I am a productivity hobbyist and life hacker


Joining the new geek sub-culture of getting things done and getting the most out of life

For the longest time, I've been obsessed with being productive in my spare time. By productive, I mean that whatever I did in my spare time should in some way contribute to making my life, or someone else's, better. This meant that things like reading novels or watching movies was unproductive. However, things like writing freeware software (like my own IRC client), designing and building circuits (like audio amplifiers and home automation kit), improving my guitar playing technique, gymming, or reading self-help books (on things like finance and meditation), was productive. There had to be some form of rolled-up progress. If the garden needed to be tended to every week just to maintain it in it's current state, then that was not productive. However, if I could paint one wall of the house once a month, then eventually my whole house would be repainted. Highly productive!

Over time I discovered that this obsession left me with a lot of productive "projects" to complete. The more projects I had, the less motivation I had to do any single one of them, because I couldn't decide which one to focus my energy on. This resulted in me wasting away my spare time with useless things like watching TV series or playing computer games.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon the GTD phenomenon. GTD is an abbreviation for "getting things done", which is a reference to the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. I was instantly hooked as I read about GTD, because as a geek, this appeals to my nature of hacking things to make them work better, or in ways they weren't intended to. Here was a book describing how to organise and focus your mind so that you can be productive, even when you feel like you have way to much to do, and way too little time. Even more profound was that it explained why I always felt stressed instead of motivated, when I thought about my projects. I went around telling everyone how busy I was and how little time I had for anything, even when I wasn't actually doing anything useful, simply because of the energy it took to organise my thoughts.

One of the first things I learned with GTD was to get things out of my head and into some written form. They suggest a pen and pocketable writing pad (in a form they call Hipster PDA). Imagine that! Suddenly geeks are excited about dumping their unwieldy electronic PDA's for a pen and piece of paper! We've known all along that despite the uber-coolness of an electronic diary/PDA, they are pretty useless when you need to jot down thoughts as you have them, wherever you may be. You tell yourself to remember to enter it in your PDA when you get a chance, then you forget, and then you feel stressed and can't figure out why. One of the best things about GTD is that you no longer rely on yourself or anyone else to remember anything. It gets written down, processed into a to-do list, and the GTD process makes sure you know about it when you need to.

Having a to-do list is all good an well, but completely useless and a waste of time if it is not organised correctly and used in a process that keeps it visible and manageable. I won't go into details here, as it's all explained very well in the book (and there's a nice summary here). I find that it is all too easy to ignore the to-do list (especially if it has too many items in it) and go back to the unfocussed, demotivated state, so I've made it a part of my routine, like with gymming. It's not easy to get myself into the gym when I don't really feel like it, but once I'm there, I enjoy it and start giving it my best (without fail). When I get myself started on a task in my to-do list, the satisfaction of having completed it motivates me to keep going, and soon I'm ticking off tasks like there's no tomorrow. Now that's rolled-up progress!

What works well for me is to use my cellphone to gather my thoughts, to-do's and information. Since it has a full keyboard on it, it's easy to enter information, and I always have it with me. If I can't type, I do a voice recording. When I am at home, I enter that information into my to-do list. I use toodledo.com (although there are tons of other good sites, such as rememberthemilk.com) to manage my to-do list, as it is accessible from my cellphone, pocket PC, iPod touch, EeePC netbook, or any internet-connected PC.

While researching GTD, I stumbled upon lifehacker.com and zenhabits.net. I am fascinated by the various ways in which you can hack your life to get more out of it. Lifehacker.com aggregates articles from around the web on mostly tech tips and tricks but also some life hacks, be it tips and tricks on using Outlook, tools to implement GTD, or even how to hack conversations you have with people! Zenhabits.net has amazing self-help articles on improving your life by simplifying it. It includes topics about health, wealth, relationships, work, etc. This site can change your life for the better, if you are receptive to it.

Hacking my mind is currently one of my biggest fascinations. By applying Buddhist meditation techniques, it's possible to hack my mind and change the way I feel and think! Feeling anger? A bit of mindfulness and centering will sort that out. Feeling frustrated with someone? Nothing that some loving kindness meditation can't solve. Infact, I have now changed my mind about some tasks I used to think were unproductive: ironing my clothes, swordsmanship (yes! with a katana sword!), and washing my cars offers me a great opportunity to meditate while still doing something useful. Chores have changed from being unproductive and frustrating, to tasks that allow me to meditate, do some cardio, and complete the task at hand, all in one go.

Hack my mind, my body, and be productive, all at the same time. Now that is the ultimate life hack.