Ah, the seductive pull of the lifehack! Simple little things that make things better – if only.
A recent post by journalist and science fiction author Cory Doctorow traces the history of the concept from 2004, when Danny O’Brien presented “Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks” at the 0’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference.
“O’Brien’s inspiration was his social circle, in which people he knew to be no smarter or better or motivated than anyone else… were somehow able to do much more than their peers, in some specific domain. O’Brien delved deeply into these peoples’ lives and discovered that each of them had merely (“merely!”) gotten very good at using one or two tools to automate things that would otherwise take up a lot of their time.” ( make into pullquote)
It turned out that people were “delighted and excited to learn about their peers’ cool little tricks”. And thus was born the “lifehack” , which as Doctorow observes, turned into “a pit of productivity porn, grifter hustling, and anodyne advice wreathed in superlatives and transformed into SEO-compliant listicles” (can Doctorow write or what, people?!).
So, no lifehack here – rather a way to think about things
As I wrote in my first article of the year, I’m working on changing my approach to the things that drain my energy – one of which is the sense that I have of being pulled all over the place by notifications, meetings and emails.
I have now finished the tech policy I started in 2023 (and which was based on this article Why you should create a “Tech Policy of One” (And how to do it)). It’s an outline of how I’d ideally like to deal with all those demands on my time and energy.
Note that word “ideally” – real life doesn’t always comply with policy (as we South Africans know so very well). But I found the process of writing it helpful, and in fact it does guide the decisions I make through the day and, I think, has made a difference, even if all it does it make me feel more “boundaried”.
What’s in my policy?
The policy covers these areas:
How and where I prefer to work: this specifies where I stand on the remote/in-office spectrum and lists all the tools that I am happy to use in various parts of my business (for instance I am really happy to use Zoom or Google Meet for video calls, but will only go into the hell that is Microsoft Teams if a client requires it.)
Meetings, calls and chats: this covers (crucially) when I am available for work-related communication of this kind. The policy says I don’t do meetings on Mondays and Fridays (though of course I will break that rule when needed).
How I prefer to communicate on ongoing documents; This specifies, for instance, that substantive queries must be dealt with in email, so there’s a record of what happened.
Notifications and expectations around getting and giving responses: This specifies that I have turned off all notifications on my PC, and on my phone (except for WhatsApp). And it says that I will monitor client communications via WhatsApp between 8.15am to 5pm. (Again – there are exceptions, and of course I’m keeping an eye on things. But setting it as a policy has made me much more thoughtful about whether I really need to do the “blue tick” thing on a communication from a client after 5pm.) The policy also specifies the broad times at which I will check email, and what my turnaround time for answering emails is.
One thing to note; these are my internal rules, for myself. When interacting with the outside world, I don’t tell people I can’t do something, ever. I say, instead; “Monday is quite full. Could we do Tuesday instead?”.
The key theme in client communication is still politeness and respect and a willingness to be of service. It’s just that my interactions are also guided by respect for myself and my time.
Where to from here?
That’s the policy as it stands now – I will review it, probably every quarter, and see if it needs adjustment. And once I have it the way I really want it, I will post it on my website for the world to see!
If you’d like a copy of my policy so you can use it as base for your own, email me and I’ll happily send it to you.
Main picture: RobertCheaib, Unsplash
How to reach me
Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media). I also help small businesses and organisations with project and operational management. I write a post every week, some about my professional life and work, and some about broader issues. You can get either of those, or both, in your email, by subscribing here.