Having arrived late to the “productivity” party, I wasn’t there at the inception of the “life hack” movement that seems responsible for both launching several luminaries as well as simultaneously turning them off entirely to the space. After spending the last two years writing on the subject, I can see why those who helped create the space struggle to enjoy it over the long haul.
Many, such as myself, start writing to help ourselves improve with the hope of also helping others who deal with similar challenges. We rarely write because we’re great at this; we write because we struggle. As we figure things out, we share what we learn. But as we grow a bit of a following, something becomes clear: the posts about tips and tricks tend to do a hell of a lot better than the more meaningful, and likely more necessary, posts.
At one point or another, you start to feel the pressure to be clever rather than purposeful. You feel like all people really want are fast-and-easy life hacks rather than sound advice on finding a better way to work. In an attempt to give people what they want, you often unconsciously gravitate towards creating posts that are popular, but not essential. Or at least not as important as other things that you may want to say, but will likely appeal to a far smaller audience.
Quick, clever fixes are great. They have their place and used well, they can have a very real impact on your ability to get things done, but only when they are incorporated into a sound workflow. Life hacks have their place, but only when used to enhance the way you work. We often think of the two as one and the same, that a workflow is just several life hacks strung together. In truth, they are very different.
What’s the difference?
Your workflow is the very foundation upon which you do your work. Life hacks are the little tricks that make using that workflow easier and more enjoyable. And to some point, these two very different things became one and the same to those of us who write about them. And since people tend to prefer things that make work more enjoyable (rather than better) it’s easy to see why the “wrong” cream often rises to the top.
No matter what people write or share, those who shine in this space have a way that they go about doing their work that is enhanced by tricks and tips, not several life hacks strung together into some sort of Rube Goldberg machine that that defies logic and produces improbable results. We share the tricks and tips because they can help, but I assure you, without the workflow, the life hacks will never get you where you want to go.
Having a place to write things down that is easy to access and simple to recall is not a life hack, it’s a best practice. Using TextExpander to name those files for consistency is a life hack that, when paired with the best practice of writing things down, can significantly enhance that best practice. Both are useful, only one is necessary.
This may be a distinction without a difference to some, but for me distinguishing between a necessary workflow and a life hack that is merely useful has had a tremendous impact on the way I’ve improved my own work and overcome my many, many shortcomings. It also plays a significant role in the type of posts I strive to write here. That may mean they are less popular, but hopefully it will make them a little more useful to those who continue to stick around.