New Year's Reflections. The Best of Lifehacking.
by Brad Hines 1-19-15 12:07 pm
I've never liked new year's resolutions.
It's always struck me as odd to use the first of the year to decide to become better. It has an aribrarty quality about it. Instead–and this is hardly groundbreaking of a thought– shouldn't we perpetually seek to better ourselves?
Similarly, so many people mock the idea of self-help in general. Particularly, studying happiness and doing so from what is proven to work empirically. People will read about everything from how to count cards in poker, to how to beat the stock market, and pay absurd sums of money for weight loss programs. While I have definitely poked fun of the self-help industry in the past (how to be a motivational speaker), I am talking about a less commercial aspect of it, and more science-where-meets philosophy based.
A term hated by some, and that's somewhat interchangeable with what was originally referred to as "self-help". Lifehacking, in its most reductive form, is using empirical evidence based shortcuts to find, well, whatever it is you are looking for: money, love, happiness. My recent study of the field–and some of the big wigs in it, namely Timothy Ferris, David Asprey, Lifehacker.com– lead me to try an entire year of methodologies to give me a better life. I am hesitant to use the label "Lifehacking", instead, let's just say here's what I learned and want to share.
New Year's Reflections: What worked awesome for me in the last year
"New years's Reflections" as I'm calling it, is when you take the new year, to look back on what worked for you, and you can do it any time, not just New Years day. Looking at what worked is a rewarding practice, and a motivating one. For me personally, all of the below improved my life signifigantly.
Get rid of boring, monotonous work:
I got a highly affordable ($5 an hour) foreign, virtual, personal assistant, and paid her to do my most boring and unfulfilling of my daily work. I wrote an article about how I do this: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/235966.
I also love having my personal websites as a source of income rather than doing work for others, for example I started an online toy store called NerdPlaythings.com. When I am energetic to work I do on them I do, when I am not I simply don't. Whatever work you do on a website, that work is saved, and your sales are a source of passive income. In other words, the websites get to a profitable point but don't ever really need to be complete. I recommend you buy a domain name and hosting with Bluehost to start your first website on whatever you'd like. (The preceeding link is an affiliated link that would make me commission.)
Tap into those circadian rhythms and understand the nature of peak energy in the body and mind:
All those good days this year, I had drank only one cup of coffee a day. I reccomend that cup 2-3 hours after waking up when you have your first circadian dip, and no more for the rest of the day as it then it starts to disrupt sleep later that night (caffeine can have a half life of as much as 8 hours).
I also stopped eating three hours before bed entirely. I would eat food in such a way that it was spread out over the day. Use the early morning of the day when you first wake up wisely:
Track those dreams. Add some kind of mediation to your waking period:
The saying goes, if we spend a ⅓ of our lives sleeping, shouldn’t we pay attention to that period? Absolutely: slee ptime itself can be used improve our life. I started tracking my dreams in a log in the morning, to help induce lucid dreaming later when I was asleep. After a few weeks, this indeed worked as I had read. Lucid dreaming is great, because not only is it highly restorative sleep, it’s fun sleep, since you literally are aware that you are asleep in your dream, and thus can do whatever you like in your dream. Who says we can't have fun in our sleep? Most people choose flying as a lucid dreaming activity, frankly I don’t blame them.
When I wake up, I don’t do so by alarm clock or any other external stimulus. This is the best way to wake. Not everyone has the luxury of waking when they like, unless they work for it (if you have to get up early in the morning for work, you’ll have to go to bed earlier, or take steps to getting higher quality sleep). I lay in bed for 20 minutes, doing nothing but thinking, in a semi-foggy “theta” brain state like we all wake up in. Embracing that state by sitting in bed listening to the quiet, and writing down thoughts, it is a phenomenal way to engage in creative thinking, and simultaneously meditation of some type.
And Going caffeine free even
I drink coffee mostly because it is a fun ritual, and I limit it to that one cup as I said. Maybe you've been caught up in the vicious cycle of increasing your coffee intake to stay focused, as you have built up a tolerance; sometimes it is only to find yourself getting the jitters, coffee rage, and/or poor sleep quality. Instead, I reduced coffee consumption to 3-4 times a week, opting for healthier green tea.
Instead of relying on caffeine for boosts, you can do more basic things like a quick sprint, oxygen intake from going outside for a moment, water with lemon, or listening to up-tempo music.
Shutting off notifications (to everything)
Is one of the biggest stress relieving things I did in the last year. The only one I kept is Gmail on my iPhone, but without the sound. This means I am not interrupted through out the day by things I don't actually ever need to see right away like texts, Facebook messages etc. I highly recommend this simple trick in your phone and computer settings.
Large quantities of money are typically not part of the equation of a fun day.
When they were for me last year, like the mountain bike I purchased at the beginning of the summer, I did it in carefully weighed fashion. The emphasis in the last year became about experiences and not possessions. As far as experiences, those don’t necessarily take money either, for example, I would closely follow free events in Boston. Experiences, paid for or not, often have an advantage over possessions, about the nature of how you anticipate them, and then remember them.
Understanding the Macro vs. Micro aspects of improving anything.
Look for ways to "build in" big improvements anywhere, that are effective, that is where the activity happens nearly on autopilot, vs. spending a lot of energy to make something a little bit better. So in other words, within that effective "system",to put in generally, if you can make something about it more effieicient, go right ahead, but make sure that it's not stealing resources (like your willpower) from the larger picture.
Or, to borrow Facebook's old business motto, “done, is better than perfect”. (You do need to be able to know, when something is your core product and if it should in fact be "perfect" though.)
Do something new, meet someone new, do anything different:
Deliberate "randomness" in your day is an amazing agent of change in your life, and it keeps you from that awful feeling of going sideways. By deciding to do something every day you don't normally do, you begin to see how it brings about auspicious beginnings to... whatever. You find out after you do it. It's sort of like that Jim Caery movie where he decides to say yes to everything (*Googling that*) oh Yes Man apparently.
For example, I wrote a handwritten letter to a woman in crimea Russia after she had mailed me at one of my websites asking if I'd send her son stamps since he was a collector and had none. My gut reaction was to do nothing and ignore her. A few weeks after writing to her, I got a package from her in the mail with interesting Russian souvenirs like beer labels to strange foriegn brews, and collapsed soviet currency in wrinkly dollar bill form. This sort of thing is simple, and enriches life.
Reveling in the small, the free, the old:
I actively practiced anticipating tiny things throughout the day, often for free, and of good value. One of the best examples, was getting myself a bunch of old vinyl 33s at my local landfill swap section for free, and then a $10 player at the Goodwill store. It's oddly rewarding hearing the crackley warmth of a record that is 40 years old, instead of an iTunes download. That was my personal thing, the point is, for you there is surely some equivalent.
Embrace anti-digital in general:
Hand written notes and vinyl records are fun maybe just for me, but chances are you are unfulfilled from most of your apps, and especially Facebook. Facebook doesn't exactly cultivate mindfullness, or absorbtion in a topic, and it interupts most of us throughout the day in multiple ways (especially notifications). I watched a Mark Zuckerberg interview once with Charlie Rose, he barely blinked explaining to Rose how he wants Facebook to be "involved in every part of our day" in the next decade. Good for Facebook. Bad for us.
While I don't actually advise getting rid of Facebook for reasons I'll skip, try to log on only at designated times throughout the day if you are a daily user like me, shut off push notifications for it on iPhone, and instead of defriending negative friends, simply turn off their notifications, embracing the best of both worlds–staying connected, but avoiding their vitriol.
Avoiding negativity in general:
Speaking of Facebook, and negativity, they conducted a major experiment last year essentially proving what was known: emotions are contagious. So not only did I shut off notifications for my crabbiest social media followers, but I don't watch the news either, or read negative stories almost at all. Seriously sad things are going to happen forever for the rest of time. Take in those bad things from the periphery, contemplate them, and then move on to focusing on helping those in your immediate life.
While I'm not saying to never donate to the Red Cross or OxFam ever again, don't participate in news marathons the media sucks us into where we track something negative and harrowing for 5 days straight. Think: Charlie Hebdo, Ferguson, and especially silly nonsense like the New England Patriot's "Deflate Gate" scandal. Get the general info, and wait a few days until it's updated.
Not wasting time with negative people who "need" you:
Don’t be ruthless about this tip. It’s important to be gracious, have time for people, and listen to them. That said, try best to identify when you don’t really need to be around someone negative, as in, they are negative just for the sake of it and there is little you can do to help. Be around that as little as possible.
In my car, I began driving everywhere as slow as made sense to. This meant cruising engine speed, in a given gear, without breaking the speed limit. On highways, it meant driving about 51-56mph.
A few things happen when you drive this slow. It gives you significant fuel and thus cost-savings over time (reduces your carbon footprint too, but frankly that’s not why I do it), makes accident avoidance easier as the car can stop exponentially quicker, and it makes you less mentally drained when you arrive at a destination.
Another unexpected benefit of hypermiling– it all comes at a much tinier cost of time than one would expect. Given that a drive to any given place has a lot of bottle necks (red lights, traffic, etc.) that speeders race up to only to have to stop at, you actually get someplace at essentially the same exact time as another car you leave with who speeds there.
Lastly, hypermiling eliminates entirely the need to be concerned with legal fines and insurance premium aspects of driving faster.
I threw out or sold almost everything I truly don't need, and eventually, even things I lied to myself I needed–I probably still have many, but getting rid of all things duplicates, broken, or pseudo-sentimental objects; and getting space and cash in the process kind of kicked ass. I recommend the book The Joy of less, a minimalist guide by Francine Jay.
Finances on auto-pilot.
I set up automatic payments on my credit card, direct dividend reinvestment in my brokerage, a Google reminder monthly to purchase the same amount of the same target date index fund ( a tried and true catch-all approach to investing for the averages), and then I got a credit card with the maxium cash rewards I can recieve (200 basis points/2%) and put the rewards on automatic deposit into my account.
Work or play that is outdoors or otherwise connected to the earth:
I think about and understand that much like how my dog has to act out killing a grape before he eats it (he kicks it around and rears his head from side to side), that humans too have limbic-thinking, primitive stuff we do that we can't explain. I know we do, because of the countless research in neurology that has already proven this explaining things like when people can't help themselves to flirt, act aggressive, and all sorts of other behaviors we know "logically" aren't really necessary. Well I believe firmly in humans primitive reward in positive things like creating, and also, working with the earth–gardening, being outdoors, etc. For me, it was building a quarter mile of mountain bike trails on my parent's property in southern Massachusetts. If it was just growing a little basil in a pot, that'd be good too.
Learning the power of just asking for stuff:
I read a passage in The Four Hour Work Week by Ferris, where he explains in humorous detail about assigning Princeton students the task of contacting three famous people for an interview. Apparently no one took the assignment.
I was amused, because he discussed the frustration of his students not believing in its merits, and I had already practiced the very assignment and succeeded before I had even heard of it– I immediately felt vindicated for Ferriss, and the idea that people would tell him it was a waste of time. Last year I contacted Bill Clinton, Danica McKellar, Bill Gates, Christina Aguilera, and Curtis Jackson "50 cent" and I was in fact able to get an interview with McKellar-granted she wasn't as notable as the rest-and a "maybe" from Aguilera.
Embracing Gmail, the cloud, and automations.
I think that Gmail is an incredibly unsung app. As a digital nomad, it is pretty much the powerhouse behind my work, acting like a memory log, personal assistant of sorts, networking tool, template holder, and documentation system. I studied Gmail for a long time, and also wrote an entire article on how to use it to improve our lives: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234030
As far as automations, nothing is more efficient than a computer, so with all the amazing software around, there is no excuse not to have a lot of the digital portions of our life automated, giving us more time to do normal things people did for thousands of years like run and play and have sex and so forth. For all things Internet automation, I like to use IFTTT and Zapier. Either app can be used to custom make automations for the most common activities you do digitally. Since it is beyond the scope of this article to get into, please read about this here: http://www.bradfordhines.com/Internet-automation-101
Reserving willpower with defaults, and less options.
In the last year I began to incorporate into my life how the concept of willpower works, specifically, that the more choices that you have to make in a day, the less willpower you have as the day progresses and the less you actually accomplish. Willpower being directly related to motivation, it is crucial that you don’t waste decision-making power on frivolous stuff (again, like looking down at push notifications on a phone). After I adopted the policy of not having to make frivolous decisions, it was amazing how much more work I got done. The now famous example of this, is how people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same clothing each day. When you streamline a few things like that, for example, only ever leaving your wallet and car keys in the same spot, it is amazing how much more energy you keep throughout a day.
The embracing-minimalism aspect of my life I already mentioned also helped reserve willpower. For example, getting rid of clothes you don’t actually wear, makes it easier to figure out what to put on. Getting your bedroom where you sleep at night a stark, hotel-like space; makes it easier to sleep, mediate and think. By not having to look at as many “things”, your brain literally processes less.
I adopted standing up, sitting down, and alternating those as I work. It is good for both your posture and overall health and energy levels. I did notice, that harder worker is better suited for sitting, where “busy” or task work can be done quite nicely standing, but the choice is yours at least.
As a work-from-home guy, I decided to dress up a bit for it sometimes anyway, and noticed quickly the somatopsychic aspect of how looking good even at home could effect my productivity. Out in public, dressing nicer can unmistakenly get us treated better. The secret was to invest in a few pieces of really nice clothing to replace the endless worn out clothing. Try to think about clothing in terms of cost divided by total days it should hopefully last. Dressing better was easier this year, with the minimilst closet.
This means creating habits that you don't need to think about, that week by week will automatically add a little bit of exercising to your life without trying, and least of all, a gym membership. Two that I do are, 1. deliberately parking my car as far a way from the store as possible (and keeps car from being scratched), 2. only ever using stairs anywhere that I go, which I usually jog up like a stair master. If you want to be extreme, you can do ab excercises sitting anywhere even a car, by simply holding them in as hard as you can.
Music for productivity
Different types of music lend to different types of thinking and brain wave patterns, and therefore different kinds of work and play. Boring monotonous task-type work can be easier to get through with a thumping techno beat for example, while, more creative work is better suited to no music at all, or light classical/folk/jazz. The website FocusAtWill.com is one I have experimented with using while I work, also, Spotify has a section for study or focus music.
More restorative sleep:
is not just a really extensive concept, it is by far one of the most important areas to focus on. I will tell you that for me the biggest helpers were 1. minimizing what is in my bedroom. 2. not working in it. 3. Keeping the temperatures cooler. 4. No alcohol before bed, no caffeine after 3pm, and no food three hours before. 4. either no using devices before bed (too much circadian rhythm disrupting blue light), or using F.Lux app on my computer to yellow the light of the monitor as bed time approaches. I try to read from regular paper books before bed now too rather than the computer.
Takeaway: The most important reflection I have on the last year, is that a good life was significant time doing what I really wanted to be doing (playing vs. work), being outdoors, being active, eating healthy food made by myself, surrounding myself with positive friends and family members, challenging myself, traveling and or meeting new people/trying something new, contemplative and or positive reflection, being mindful as much as possible, (asking myself in my head periodically throughout the day what I was feeling, and why I felt that way.) and not focusing on one area particularly more than any other.