Lifehacker: A book review by Bob Morris

LifehackersLifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better
Adam Pash and Gina Trapani
Wiley Publishing (2011)

Here in a single volume is probably about all anyone needs to know about how to work smarter, faster, and better

In Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results, co-authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein observe, “Today’s top performers are taking matters into their own hands. They are bypassing sacred structures and breaking all sorts of rules just to get their work done…Every day in every workplace, benevolent rule breakers like these are ensuring that business succeeds despite itself. They are reinventing how to approach productivity and how to consistently achieve morebetterfaster results.” Jensen and Klein urge their reader to start hacking: “Start taking the usual ways of doing things and work around them to produce improved results. Bend the rules for the good of all. That’s what benevolent hackers do.”

In his book Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently, Gregory Berns explains, “The overarching theme of this book is that iconoclasts are able to do things that others say can’t be done, because iconoclasts perceive things differently than other people.” Berns goes on to explain that the difference in perception “plays out in the initial stages of an idea. It plays out in how their manage their fears, and it manifests in how they pitch their ideas to the masses of noniconoclasts. It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits.” In her article “How to Walk on the Leading Edge without Falling off the Cliff and then a book, Edgewalkers: People and Organizations That Take Risks, Build Bridges, and Break New Ground, Judith A. Neal calls these bold and principled people “Edgewalkers” whose dominant characteristics include visionary consciousness (they have a sense of mission about something greater than themselves), multicultural responsiveness (they can understand the nuances of different worlds or cultures), intuitive sensitivity (they are natural futurists who constantly integrate ideas and information from a variety of sources, risk-taking confidence (they have a strong sense of adventure and experimentation), and self-awareness (they understand and appreciate that each person is a unique microcosm of the whole). Benevolent hackers, values-driven iconoclasts, and Edgewalkers are kindred spirits.

I share all this to create a context for a book written by Gina Trapani and first published in 2008; its second edition appeared two years later and now we have a third edition she co-authored with Adam Pash. Lest there be any confusion about two key terms, they explain that “a hacker is someone who solves a problem in a clever or little-known way. A life hacker is a workaround or shortcut that overcomes the everyday difficulties of the modern worker. A lifehacker uses clever tech tricks to get work done.”

Pash and Trapani provide 101 “hacks” that are practical, do-able, and cohesive. Organized with 12 chapters, they can help to achieve these strategic objectives:

o Control email
o Manage data
o “Trick yourself” into completing tasks
o Clear the mind of clutter (i.e. non-essentials)
o “Firewall” focus and concentration
o Streamline routine (but necessary) tasks
o Automate repetitive tasks
o Accelerate processing of data
o Work smarter with a smartphone
o Master the Web
o Hone computer “survivor” skills
o Manage multiple computers

These are admirable objectives. Pash and Trapani devote a separate chapter to each, providing the information, insights, and counsel their reader will need to achieve it. At each chapter’s conclusion, they provide recommended sources from which to obtain additional guidance. I think it was a shrewd decision by Pash and Trapani to establish a direct and personal rapport immediately and then sustain it for 465 pages. They do not “talk at” or even “talk to” to those who read the book. Rather, they confer with their reader as they proceed through a rigorous and comprehensive as well as lively and eloquent narrative.

There are several quite different ways to read this book. Obviously, cover-to-cover is one and taking a “cherry-picker” approach (after reviewing the detailed “Contents”) is another, locking in on specific knowledge and skill needs of greatest relevance. Both will generously reward the careful reader.

I presume to suggest another, a “hybrid” approach: Read Chapters 4 (“Clear Your Mind”), 5 (“Firewall Your Attention”, and 2 (Organize Your Data”), in that order, and highlight key passages — then re-read the material. Next, review the complete “Contents” section (Pages ix-xxi) and select 3-5 specific areas (at least three but no more than five) in which you have the greatest need for improvement. I also recommend having a notebook near at hand in which to record your reactions to the material – comments, questions, allusions, etc. — as you work your way through it.

I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the scope and depth of what Adam Pash and Gina Trapani provide. However, I do hope it will help at least a few prospective buyers to decide whether or not this book can be of substantial benefit to them. They should also check other Customer Reviews provided by Amazon and then decide.

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