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Off the board: Rethinking the culture of lifehacking

a/Off the Board/Opinion by

‘Lifehacks’ is a word for “tricks, skills, or shortcuts that are meant to increase a person’s productivity or efficiency in their everyday lives,” according to KnowYourMeme. Entire websites are devoted towards this goal, and best-selling books have been written on the subject. Lifehackers advocate to ‘make everything in your life better.’

The world of lifehacks seemed to have a solution to every problem I could possibly have: from how to best plan my meals throughout the week (batch cook on the weekends) to how to do taxes more efficiently or even on how to find my purpose in life. Pages of these glorious treasures were free for me to peruse, with useful sentences helpfully highlighted by bold text, and pictures and list formats dotting the articles. It told me what apps were the best for my phone, which outfit was scientifically proven to keep me warm in the winter, and how I should meditate to preserve mental well-being. And it presented everything in a sequenced list, clearly and succinctly, much like how I imagined the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe would look.

Somewhere along the way, I became enamored with the concept of lifehacking, drunk on the promise of more productivity. Like diets or other wonder pills, it promised many miracles under shiny enticing titles one after another: “five tricks to getting more done,” “How to become a morning person,” and “How to build lasting habits.” Ironically, all these how-tos ultimately led to my downfall. I grew so obsessed with the pursuit of a perfect productive schedule that the pursuit had began to affect my productivity. I would spend hours on the very websites that promised to help me do more, wasting away my time on idealistic dreams. What was supposed to be the means to an end gradually became the destination that I was trying to reach. And the nature of lifehacks as being a continuous effort in self-improvement meant there was no end to that journey.

Somewhere along the line, I became enamored with the concept of lifehacking, drunk on the promise of more productivity.

The prevalence of “lifehacking” demonstrates the degree to which our culture values productivity. With the daily information overload we face, it’s easy to imagine you can cheat the system somehow through shortcuts and tricks. I am not attempting to undermine the usefulness of some of the tips and advice, but focusing so much energy on being efficient often creates a false sense of productivity in itself.

Lifehacks are appealing since they offer a tangible action to plan for the future. But productivity tricks can only be temporary band-aids until they are built into long-term habits. These habits can mostly only be established through nitty gritty work, a back and forth of finding what works for the individual, and tailoring activities towards that. The seven-point lists that claim to provide an ‘optimal’ way to do live life are certainly tempting to follow, but also try to circumvent the entire process of trying and failing that is so integral to all eventual successes. While the tips and tricks can help in the short term, ultimately life isn’t meant to be hacked; it’s meant to be lived.

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