Saturday, July 28, 2007
Hacking Toward Happiness
Thursday, Jun. 21, 2007 By JEREMY CAPLAN
Beneath the bits and bytes that shape the character of Silicon Valley, there's a booming digital subculture committed to the art of self-improvement, geek style. It's known as life hacking, and it's all about sweating out the best ways to crank through e-mail, sabotage spam, boost productivity and in general be happier. British tech guru Danny O'Brien coined the term at a 2004 technology conference after studying how programmers come up with "hacks," or shortcut solutions for routine but time-consuming problems. The trick, he says, is not to worry about the entire problem but to find a small fix to get through the task at hand. He describes his approach as a sort of "Seven Habits of Super Effective Geeks." The movement has since spread faster than an e-mail virus, inspiring a slew of popular blogs, such as 43 Folders, LifeHacker and Lifehack.org Taking it a step further this year are a spate of podcasts and even new books on the subject, including Gina Trapani's LifeHacker: 88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge Your Day.
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Life-hacking communities focus not just on efficiency but also on making life more satisfying. "Self-help books tend to be about lofty ideas, whereas life hacks are about getting things done and solving life's problems with modest solutions," says Merlin Mann, whose 43 Folders blog is one of the most popular life-hacking hubs. In contrast to tomes of lengthy analyses and rambling prose, life hacking boils down self-help to actionable nuggets on subjects that range from workplace negotiations to travel planning. Typical tips? To halve the length of meetings, have people stand, because they won't waste as much time on digressions if they're not seated. Check e-mail hourly at most to preserve your concentration. Keep your packing list taped inside your suitcase to avoid losing it or having to regularly redraft it. Jot down or text-message yourself about each day's happiest moments so you'll have a detailed record to review and savor.
Life hacks are often about speed. If you can shave two seconds off four tasks you perform 20 times a day, Trapani says, you'll save about 11 hours a year, or a full day for fun. "LifeHacker is about working more efficiently so you can play more, not just get more things done," she says. Trapani's Saturdays are computer-free. "I'm a big fan of being away from the keyboard, staring into space and letting the mind wander," she says. That Zen mind-set seems to have allure: LifeHacker's readership has tripled over the past year to 15 million page views a month.
Some life-hacking fans get so wrapped up in reading about efficiency that the sites become, ironically, another procrastination crutch. "We don't need to overwhelm people with useless tips on how to put on a hat faster," Mann says. One hack he advocates is what he calls 10+2x5. Rather than starting work only to be sucked into time-wasting websites, set a timer for 10 minutes and focus exclusively on a task for that interval. Then give yourself two minutes for whatever frivolity you crave. Repeat that process five times, and you'll have gotten 50 productive minutes out of a work hour that typically yields much less.
Hip as life hacking is in the digital sphere, it's arguably a geekified iteration of an age-old American obsession with life improvement and personal reinvention. And while much of the subculture centers on technology, devotees like Mann and Trapani are keen on a surprising tool: paper. They each carry around a stack of index cards instead of a digital organizer. The simplest solutions can be the savviest.
I came across this today... With all its wisdom, I think it's sometimes OK to meander around blogs... Every few weeks I click on the 'Next Blog' button in Google Blogs, and come across some interesting ideas... Rowland.
Remember: Nobody ever lay on their deathbed thinking "gee, I wish I had spent more time watching TV/reading blogs/at the office."
The Basic Blog-Less Hack
Here is the basic less-blogging-hack:
1. First, give up reading comments on blogs.
2. If that doesn't free up enough time, stop reading the blogs themselves as well (and the wikis ;-) ).
Spending less time on blogs (and other things online)
Blogs are another technology that people end up spending time on because they feel like they have made a commitment to a so-called community. Often, time spent reading or posting to blogs starts to eat into time that could be spent with friends or family, time where work commitments should be met, or other things that you could be doing. If you are not ready to give up reading blogs completely, consider the following approaches to reducing your blogging time:
* Stay away from comment threads with more than about 20-30 comments. The rest just won't be worth your time. After all, is it really fun to watch other blog readers pile onto the same sad troll?
* Identify the blogs you spend the most time on, and pare them down to a select few.
* If you have trouble restricting the range of blogs you read, try writing down a one-sentence explanation of why that blog is useful to you. If you can't think of one, stop reading that blog.
* Don't check blogs multiple times a day if you know the author only updates once a day at most.
* Schedule times that you will read blogs -- lunch hour or at home, for example, not at work. Ideally, only do this a few days a week, not every day.
* Don't post comments on other people's blogs. They might make you feel invited to do so, but you have other commitments you have to meet first. --Elisha-B 08:43, 20 Apr 2005 (EDT)
* Cut down on the time spent reading the ones you do read by using an RSS reader. Most commonly-used blogging software generates an RSS feed, as do many traditional news sites. This will help you catch up on new entries without being distracted by older entries and comments, and without spending time browsing each individual site.
-- Kenn Christ 15:59, 20 Apr 2005 (EDT)
o And then be sure to set your reader/aggregator to only check at a reasonable interval, say 1 hour or 4 hours or even once a day. Nothing the program gathers is likely to require your attention that often.
o Also: Decide in advance the maximum number of feeds you want to subscribe to. Using a RSS-reader makes it so easy to subsribe to anything remotely interesting. So set yourself a limit, say 100 feeds. One new in = one old out. Brandnewbrain 10:30, 29 August 2006 (EDT)
* Use an aggregator to print the blog entries you want to read. When the time you've set aside to read blogs arrives (lunch, the end of the day on the train home, etc.), print each new entry. This prevents you from following links that aren't critical and wandering around the web aimlessly.
* Or, if you have a computer that is not always internet-connected, let your aggregator collect all the new posts, then disconnect and read offline. My friend disconnects his laptop after he has done his collecting and sits in a comfortable seat to read; I disconnect my dial-up. Re-mark as unread any posts that have links you need to follow up when you are back online.
Related to this is avoiding forum threads. I've found that MacRumors, Slashdot and Ars Techinca's MacAchaia the worst. This was a huge time saver for me. --Tyler 20:11, 5 May 2005 (EDT)
* Don't read anything longer than a screen
o Does that include this page? If so, how will one find your advice :-) While that may be good advice in some circumstances, I'd recommend rather reading things longer than a screen if the first few paragraphs are interesting or useful. That way you save time, but also don't miss most useful pages which are often longer than a page.
* Don't follow the links to other articles
* Just read what you came in for the first place
The Bottom Line
Important note: Define what the time is for. There's nothing wrong with watching TV or reading blogs, as long as it doesn't become your obsession. If you set aside planned time for watching television or reading blogs, or you just need a break for an hour, that's perfectly fine. The important thing is to come back after that hour, don't just keep sitting there on the couch!