it at whim took time; a lot of time. Why? The first hackers had an unstable environment with many threats and distractions, and it was a challenge to simply survive; we just didn’t have the brain capacity and ability to focus only on fire creation.

Just as our ancestors struggled with their environment, we too are constantly battling our environment. Granted, there isn’t a saber-toothed tiger roaming our backyard to distract us, but the seemingly constant distractions over time eventually break our willpower and lead us to slack.

We must learn to commit and focus. Distractions will never go away, so we must learn to control them, and fend them off so we can hack and make our leap forward.

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#2 Our success is the reason we fail

Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fischbach from the University of Chicago explain in their research that the reason we slack is because we can’t focus in the “here and now”: we are often distracted by things that we’ve done or the benefits we’ve derived from those accomplishments, which they call “to-date thinking”. Instead we should be focusing on the job we need to do or “to-go thinking”.

You might say that we start as good hackers, accomplishing a thing or two, only to finish as slackers. We pass time by reading about other people’s hacks, trying to copy rather than invent new ones. That’s why serial entrepreneurs are scarce (they don’t stagnate on past success) and repeat Nobel Prize winners are rare; the discovery of maintaining fire postponed the discovery of how to create it.

What’s it to you, you ask? Don’t rest on your laurels, and keep the saber-toothed tigers at bay!

More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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