Welcome to the Positively Living Podcast. I’m your host Lisa, and I’m so grateful you’re here. Are you ready for something a bit different because today’s episode is definitely part rant, but I’ll do my best to bring it around and give you actionable advice too, as is my intention in every episode.
Today we’re focusing on a word and a concept that really grinds my gears, and I fear it does far more harm than good, especially because it’s so popular.
The word is HACK. Life hacks, Bio hacks, and Productivity hacks. We love that word, and SEO proves it.
The Productivity Hack Myth: Why They Don’t Work and What Does
Productivity hacks are everywhere. Search online and you’ll have pages and pages of results. I tried to research how many online articles provided them and I couldn’t find a number, which probably means neither the search engines nor I can count that high. Search for Productivity Hacks on Amazon and you’ll be scrolling through over 1,000 books as of my latest search.
Let’s face it, entrepreneurs know if this phrase is included, people will look. There are books, articles, and websites dedicated not just to being more productive, but to doing it fast and easy with hacks. They promise to help us get more done in less time, but do they really work?
The answer is somewhat complicated leaning heavily toward not exactly. Hacks aren’t entirely without merit. They often involve aspects of productivity techniques that do work for some. They were culled and shared for a reason and often with good intention. I would say that many shouldn’t even be called “hacks”.
But here’s the crux: Tips that are shared as “hacks” are often based on the idea that there’s a quick fix for our productivity problems. But the truth is, there is no quick fix. Productivity done right takes time and effort initially. Thankfully, when you dig deep and make that effort, you’re rewarded with long-term results. That’s something a short-term hack can never give you.
Why Do We Fall for Productivity Hack?
We’re all looking for a quick fix. Our culture values productivity, which unfortunately leads us to feeling like we’re constantly being judged for not being productive enough, yet we’re stretched thin as it is. We want to improve our productivity without having to put in a lot of effort. When you’re tired and you need help, and you live with the expectation that you aren’t doing enough…that YOU aren’t enough…productivity hacks seem like the perfect answer. One quick fix that revolutionizes how much you do? Seems like it’s worth a try. Right?
Now is the perfect time to quote Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars. My husband does this voice so perfectly. “It’s a TRAP!”
Remember that every choice you make comes with a cost, and a shortcut like a hack has a price you need to decide if you want to pay.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use elements of them to your benefit. So let’s talk about what you need to consider to do this the right way.
First, let’s distinguish between taking a shortcut and finding fast ways to quickly accomplish your goals. Hacks are not necessarily the same thing as efficiency. I do wonder if many of these lists conflate the two.
I am ALL for efficiency. I am ALL for energy management. I have quoted Greg McKeown’s philosophy of “less but better” for years now. (He wrote the book Essentialism, which is on my Favorites page of the website, and I highly recommend it.) I am definitely not about doing MORE. However, we need to know what we’re doing and why. And that is one of the places we get in trouble with productivity hacks.
Why Don’t Productivity Hacks Work?
No matter how reliable your source is, you need to be critical because, by their very nature, hacks are not tailored to you. And because they promise big results quickly, they’re often unrealistic and unsustainable. While you might luck out and find help short term, far too often, you’re taking a chance which, at best, wastes your time and, at worst, leads to burnout.
The foundational issue here is that hacks are a bandage, not a cure. They tend to address surface-level symptoms, not the root cause of our productivity struggles. Their solutions are bandaids meant to optimize small aspects of our workflow without tackling the underlying issues. And the magic of productivity is in those underlying issues.
FOR EXAMPLE: You want to stop procrastinating and you find the Pomodoro Technique on a list of hacks. I’m a huge fan of this technique, but only for specific people in specific circumstances. Pomodoro sprints are an effective way to manage your time and focus in shorter intervals. Named after the kitchen tomato timer–Pomodoro being the Italian word for tomato–It’s a burst of dedicated focus time followed by a quick break, which you repeat. Imagine seeing this on a list of hacks. It sounds legit, because it is, and you excitedly try it to push past your procrastination. What you haven’t taken into account is the type of work you’re doing (you may need longer deep work sessions) or the fact that procrastination is often a symptom of deeper issues like lack of clarity about your goals or which tasks you must prioritize or how you continue to overextend yourself. It can come from mindset issues, like impostor syndrome or fear of failure. And procrastination can often happen when you’re overwhelmed and tired, especially if you’ve hit burnout. By implementing the Pomodoro Technique, you’re only addressing a surface-level symptom. To truly overcome procrastination, you must identify and address the root causes that hinder your progress.
BTW if procrastination really is an issue for you, you’ll want to check out episodes 107 and 115 on procrastination and prioritizing.
Another reason why productivity hacks fall short is their lack of personalization. We’re all unique individuals with different strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. If you’ve been listening for a while, you’ve heard me say this repeatedly and it’s the key to our productivity. What works wonders for one person may not work at all for another. Yet, many productivity hacks promote a one-size-fits-all approach.
For instance, you may come across a hack that recommends waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to jumpstart your productivity. I see these all the time recommending a morning power hour and our society loves the early risers “the early bird gets the worm,” and all that. Well, that early bird will love this hack, but it will be a guaranteed fail if you’re naturally a night owl. You can be productive whether you’re an early bird or night owl!
Forcing yourself into someone else’s productivity mold can lead to frustration and shame, which is unwarranted.
It’s not only that hacks may not be the right fit for YOU or too surface level, they may also be addressing the wrong problem entirely. It’s like a bizarre red herring for your productivity problems. Is this technique offering the right solution for you right now, or is it a distraction (even a productive one)? Even a hack that works and is the right solution might not be what you need right now. It’s important to know the difference.
I mentioned that some hacks may have some merit when properly placed, but there are a few I want you to dismiss immediately.
- Multitasking. It’s debunked. You cannot focus on two things simultaneously; therefore, you cannot multitask. Therefore, it’s counterproductive. Let that one go!
- Working late hours. This is what I call a force versus finesse approach. This falls into the “just do more” mindset. While you can technically get more done if you add some extra hours for a short period of time, working long hours can become a habit that continues, and that can lead to burnout. Plus, the more tired we are, the less likely we can think clearly or make good decisions. This means you might be doing work twice, which is definitely not productive.
- Using productivity apps. There are a lot of productivity apps on the market, but they’re not all created equal. Some apps can be helpful, but others can actually be counterproductive. An app will not fix an underlying problem. It will only be as good as the system you’ve designed. An app automates the processes you have set. Also, a new app means a learning curve, which takes time and effort. It must be a good fit and worth it for you.
If Productivity Hacks Aren’t the Answer, What Should We Do Instead?
How can we unlock our full potential and achieve our goals without falling into the quick-fix trap? The key lies in adopting a holistic approach to productivity, including self-awareness, self-care, and clarity around your goals.
Develop Deeper Self-Awareness
First and foremost, it’s crucial to develop self-awareness. You need to understand your own unique strengths, weaknesses, and working style. It’s also important to assess your energy throughout the day, as well as the tasks that bring you joy and the ones that drain your energy. When you align your work with your natural tendencies, you’ll find yourself in a state of flow, getting things done in a way that feels easier and more satisfying, which makes you want to keep doing it.
Additionally, focus on setting clear and meaningful goals that resonate with your values and passions. When your goals align with your true purpose, you’ll find the motivation and drive to overcome obstacles and stay committed, even in the face of challenges. Your WHY keeps you going.
Listen to The #1 Tool to Achieve Productivity.
Practice Regular Self-Care
Another crucial aspect of a holistic productivity approach is self-care. It’s essential to recognize that productivity is not just about getting more done—it’s about achieving a harmonious and fulfilling life. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is vital for sustained productivity.
You must prioritize activities that rejuvenate your mind and body. You cannot underestimate the power of getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and exercising regularly. So too, you must care for your mind with self-reflection, meditation, relaxation, and activities that lift your spirit. A well-rested and nourished mind is a productive mind. Rest is productive. This is energy management at its best.
Embrace a State of Flow
Finally, embrace the power of the FLOW STATE, which is the most productive state you can enter. In today’s hyper-connected world, distractions are abundant and are often a big part of the unproductive moments that led us to search for hacks. We’re on phones receiving constant messages and notifications. We have the world at our fingertips, and it’s so distracting. We’re trying to compensate for that with hacks.
A flow state is a natural counter to that by offering a space where you can do what you’re passionate about in a way that challenges you and elevates your abilities. When you are clear about what you need to do and why (which is supported by being in alignment with your values), you have the foundation for getting into flow.
Instead of trying to multi-task or grabbing bits and pieces of time to work, you’ll unlock a different level of productivity when you intentionally set dedicated blocks of time for distraction-free, focused work. Give yourself permission to prioritize your work and protect your focused time. It’s so easy to answer others, but this is your time, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish with your undivided attention and intention. No hacks are required.
To close, I have to tell you it took me a while to share this episode because I know we love our hacks, and I’m not immune. I’ve read plenty of those articles. But the more I coach, the more I see the damage this language can do.
Think about the definition of hack: As a verb, it means chopping blindly everywhere around you in the hopes of just getting through. No finesse, no direction, and no intention. In IT, hackers gain unauthorized access. If you’re trying to take down a corporation, that’s a good thing. But when you’re working with your own brain, instead of bypassing it, it’s better to work with it.
As a noun, it refers to a person of mediocre ability. I’m the first person to elevate “good enough” in our lives, but when it comes to your productivity, I urge you to demand better from your techniques.
As you learn more about how you work best, I am cheering you on! The easy way out is popular but it’s not the way for longevity, for the future. It’s work and you’re amazing for doing it. I encourage you to connect with me!
If you’re ready to speed things up, let’s replace hacking with strategy. In a Strategy Session, we’ll assess your strengths, values, and personality, Inventory tasks and schedule, Discuss your daily routines and habits, Identify your goals, and come up with a personalized productivity plan and your best next steps.
Head to https://positivelyproductive.com/hub, where you can find my freebies, the resources vault, and my services. Scroll down and select “Strategy Session” and when you purchase, please use the promo code PODCAST as my thank you for listening.
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Learn more about Positively Living and Lisa at https://positivelyproductive.com/podcast/
If you’re a DIY dynamo looking for simplicity and productivity support, you’ll find it in the Positively Productive Resources Vault. It’s packed with the worksheets, checklists, workbooks, and recordings I use with clients. Go to http://www.positivelyproductive.com/podcastvault where the promo code PODCAST will give you a special listener discount.
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Music by Ian and Jeff Zawrotny
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