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Life-Hacking Avoids Life

The most productive people I know have never been the sort to find value in life hacking.1 In fact, most of the folks I know who try to make use of life hacks are the least productive people I know. It becomes an obsession for them, a sort of obtuse thing to pride themselves on. Their claims to efficiency might be true if they spend their time working instead of trying to improve their efficiency. They remind me of programmers who spend time mainly optimizing and obsessing over tiny details, ignoring whether they actually have anything that works.

You can only avoid life and productive hobbies or work by obsessing over efficiency and productivity. If you spend your time setting up calendars, jerry-rigging little alarms and baits for you to do work, constructing little plots to trick youself into working, you’re really not working. You’re avoiding work. You are doing what the rest of us procrastinators have already learned to do, only you’re doing even less. While I avoided my work by vacuuming or doing the laundry, which are productive but less important, you set up fifty timers telling you when to work and break, probably dangled a sausage from a string, and come up with thirty playlists for working. Your efforts amount to tapping your fingers against a desk and thinking of kittens.2

So how do you improve your efficiency? Stop your attempts to improve it. If you procrastinate, accept that you procrastinate, and let your conscience do the heavy lifting. It inevitably wins out unless you’re a torture-proof superspy. When you need to work, do the work. No, you may not think you’re at peak efficiency, but you never will be. The sausages you’ve dangled from the ceiling won’t promote efficiency, they’ll just stink up the place after you’ve gotten into the work and forgotten about that meaty bait above your head.

This comes with a caveat: you can do little things to improve your efficiency. For example, calendars can help, but try to remember they’re to remind you of things ahead of time, not to get you to do things now. They’re taking the contents of your mind and placing them safely in a linear order so you know what work to do. The sausage, however, will never work. Take it off the string, eat it, and get back to work.

  1. Life hacking refers to the practice of coming up with little ways in which you can supposedly make yourself more productive or efficient. They are typically unusual solutions or psychological tricks, though it varies from person to person. 

  2. Or maybe even less than that. Your conscience might kick in and get you to work if your mind idles on kittens. If you convince yourself to do something to make your work more efficient, you’re really telling your conscience to shut up. You’ve lied to yourself.