In my first in a long series of “What I’m Reading” weblog posts, I’d like to share what I’ve been learning from the book Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, 3rd Edition, by Adam Pash and Gina Trapani. This edition was written in June 2011, so there are many life hacks which, unfortunately, are no longer useful. But, that didn’t stop me after just three chapters from gaining four useful life hacks that I immediately adapted and which have made me more productive in just a few days’ time.
The first of these life hacks is maintaining a zero inbox. While this is something I used to accomplish on a fairly regular basis, I simply let it go after I was no longer working as a full-time freelancer in 2020. I ended up with thousands upon thousands of emails, many of which were just social media notifications and emails from websites I really didn’t have any interest in anymore. Over the past few months I’ve been slowly working my way through unsubscribing and even straight up blocking some senders. Dropping Linkedin saved me a ton of spammy email nonsense, too.
So, finally, after learning of the three folder method of keeping your inbox clean, I immediately spent a few hours weeding through my inbox. Since I use Gmail, these emails were split between three folders already, but they are called Inbox, Promotions, and Social. These are not at all helpful to me, and many Promotion emails were things I actually wanted to read and had missed for weeks thanks to not looking there.
Lifehacker suggests using folders called archive, hold, and follow-up. Gmail is finicky with letting you call things that, and I decided instead to use the labels feature (which I’m positive didn’t exist in 2011) and called them MyArchive, MyHold, and MyFollowUp. Since I pretty much never receive emails worth a follow-up, most emails go directly into MyHold and MyArchive. MyHold is for emails that I still need to peruse and either archive for future use or let go depending on its long-term value. I suppose I should put emails that inspire me towards a topic into MyFollowUp, but I prefer to save that folder for actual time-sensitive matters.
Now that I maintain a clean inbox three times a day, once in the morning after doing some initial work (more on that in a bit), at lunch time, and at dinner time, my ability to process incoming newsletters and other information has been dramatically increased. I find that I’m able to get more ideas and spend less time staring at a wall of text.
The second major life hack I derived from the Lifehacker book’s first few chapters was organizing my bookmarks. Thanks to sharing my laptop with my former partner on several occassions, I had a whole slew of her personal bookmarks duplicated many times. A vast majority of these links were of no use to me, and many of them were no longer in service on top of that. Lifehacker talks about lots of ways to organize bookmarks, including using the Delicious social bookmarking service that hasn’t been around for years. I didn’t really like using their three folders method for that, though. I decided instead to group them into buckets such as SEO, Content, Design, Gaming, Sports, Education, and Other.
In this process I also downloaded the Firefox extension for the Wayback Machine. It blows my mind how many webpages with useful info haven’t been archived with it yet, but the extension will automatically archive any page I visit that has never been put into the Archive.org database. It also can tell if there’s an archived version of a currently dead page, so that I can link to that instead. I can’t imagine how much knowledge and history I’m going to preserve with this extension. I suggest you use it, too.
The third major life hack is a Windows-only text based work log. All you have to do, and this works even on Windows 11, is create a text document using Notepad and start the document with this: .LOG. After that, every time you open that text document, it will immediately put a time and date stamp right before you type. In the Lifehacker book, this work log is meant to help you track your time. But, my purpose in doing this is to prove I’ve done enough work in a day; I’m a chronic workaholic, and by seeing how many tasks I’ve actually accomplished in a day helps me immensely.
The final life hack I actually put into effect some time ago in practice, but didn’t commit to until today. That is the morning dash. Lifehacker suggests that as soon as you set down to work, immediately block out about one full hour to accomplish at least one high-priority task. What the Lifehacker book added to this morning dash concept is preparing for your morning dash the night before; it’s sort of like putting out the next day’s outfit so you don’t waste time in the morning having to make that choice. This way, if the rest of your day gets bogged down, you at least performed something productive.
As of writing this very weblog entry, this is actually the third piece I have written and will be scheduling today. The morning dash produced the first two, which were already outlined last night. Therefore, the morning dash concept not only works, it took what is a relatively off day for me and turned it into three days worth of immediately scheduled content for my website. I call that a major win.
I’ll be talking about more life hacks from this book in future installments of What I’m Reading weblogs.
How about you: what have you been reading?