Life hacks (and living deliberately)

For the past 7 years (maybe longer) I’ve been thinking often about the ‘life hack’, that killer method or approach or little trick that will make me more productive, free up my time or enhance what I am able to do. Of course the specific term ‘life hack’ was not in my vocabulary until maybe a couple of years ago, I was always trying to find some way to frame, streamline and maximise some notion of productivity and output.

These days with the amount of advice about life hacks it’s just too much. I had subscribed to a life hacking blog on Feedly and it filled up too much of my time. I have a suspicion that the plight of the modern person who seeks the life hack is essentially living a life of pecuniary means (to frame it in the Veblen sense).

I still look for that life-hack. I love using Google Calendar, I swear by synchonising my tablets and computers and phones so that everything is on the cloud in case my physical machines die; I’m experimenting using Google Keep at the moment (to some benefit) but I think there is an analysis paralysis about the life hack bit of advice.

The idea of a life hack seems to be a contrasting term, implicitly implying that some alternative ‘regular’ way of doing things both exists, and is less efficient. Not all life hacks are the same. However the whole discussion and discourse of there being a world of little hacks and tricks that makes life easier seems to entail that one needs to add one more consideration above everything else, which can be very demotivating.

I am constantly reminded of the expression of Thoreau’s Walden, of living deliberately. I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means. Living deliberately is a similar contrast term and it might be said that Walden’s way of life is a life hack of sorts. Lately I’ve found that the very same things which are very enabling of my life like Google Calendar or alarm clocks, are also the things that become boring furniture that we ignore in our room. Living deliberately contrasts, one might claim, to living automatically and wedded unthinkingly to routine.

Perhaps that’s my ultimate life hack at the moment: live deliberately. I apply all sorts of other fancy things like APIs that give me push messages when certain events happen in the real world or online (or if someone searches for my name), but I also realise that all of these things become a burden and those bits of hacking and gadgets and innovations that I implemented to work for me have eventually led to me working for them. When Google Calendar operates as my punch card I really have a difficult claim to say that it liberates me. I wonder what Walden might think of GCal. In recent weeks – perhaps a sign of me getting older, I have less time to blog and to read blogs – and I’ve had to develop a bit of a filter or even just outright ignoring certain things, because I would prefer to read a few things properly than attempt to read a lot of things badly. Living deliberately involves making choices that say ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’. Life hacking seems premised on ‘yes, yes, yes’.

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