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NYT Magazine: "Meet the Life Hackers"

Meet the Life Hackers - New York Times

_New York Times_ Select subscribers (coughFreeTrialcough) can login to preview an article by Clive Thompson that runs in the Sunday Magazine. It's called "Meet the Life Hackers" and it's a terrific overview of how people, companies, and products are responding to information overload and our (sometimes self-imposed) culture of interruption.

Danny and I pop up, as well as heroes like Mary Czerwinski and the late Bluma Zeigarnik. Clive did a hell of a job with a big and complicated topic, and I'd encourage you to check out the full article when it becomes available for free (Saturday night?). It's really good--I'd never heard, for example, about the research on interrupting telegraph operators. Awesome.

Update 2005-10-15 19:04:08

Now available online for free: Meet the Life Hackers - New York Times

Extended excerpts on Danny and the Genesis of the life-hacking movement:

In late 2003, the technology writer Danny O'Brien decided he was fed up with not getting enough done at work. So he sat down and made a list of 70 of the most "sickeningly overprolific" people he knew, most of whom were software engineers of one kind or another. O'Brien wrote a questionnaire asking them to explain how, precisely, they managed such awesome output. Over the next few weeks they e-mailed their replies, and one night O'Brien sat down at his dining-room table to look for clues. He was hoping that the self-described geeks all shared some common tricks.

He was correct. But their suggestions were surprisingly low-tech. None of them used complex technology to manage their to-do lists: no Palm Pilots, no day-planner software. Instead, they all preferred to find one extremely simple application and shove their entire lives into it...

In essence, the geeks were approaching their frazzled high-tech lives as engineering problems - and they were not waiting for solutions to emerge from on high, from Microsoft or computer firms. Instead they ginned up a multitude of small-bore fixes to reduce the complexities of life, one at a time, in a rather Martha Stewart-esque fashion...

Many of O'Brien's correspondents, it turned out, were also devotees of "Getting Things Done," a system developed by David Allen, a personal-productivity guru who consults with Fortune 500 corporations and whose seminars fill Silicon Valley auditoriums with anxious worker bees. At the core of Allen's system is the very concept of memory that Mark and Czerwinski hit upon: unless the task you're doing is visible right in front of you, you will half-forget about it when you get distracted, and it will nag at you from your subconscious...

"David Allen essentially offers a program that you can run like software in your head and follow automatically," O'Brien explains. "If this happens, then do this. You behave like a robot, which of course really appeals to geeks."

O'Brien summed up his research in a speech called "Life Hacks," which he delivered in February 2004 at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. Five hundred conference-goers tried to cram into his session, desperate for tips on managing info chaos. When O'Brien repeated the talk the next year, it was mobbed again. By the summer of 2005, the "life hacks" meme had turned into a full-fledged grass-roots movement. Dozens of "life hacking" Web sites now exist, where followers of the movement trade suggestions on how to reduce chaos. The ideas are often quite clever: O'Brien wrote for himself a program that, whenever he's surfing the Web, pops up a message every 10 minutes demanding to know whether he's procrastinating. It turns out that a certain amount of life-hacking is simply cultivating a monklike ability to say no.

And we mustn't forget another of DOB's contributions: the webolodeon.

Great work, Clive (and many thanks for including me).

[via Mother Stiness]

Greg's picture

Isn't it striking that the...

Isn't it striking that the word "multi-tasking" is actually completely wrong for describing the work pattern "Lifehackers" are supposedly fighting. You're not doing a bunch of things at once, you're flitting from one thing to another really fast. It's more like "sequential tasking".

It got me to thinking: what would tools for actually doing more than one thing at once, for real multi-tasking, look like? I've got some ideas (automated email reading, haptic alerts, smart web page readers, etc.), but I don't want to hijack this discussion too badly.

I wrote up my thoughts in a post on my own blog. Come check it out (and help me brainstorm) if you're interested.




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