Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The reluctant life hacker: a slight return

image from the wonderful Garfield Minus Garfield blog.

I seem to have a slow information metabolism. Or perhaps I just overindulge. Either way, I find my brain often takes a while to fully break down and synthesise the mass of information I seem forever compelled to cram down its metaphorical gullet - sometimes it takes weeks before I feel the corresponding hit of enlightenment.

It's been much the same story with all this life hacking/time management/personal productivity malarkey. When I started looking into it all, a few weeks ago... well, I wasn't quite at the Jon Arbuckle* level of despair and inertia, but neither was I in the slightly more composed state I find myself in now: over the weeks, something definitely appears to have shifted in my way of thinking.

Last Friday's blog post was a case in point.

Normally, I open Notepad only very occasionally (mostly, to remove formatting and proprietary code from text in MS Word, before copying it elsewhere); life hackers, on the other hand, seem to make use of its oft-overlooked simplicity for all sorts of purposes. This happened to come to mind last Thursday night, as I wondered about a quick way to gather links and get the next day's post written (blogging had to be fitted around my parents' holiday in Falmouth last week). I opened Notepad... and, well, now, as if by magic, I have on my desktop a quick loading, easily updatable catalogue of links, complete with category headings and short descriptions of each link - in other words, a .txt file.

Granted, copying and pasting links to a .txt file, and adding short descriptions, takes a little more effort than just bookmarking everything, but the time and effort saved later is more than worth it. Much easier than having lots of Firefox tabs open (risking a crash like last Monday's), or browsing through the bookmarks folder. Of course, I could just be more organised when I create bookmarks... but the advantage of the .txt file is that it's tiny, it's compatible with any computer, and not at all browser dependent; none of which is especially critical now, but - who knows? - it might be one day.

And that's exactly the shift in thinking I was talking about: a shift to considering the long term; to making things much quicker and easier for myself in the future, rather than just a little easier in the present; to finding the best way to do things, instead of just getting them done. I mean, yes, I've always known that that was the sensible way, in much the same way that I've always known that I should probably eat much less cheese... but it's only really been during the last couple of weeks that I've caught myself actually following it, or even habitually approaching problems from that kind of angle.

Hmm, you know, I think I might have finally got the point of life hacking...

Erm, like I said, it takes me a while to fully metabolise things.

A direction change

Having said all that, the grand systems still aren't for me - not yet, at least - which is why these (usually) Monday posts will be changing focus. Ramblings about any big new zeitgeist botherers to emerge in the lifehacking field might well appear here as and when, but mostly the space will be filled with links to tips and downloads; small things that can make a big difference, and - where it's not obvious, and it often hasn't been until I've tried them (another good thing this blog thread has made me do) - short explanations of their usefulness.

To get things started today, then, I'll leave you with a few links.

But first, a quote from Danny O'Brien, from which any reluctant life hacker might well take great comfort:

"A few years ago, I coined the term 'life hacks', which has gone on to become an entire industry of hints and tips that I am, by my congenital laziness, unable to use or benefit from. It is some sort of karmic punishment."

Today's useful links:

Downloads of Danny O'Brien's original talk on Life Hacks; and Cory Doctorow's notes from same.

Advice from Cory Doctorow on managing an overflowing inbox.

Wired's recent article on SuperMemo, a memory enhancing and information organising program, and its single-minded creator Piotr Wozniak. Through long-running tests on himself, Wozniak worked out the optimum times to remind yourself of any information you want to learn, so that you'll never forget it, and created SuperMemo to automate the process. Good for language learning, for instance.

And speaking of Wired - ever wanted to get rid of their slow-loading overly flashy ads? Might be time to try the AdBlock Plus Firefox add-on. You can set it to remove the ads from any site you like, leaving just the stuff you went there for. Which is either an utterly, utterly brilliant thing, or, um, might be the death of free stuff on the internet... [Sigh] The dilemma, the dilemma...

*Garfield's owner, for anyone not so familiar with the cartoon.

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