lifehacks are pointless

Lifehacks Won’t Help Your Productivity! Use This Instead

Lifehacks won’t get you the productivity gains you are looking for.

People are naturally drawn to shortcuts, to taking the easy way out, to the illusion of progress that hacks provide. But success is all about compounding small consistent wins, not just taking individual swings.

The path to true productivity takes work and it can be difficult, but it is so worth it. Instead of chasing shortcuts that don’t work, commit to consistently improving yourself and your habits and your productivity will soar.

Here’s how to do it in 3 simple steps:

Life hacks are one of my most favorite topics to pick on because they’re awesome and destructive at the same time.

Awesome because they can give you that extra kick of motivation, of energy, or productivity. They can provide for you that 1% boost in whatever you are doing. But they’re destructive at the same time. In order to make them useful, you need to be at the peak of your game.

If you’re at 90% and you want to get to 91, life hacks are awesome. If you’re at 10% and you want to get to 90, life hacks are not going to get you there.

First, you need to cover the fundamentals. Only then can life hacks actually make a meaningful difference in your life. Don’t get caught up in the eternal search for the latest shortcut and hack, concentrate on your habits instead.

The quality of your life is directly proportionate to the quality of your habits.

If you have good, healthy, productive habits such as single-tasking and staying focused, your productivity and success will soar. In the same fashion, bad habits such as multitasking and over-obsessing with your email will stop your progress dead in its tracks. Unfortunately, there is no hack for that. No gadget, or gizmo, or shiny new app, or keyboard shortcut can ever substitute hard, consistent work on improving your habits.

Gaming the system is never the goal. The goal is the goal.
~Seth Godin

Hacks won’t achieve lasting results, only habits will. If  you want to hack something, hack the fundamentals of habit-building following these 3 steps:


 1. Eliminate Friction

If you’re at point A and you need to get to point B, friction is the combination of all those little things, all those obstacles that you need to overcome in order to get to point B.

Little friction slows your progress down. It slows you down. And if it becomes too much, it completely stops you dead in your tracks.

Think of it like driving with your handbrake on. If it’s just a little bit on, the car still moves, but not at full capacity. But pull it all the way up and you cannot even leave the parking lot.

How do you eliminate friction? You plan in advance.

If you want to start jogging in the morning, immediately upon waking up, prepare everything that you need from the night before. Put your snickers next to your bed, lay out your clothes, charge your iPod and leave it next to them, find your keys and leave them at the door. Are you taking a bottle of water? Yes? Leave it next to your clothes. Are you going to turn left when you exit and building, or right?

It might seem a little obsessive to plan in such great detail, but when you just woke up and you are fighting the voices in your head screaming “it’s too early, go back to bed, why are you even up”, the smallest of hiccups, such as being unable to locate your keys might cause you to listen to the voices, give up, and hope tomorrow is a better day.

When you are trying to habitualize a new way of doing things, you need to eliminate as much of the friction as possible by preparing in advance:

  • Want to make sure you brush your teeth every morning? Stick your brush to the bathroom mirror or leave in a tray right in front of the bathroom as you cannot miss it.
  • Want to start drinking water immediately upon waking up (an awesome idea)? Leave a bottle right in front of your bedroom door. Either you jump over it (a big hassle), or you drink it (a smaller hassle).
  • Want to start writing that blog post as the first thing that you do when you get to work? Leave your computer ON from the night before, with a word-processor program open, a new file created and all distractions eliminated.

You get the idea.

Visualize all the steps. Prepare as much in advance. Eliminate friction. Sticking to your newly-created habits becomes much easier.

2. Start Small, Really Small

Figure out what is the smallest amount of action you can take, cut it in half, and start there.

If you want to jog for 30 minutes every morning, but you’ve never jogged consistently in your life, setting your initial goal to 30 is a recipe for disaster. Set it for 2 minutes, instead.

It might seem ridiculously small at first, but that is exactly the point. It is so small that you cannot justify not doing it. You can always find 2 minutes to jog!

Once your snickers are hitting the pavement, chances are you are going to go way over your 2 minutes. If you run for 10, you’ll come back feeling like a champ. After all you just did 5x your initial goal (high five!). But if you set the bar too high, at 30 minutes, it’s not only hard to find the motivation to get started, but if you do only 10 minutes, you are going to feel like a complete slob.

Set the bar low, real low. You are training the behavior. Once those 2 minutes of a jog are part of your routine, make it 5, make it 10, 15, and keep going till you hit the holy grail of 30.

Write 2 sentences, do 1 pushup, floss 1 tooth, eat 1/2 of a piece of broccoli. Figure out what is the smallest amount of action that you can take, start there. Start low, build up slow, have lasting success.

3. Don’t Break The Chain

Every day that you do your habit, go to the calendar and draw a big red X. Do the same the next day, and the next day and keep on going. Your Xs are going to form a nice little, continuous chain.

Don’t break the chain.

Do your habit every single day. That is another benefit of setting the initial bar so low: you can always find the energy, time or whatever is needed, to cover at least the minimum. Some days you are going to surpass it, others you’ll just do the minimum. Just stick with it and don’t break the chain.

The reason this works is because once the ball gets rolling, it’s quite upsetting to ruin a successful streak; perhaps even more upsetting than the actual act of relapsing!
~ Greg Ciotti

It will take some time before you actions become habitual, before you make them a permanent part of your routine. During this initial phase, consistency is crucial.

But let’s get real for a second. Life happens. There will be at least once when you miss your habit. Don’t sweat it.

In this case, the best way to bounce back from breaking the chain is to follow the Never Miss Two Days rule. It’s your backup plan for when things go wrong – you’d have to be a monk to never make a mistake, so know that there’s an opportunity for redemption the next day. Don’t miss twice. The difference between lasting habits and passing fancies isn’t your ability to be perfect, it’s your ability to get back on track.
~ Greg Ciotti

With habit formation, consistency is key, but what’s even more important is being able to jump back into it when the inevitable hiccup happens.

Your Turn Now

Habits > Lifehacks

If you are not at your productivity peak, don’t waste your time looking for and utilizing shortcuts, but focus on mastering the fundamentals first: building success habits.

how to create habits

Eliminate as much of the friction as possible. Visualize the steps, plan in advance, make the process as easy as you can. Start small and build you way up, train the behavior. Stick with it. Don’t break the chain when possible, but always have a back-up plan in case you need to jump back on the horse and keep going.

Question: what is a habit that you had (or currently have) troubles with forming? Share your experience in the comment section below:

This blog post was inspired in part by the fantastic work of Gregory Ciotti at Sparring Mind.

how to create habits