Most people credit Tim Ferriss as popularising the Life Hacking movement beyond the tech world in 2007 with his book The 4-hour Workweek. Wikipedia has a good description life hacking:
Life hack (or life hacking) refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.
This culture is notoriously West-coast centered. After adopting it primarily for my work life while in Silicon Valley, I brought this mindset with me when I moved to Nashville in 2012, but, much like blockchain, it was very hard to find anyone familiar enough with the concepts to have a good conversation.
Seven years later, life hacking has become more mainstream and I have enjoyed hearing stories from many people here in Nashville how it has helped them. However, it still suffers from ageism – almost all folks writing about it or practicing it are younger than me.
I can hypothesize a few reasons:
- Older people are not digital natives and most life hacks revolve around using technology
- Older people are more resistant to change and are not actively seeking habit changes
- Older people are no longer growing in their careers or family life and time is becoming more available, decreasing the need for productivity improvement
As usual, I am a bit different. I am an older parent, dealing with new experiences as a father of a ten year old daughter on a regular basis. I am a digital native, as ever since coding my way through undergrad to pay for school (anyone need help with Fortran?), I have made technology the core of my career and, to a certain extent, my person life. And lastly, I have been dedicated to personal growth since a life-changing spiritual experience in high school.
In my current consulting practice, I have more free time to pursue learnings for my personal life. So what has life hacking looked like for me in the last few months?
- Personal habit challenge – floss every day. No exceptions. Result? Successful even after six months!
- Meditation every day. Some exceptions. Result? In the last month, I’ve meditated 25 times for a total of over 3 hours.
- Learn a new ecosystem. A great friend offered a small consulting gig to help him organize and better execute his Amazon business. Result? After six weeks, I’ve learned much about the Amazon store, search tactics, paid advertising, and page rankings. Is this something that will get me another consulting gig or a new job? Probably not, but I have enjoyed learning about the Amazon ecosystem as it continues to transform retail in the US. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to a job at Amazon as they grow their offices here.
- Timeboxing. This technique involves scheduling your day with tasks and goals so that you have no blank space on your calendar. Essentially it is a way to prioritize your day by scheduling, and if you have the discipline to follow it, it helps you reach your goals faster. The Pomodoro Technique can also be applied, but this is often better suited for narrower contexts such as coding. Result? Since I have more blank space in my calendar than most people, I have been trying to do this but without much success. However, when I have occasionally followed it, it made me realize how much time I was spending on my “recovery” activity, spider solitaire. I demonstrated that I was unable to discipline myself to only ten minutes at a time, so two weeks ago I took the drastic step of deleting it from my computer. I deleted all games on my phone years ago, so this was the last step of eliminating that temptation. I still have itchy fingers, but now I tend to enjoy a walk or checking out car porn on bringatrailer.com.
There are other smaller hacks that I continue to try. One of the best sources are blogs by other practitioners. For example, Better Humans published a post on how to change your iPhone’s configuration to be more productive. I have an Android phone but still found several nuggets to apply, such as using a better calculator app (how many times do you use yours?).
Yes, there is a dark side to life hacking. I have found that if I keep my personal goals in mind (such as quality family time, less stress, better health), it keeps the hacks themselves from being the priority.
What is my next hack to try? I am always on the lookout, so let me know one that has worked for you, regardless of what age you are.