Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Tweak, Don't Hack

Hacking has become quite popular in the last few years. And I’m not talking about the computer programming subculture. I’m talking about people hacking many or all aspects of their lives and their systems. Sometimes doing it to absurd ends in the goal of saving time or becoming more productive.

I find, and I’m probably painting with a wide brush here, but so be it, that the lifehacking ethos is entrenched in the culture of GTD (short for Getting Things Done, a popular method of personal productivity). You can learn more about my opinion of GTD in this post.

I know a few people who are … let’s say they’re enthusiastic about GTD. They spend an inordinate amount of time hacking the system. They have multiple notebooks with multiple tabs. They have multiple folders, whether physical or on their computers, for everything. They’re constantly trying out new productivity software. It never seems to end. They get too caught up in the processes and the tools to get anything done.

For the most part, hacking isn’t the right approach. It adds too much complexity and too much overhead to what you want to do.

If you need to hack a system as much as some people hack theirs, obviously there’s something wrong with it. The system is either too complex or too generic. You shouldn’t have to do much to mold a system, any system to your needs. The amount of effort that you expend in bending the system to you will outweighs any gain that you will get from the system.

Instead, go for the lowest common denominator. Find a way of doing things that you can set up and use quickly. Simplicity isn’t just a feature. Simplicity is a must.

Your goal should be to keep things as simple as possible, and to spend as little time as possible maintaining the system. Anything more than that and you become a slave to that system and your tools. Once you’re set up, you should only need to do the minimum of maintenance.

Which is why I advocate using plain text for most tasks. With plain text, you have a very simple and very flexible tool that requires little setup and little maintenance. Even when you add the tools that I advocate in this space and elsewhere to the equation, you’re not adding too much overhead to what you’re doing.

A final thought: all of the energy and effort put into molding a system of productivity to you and to your needs could be better spent actually (dare I say it?) getting things done.

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