Verrah Blog

How "life hacks" are making things worse

September 19, 2017


The other hacking scandal. 

The pressure to create a perpetual stream of responses/concepts/ideas/content/ deliverables is wearing us all down. And we will seemingly do everything we can to stop feeling so burned out. We buy apps to help us manage our workload, our hobbies, our bodies, our kids' schedules and our personal relationships, all in a desperate attempt to export it all into some manageable checklist. We multitask in an effort to make the day be longer than 24 hours, exercising while doing computer work and texting while walking.
Is any of this working? It doesn’t seem like it. In June, the Harvard Business Review wrote, “More and more people are feeling tired and lonely at work. In analyzing the General Social Survey of 2016, we found that, compared with roughly 20 years ago, people are twice as likely to report that they are always exhausted.” The HBR article asserted that research by Sarah Pressman at University of California, Irvine demonstrated that the common coping mechanisms for stress (eating, drinking, drug use, smoking) have devastating effects on life expectancy. Studies strongly suggest that feelings of isolation (often a byproduct of “overwork”) significantly increase your risk of stroke or heart disease, while true social connection can strengthen the immune system and decrease anxiety and depression. But you knew all that already.

So, we’re doing everything we can to fight upstream while trying to zen out. Or are we?

Our own team is no stranger to stress, and a few of us even admit to upgrading a freemium meditation app or two.

Enter: the “life hack.” The 21st century answer to always feeling like you're one step behind.

As marketers, we can’t help but think of messaging, and it strikes us that this life hack “movement” (… fad… trend...?) is counterproductive. The term “hack” comes from the technology sector which uses it to describe digital shortcuts that increases efficiency, and it’s been repurposed to refer to what used to be called “common sense,” “neat tricks” and The Farmer’s Almanac. We think it’s meaningful to consider that criminals hack into databases. Someone might hack her way through brush, or have a hacking cough. The ineffectual and amateurish are hacks. So, what’s the deal with “life hacks”?  This term seems to indicate that your life is something to outsmart, beat down or technologize into submission. 

We assert that taking a combative position with your own life is part of the problem. There’s no app that will make you feel better, work smarter, or be happier if you don’t have a good baseline. And getting advice from your (digital) neighbors is called group wisdom or friendly advice, not a “hack.”

Here’s the list of things that our team agrees helps them feel happier and healthier, without paying the Apple store or involving soda-pop can tabs. None of it is rocket science, or even that remarkable.

  1. Walk. You don’t need a Fitbit. Just walk. Who cares how many steps? Park far away, take the bus, skip the elevator. There’s so much research that correlates walking with cognition and health; we won’t even bother to cite anything here. You know it’s true. So, walk.
  2. Doodle. Stop trying to be goal-oriented. Get a pen and paper (not an app) and just scribble and sketch, especially when you’re fully focused on nothing else. See where your mind rambles. Author Sunni Brown says, "When the mind starts to engage with visual language, you get the neurological access that you don't have when you're in linguistic mode." Can’t think of what to doodle? Start with a noun: elephant, love, abyss, sneeze. Go from there.
  3. Get off the iPhone pipe. Leave it behind. Proto-smartphones were called "CrackBerries" for a reason. Neurologically speaking, we’re all now basically rats stepping on a lever to get doses of booze-soaked food pellets. If you absolutely must have a phone on you, try turning it off for 15 and then 30 minutes at a time. Our friends at the Light Phone (the phone “designed to be used as little as possible") have nailed it, and, while we don’t think you need to buy anything at all to start feeling better, we love their philosophy and — full disclosure — have two Light Phones in circulation here for just this reason.
  4. Stop being perfect. (You’re not, anyway. High fives all around!) If you’re stumped on a project, try coming up with a list of the worst ideas you can conceive. Gerry Graf of Barton F. Graf 9000 makes his team come up with thousands of terrible ideas before he lets them work on good ones. Loosen up for half an hour and be just plain rotten at solving the task at hand.
  5. Stop sleeping with technology. Go to bed on time, turn off all screens an hour before, and charge your phone in a different room. Simon Sinek said he would buy you a damn alarm clock if that's your objection.

    Yours in health,

    The Verrah Team


Topics: Lifestyle, Productivity, Tips

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