Bill Gates, arguably one of the most successful business owners of the 20th and 21st centuries, once said that we would rather “hire a lazy person to do a difficult job” at Microsoft instead of a hard working person. This sounds ludicrous until you understand his reasoning: “A lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” This is the hacker way.
If you’re not one of the few people lucky enough to be born with a natural “hacker” mindset, you can artificially cultivate one of your own with the following tips:
1. Be lazy.
A famous blog post by web developer Philipp Lenssen once asserted that the best programmers are both lazy and dumb, which goes against common sense, but is logical in some respects. Lazy programmers want to create tools and programs that spare them from further work, even if that means eventually getting replaced. They will avoid redundancy like the plague.
“Dumb” programmers, if you’re wondering, are valuable because they never stop learning and are critical of their own work. Humble or childlike might be a better way to say it. So stop treating laziness as a bad thing; laziness makes you work more efficiently and find better, less time-intensive solutions to your problems -- though you should never be lazy at the expense of quality.
2. Learn the Pareto Principle, and use it daily.
Vilfredo Pareto’s principle notes a generally unequal distribution between inputs and outputs of any given system. For example, you might hear that 80 percent of your revenue will come from 20 percent of your customers, or that 20 percent of your efforts yield 80 percent of your results.
Look for these distributions every day. Where are your efforts most valuable, and how can you exploit them? How can you reduce less fruitful efforts?
3. Always look for alternatives.
There’s more than one way to do just about everything, so chances are, you haven’t yet found the most efficient path. Always think about the alternatives before going forward with any course of action. Asking yourself “what if” questions is a great way to find different approaches.
4. Break the rules.
We tend to view objects, systems, and even people, in terms of their predefined roles, but if you want to make the most of your environment, you need to learn how to break those rules. For example, wire coat hangers were meant for one job -- hanging clothes.
But dedicated life hackers can easily count 24 (or more) hacks to use them more efficiently or for entirely unrelated tasks. Thinking too neatly within the lines is a cognitive problem known as functional fixedness, and is illustrated by performance tests like the Candle Problem.
For any rule or standard expectation, make sure to explore the possibilities that could stem from stepping outside those constraints.
5. Think of things in terms of micro-tasks.
Break all your tasks into much smaller, micro-task components. For example, don’t think of your upcoming meeting as a “meeting,” think of it as scheduling, organizing, preparing, directing, speaking, summarizing and recapping. This process of “zooming in” can help you optimize individual components of almost any task, rather than the whole task itself.
6. Set stricter time limits.
Parkinson’s Law is an informal adage that states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, the more time you allocate to a task, the more relaxed you’ll be about finishing it. Conversely, if you set stricter time limits for yourself, you’ll force yourself to complete tasks faster, and that added pressure may help you find shortcuts you might otherwise not have needed.
Finally, give yourself the freedom to experiment, and break free of your routines and preconceived notions. You never know what random combination of changes could result in a major time savings, or a shortcut you wouldn’t have considered.
A hacker mentality can help you see shortcuts, tricks and hacks that might otherwise go unnoticed, shaving minutes off every task and hours off every day. You’ll be a more creative problem solver, a more innovative thinker, and hopefully, you’ll get some extra free time while you’re at it.
If you're ready to go deeper down this rabbit hole, check out the extensive reading list I put together.