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

A Hack Too Far?

A multitool

In early 2016, British teen Jordan Cox needed to get home to Sheffield from Essex. The problem was the return train ticket cost £47 (about $68 USD). That’s quite a bit of money, especially for an 18 year old.

So Cox, who blogs about saving money, found a cheaper way home: via a flight to Berlin, Germany. That saved him a whopping £7.72 (around $11 USD).

Take a moment to let that sink in. He took the better part of a day to get home, all to save £7.72.

To his credit, Cox pointed out:

OK, this isn’t for everyone as it can take a whole day to get to your final destination … Even by my usual standards, I’ll admit this is a rather extreme way of saving money.

Cox’s travel hack illustrates something I’ve noticed about many hacks in many areas. They revel in their own cleverness rather than being useful. Sometimes, the hack in question is a hack too far.

Admittedly, Cox’s hack is an extreme example. But there are many, many hacks out there that, while fun, don’t really make much difference to your life or work. You can learn the so-called optimal ways to fold napkins or store your shoes or quickly find the exit in a train station, but chances are the quality of your life and work won’t increase because of those hacks.

That, to me, is the danger of being obsessed with hacking. You can wind up spending more time organizing than being productive.

When evaluating a hack of any kind, probe below the surface. Look beyond the Wow! or This is neat factor and consider whether or not the hack will really help you. Do that by asking these questions:

  1. Will it save you time (if that’s even possible)?
  2. Are the savings of time or money or both worth the effort?
  3. Will this actually improve my workflow or process?

Unless the answer to all of those questions is yes, shunt that hack to the dustbin.

Don’t let the seeming cleverness of a hack or a solution seduce you. Unless it is practical, it won’t be of any use to you. It won’t be worth your time or your mental or physical effort.

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