7 Life Hacks That Aren’t Hacks At All

1. Document your life. – Spend no more time wondering how to keep a journal, searching for methods, or reading reviews on notebooks and digital note apps, just write. Write something down about this day, then do the same thing tomorrow, then the next day. Don’t tell yourself you need to start at the first of the year, or the month, or the week. Start on a random Thursday, and don’t stop.

I have written something about every day in my personal journal since October, 2012, and there is likely not a day that I wouldn’t remember if I read it. How did the habit start in my case? By writing a few bullet points about the day and nothing else.

Example (fictitious):

2015-11-05 – Saturday

  • Had lunch with John at Cracker Barrel.
  • Worked on Project until my computer broke and I had to fix it all afternoon.
  • Walked through the neighborhood and spent time reading Mark Twain before bed.

2015-11-06 – Sunday

  • Sunday dinner with Megan’s family.
  • Cowboys lost to the Eagles.
  • Talked to Bart on the phone before bed.

That’s all you need to remember a day when you’re getting started, especially if it’s surrounded by simple data points from other days. Start small and sustainable.

Nothing is as satisfying as looking back over a whole year and knowing how you spent your time.

(That’s one purpose of a journal. Another and significant purpose is to express emotions and quiet your mind. Do this as needed, but burn when done.)

2. Take time to reflect. – Once you document your life, stop and look at it. Are you spending your time like you want to? Many of us remain sedated in the rhythm of life and are afraid to take inventory. There is no more healthy thing you can do than to stop and ask if you’re doing now what you will want to have done. 

A second major benefit is remembering the good. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to think of only the negative things and how unnatural to recall the positive? Gratitude brings happiness but takes effort.

3. Develop a tolerance for pain, discipline, and consistency. – When we google “how to lose weight,” we’re actually looking for shortcuts to results without discomfort. Focus on developing patience with the discomfort and you won’t need shortcuts. Modern living is convenient and makes us think we can accomplish amazing things without sweat, but it’s a lie. Resistance is built in to meaningful progress. It will never eradicated, so it should be embraced.

4. Develop an intolerance for pleasure, procrastination, and indifference. – We cut ourselves way too much slack. Those who are disciplined have learned to envision the consequences of inaction while they are still invisible. We don’t remember that we’re going to die, not acutely. We will run out of time, but daily life hums us to sleep and we forget. The feeling only arises at certain moments, like when the seasons change or on New Year’s Eve.

We don’t often consider that life can change, sometimes very quickly, and the easiest time to start on a thing might be now. We waste many days in a vague motion with no clear direction, and we can’t see how this will be bitter in the end. We’re like cars idling through neighborhoods, looking at Christmas lights, taking it as it comes, when we should be like the lead driver in the secret service—our routes are memorized, our destination is certain, and absolutely nothing matters more than getting there.

5. Always remember you don’t know the full story. – Always in such a hurry to judge situations, we forget the most basic truth: we don’t know everything. We don’t know what has made a person the way they are. We don’t know why the man on the side of the road is begging or why a person was rude to us on the phone or why we smiled and said a jovial “Take care!” to the cashier and she didn’t even look up at us. What if she buried a family member yesterday? Well then, she has the right to be distracted. Every time you feel the judging instinct rise up (and if you’re like me, this is often), remember that you don’t know the full story.

6. Assume people know more than you. – Which also means expecting that they can teach you something. Think this about everyone, especially the people you’re prone to look down on or overlook. This is even helpful if your specific purpose is to teach the person. Knowledge is attractive when shared in humility.

7. Appreciate your friends for what they are. – Don’t make them what they aren’t. Don’t withhold yourself from them because they don’t fully fit your preference. One friend might be really good at certain kinds of conversations you like, but you may have another kind of conversation you don’t relate on. Don’t throw them away because of the part you don’t enjoy.

Discipline Isn’t Complicated

Discipline might not be easy at first, but it is simple. Sometimes we lose it because we complicate it.

Discipline it nothing more than the art of following through on pre-planned action without any regard to how you feel or think about it right now. It’s the art of harshly interrupting that voice in your head that wants to reason it all out again.

“I know you planned to work on this project at 10, but you also need to pull those weeds. … Are you sure this is the right workout for you this morning? Won’t this be an active day anyway? … But it’s Friday, can’t you have a cheat meal tonight? … You’ve been great at saving your money, should you treat yourself to one new pair of shoes?”

Shout loudly over those questions in your head before they can even finish. Don’t let the argument start. It’s just like any other argument in that there is no winner.

Ignore your thoughts and push your body into the action you already committed to. Close your eyes and jump. That’s discipline.

Avoid This Lie

I’m currently reading How to Own Your Own Mind by Napoleon Hill. I’ve been impressed with this book and it has become one of my favorites I’ve read this year.

There’s a statement he repeats throughout that has stuck in my head, and this is the lie that you should avoid. He claims in the book, and I agree with him, that the vast majority of humanity believe this lie and live all their days under its enchantment.

The lie: There is such a thing as something for nothing.

Many people believe this, and are disgruntled when they haven’t seen things they desire come about in their life.

The problem isn’t that their expectations are too high, it’s that their output—their willingness to take initiative, go the extra mile, concentrate all their effort into their task—is too low. They fail to realize that they haven’t conquered themselves. They’re standing in their own way.

There’s no such thing as something for nothing. Not in business, relationships, parenting, education, employment, career building, fitness, or any other area where we expect results.

Tip for Getting Things Done: Don’t Consult Yourself

There’s a vulnerable moment in the process of getting a chore done. It’s that tiny half-second flash of a thought where I take inventory as to how I’m feeling and whether I want to actually do it. Most of the time, when I stop to ask myself this, I don’t do it.

Words popped into my head before a workout one day: “Don’t consult yourself!

I don’t need to ask myself if I feel like working out—or doing the dishes or straightening the office or any of the thousand other chores I could put off if I want to—I already know I should. No need to revisit the subject. There’s nothing more to reason out.

The voice in my head is quite the talker. He can smooth his way out of any commitment, no matter how much he told me yesterday he’s all in. I’ve realized one of the best things I can do is just close my ears. There’s no new information. He doesn’t need to be consulted. He needs to be ignored.

Once I realized that this is the beginning of procrastination, I started jumping in more. Then I realized a second thing that might be even more powerful: once I start in, he almost always shuts up in a matter of seconds.

You already know what you need to do. Don’t consult yourself. Future you will love you for it.

Productive Distraction

Not everything that feels productive really is. 

For example, writing a system for how to handle a project better in the future while a current project sits unfinished. Or cleaning a drawer when you have a presentation to prepare.

This is the worst kind of procrastination because it’s where the illusion of productivity is strongest. If you surf YouTube aimlessly while there’s work to be done, you can feel the alarm sounding inside. There’s urgency. But if you start cleaning up your desktop and looking through old files, you can distract yourself thoroughly enough to not even notice.

These sorts of distractions are the daily bread of people who are going nowhere—employees trying to kill their time and punch the clock and leave the impression of being busy.  Some spend their whole careers like this.

If you’re a freelancer, well, it’s on you. These distractions hurt you primarily. The longer you take to get a thing done, the longer until you get paid, the less valuable the project is, the closer you are to giving up on self-employment altogether. The worst part is that your client suffers too as they wait for you to build that system.

I try to ask myself constantly, “Is this the most important thing right now, or am I hiding behind something that merely seems productive?”