Recently, Slate published an article entitled Down with Lifehacking, arguing that life hacking—our bread and butter around here—is just a time-wasting buzzword that doesn’t make anyone’s lives better. Obviously, we think differently.
The article’s author, Evgeny Morozov claims life hacking is just a waste of time:
In practice, of course, things are more complicated. As “lifehacking” becomes an industry with its own blogs and book-length guides, a good chunk of the freed-up time often goes to fix, upgrade, or replace the very tools and programs that make lifehacking possible. Is there anything more self-defeating than using technology to free up your time—so that you can learn how to do an even better job at it?
Morozov’s points are nothing new—in fact, we’ve talked about this idea before. Still, we think he’s missing the point. Just because some people waste more time than they save doesn’t make life hacking inherently bad—it just means that person is doing it wrong. Last week, we asked you guys what you’ve gained from life hacking, and gathered up some of your best answers—since who better to defend life hacking than those who have benefited the most?
The Problem Is User Error
When you have a problem with your computer, you might jump to blame the machine when you were the one doing something wrong. This has happened to all of us, and it’s exactly what Morozov is talking about. The problem isn’t that life hacking wastes time, it’s that people waste time on it instead of actually getting things done. JaneEyre12 sums it up nicely:
There is a point when hacking your life takes you away from performing the actual activity.
The one life hack that really governs all life hacks? Do it.
Everything else will fall into place if you just do what you need to do.
I just think people should be honest with themselves that human life is not perfectible, and not to expect too much. The problem is that human beings have an “if only” mindset, generally. If only I get that apartment, my life will be perfect. If only I get that job. If only I figure out why Netflix keeps cutting out. If only I could get rid of this damn back pain. If only I had those shoes. If only, if only. Then you solve the individual things, and life still isn’t perfect. The problem isn’t wanting to solve particular problems— who could be against that? The problem is in failing to recognize that you never are going to get to perfect, because there’s always a new problem, always a new way in which your life is suboptimal.
My ambivalence towards life hacking is really an ambivalence towards the notion of the perfectible life, and a recognition that people who strive for perfect tend to be unhappy, while people who strive for good enough tend to find it. But sharing tips and tricks to help deal with life’s petty annoyances? Sign me up!
Some tips may be very niche. Obviously, if you don’t live on the second floor of a building with trash cans right beneath your window, this fishing line system obviously doesn’t apply to you. But just because it doesn’t apply to you doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for others. As long as you aren’t wasting time reading every single thing, you’ll be fine—and every once in awhile, you’ll discover one of those tips that totally changes the way you do things, whether it’s something very specific to you or applicable to many. You don’t need to implement every hack you discover, just the ones that significantly impact your life
You Can Avoid Wasting Time
So what can you do about this problem? It’s pretty simple: don’t spend more time on a problem than it’s going to save you in the long run. Sure, you could test every single to-do app in the iTunes App Store, but that could take you hours, for very little time saving in the future. Researching and trying out one or two, however, will take much less time and be more worthwhile in the long run.
Remember the phrase “you have to spend money to make money”? Well in life hacking its “you have to waste time, to save time”. You must be willing to sacrifice some of the time you have to learn how to make your everyday life better in order save time and money for the future and whatever situation you may encounter.
As far as doing all that research, Dracolytch says all it takes is a little time management. Get an RSS reader, sign up for the life hack-related blogs you like, and check them once a day—just like checking your email at specific intervals. You’ll pick up some interesting stuff without wasting a ton of time. Louie agrees:
It’s obvious to me whether or not a hack is worth my time, just by reading the article titles. If the article relates to something I want or do, I read it, then decide if it’s right for me. For instance, I’m not about to give up coffee, but on the other hand, I now have a great home media center that gets a lot of use.
You’re only wasting your time here if you don’t like experimenting. Even if a hack doesn’t work out for you, you usually still learn something.
I’ll admit the article does make a good point. Most of us have fallen into the trap of spending so much time coming up with a perfect system (or researching a perfect app) to solve a problem that we end up losing time overall.
But, that’s a pretty narrow view of life hacking. For some, it’s about picking up those little tips or shortcuts that really do make things easier or show us an alternative way to get things done in a pinch.
For others, it’s about the fun of doing it. DIY isn’t always about saving money or time. Often, it’s about seeing what we can do. Or enjoying the process of working things out. Or just having to follow through on an impulse.
And when we take the time to share what we’ve done, others can take advantage of it without putting all the time into working it out themselves. That often creates a net savings in time for the community.
That last part is pretty big too: just because you didn’t save yourself a bundle of time doesn’t mean you can’t save other people time by figuring the problem out yourself.
Image by xkcd.
Life Hacking Solves Real Problems
Life hacking helped me get a job in an industry I’ve been trying to get into for a while (without relevant industry experience as an intern etc). Life hacking also helped me perform well in this job. Life hacking helped me get on stage and perform spoken word poetry, which has so far been a success.
There are little hints and tips everywhere but the life hacking articles and tips on this site and Art of Manliness have genuinely changed my life. Well, I changed my life, but they gave me a bunch of ideas I was able to use in my life to make it better.
The [Slate] article assumes everyone who is interested in life hacking is gonna squeeze life of it’s time like an overzealous home cook squeezing every drop of bitter goodness from a lemon or a lime. I’d like to think that the majority of people use life hacks to increase productivity for working as well as using life hacks to increase pleasure in down time.
4 years ago I was diagnosed with ADHD and at that the time I didn’t know what that meant. Being an older student has its challenges, but not understanding the role that ADHD has played in your life for close to 30+ years can be a real shocker and it made my time at school feel like a living nightmare.
I have found more resources on how to deal with my ADHD on this site then anywhere else. I’m not saying that the books on ADHD have not helped. They have made me aware of the mechanisms at play for sure. There are a vast number of resources on how to understand ADHD and, although they point to things like structure and consequence as keys to a less impulsive and distraction free life (not totally, obviously), they leave you sitting there wondering where do I go from here. Should I join a support group? Do I know anyone else with ADHD? I was lost for answers until I stumbled on to this blog. I don’t think every article on this blog is manna sent from some divine source, but I have used many suggestions on this website to great effect. I also send posts to the ADHD coach I see on campus that have helped me. She has used them to help others, who like me, deal with impulse control, time management problems, distractability and social awkwardness.
We’re not here to bash Slate or Mr. Morozov for their article. It reflects some very real problems people have with the life hacking “movement,” but the problem isn’t the idea of life hacking. The problem is with the warped definition many people have given it, and the ways in which they’ve poorly implemented the idea.
We’ll let MoeStep have the last word, since he put it best:
Life hacks are great, in moderation, as with everything else. If one were to dictate their life based on the next new life hack, then they aren’t living their lives, they are living the life of the “life hacker”.
We asked you guys why you hack life, and you surpassed our wildest expectations with your answers. This is just a smattering of the great answers you gave, so if you want to discuss more, we highly recommend checking out the original thread—or just chiming in below.