The ultimate Lifehacker is not someone who scours the Internet looking to find random tips, tricks and shortcuts. Instead, we should all take a leaf out of Melanie Wilson’s blog, in which she conducted a year-long experiment in 2013, tackling and implementing one new improvement technique each week.
Her approach was simple. Each week she singled out a popular or well-defined productivity hacks and tried to make it work, faithfully reporting the results back to her readers. By the end of the year, she’d tackled 46 consecutive hacks, ending the year with a multi-week experiment: writing a nonfiction book in 21 days.
The list of hacks she tested read like a who’s who of guru-driven advice ranging from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, to Mark Forster’s Do It Tomorrow to a number of others that you probably have never heard of, such as “David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner,” “The Time Warrior” and “Gamification.” While she does have affiliate links set up with a few of the products she’s testing, she’s hardly advertising.
Instead, she breaks each post into the same four sections, as she did in week 2 when she assessed the “Covey’s Quadrants” technique. In that week the first three sections were captioned:
– How Covey’s Quadrants Saved My Sanity This Week
– How The 12 Week Year Made Me Crazy This Week
– Did Covey’s Quadrants Help Me Get Things Done?
In the fourth and final section she moved onto the next hack she planned to assess:
– The Productivity Approach I’ll Be Using for Week 3.
Here, she invited readers to join her in trying out the technique reviewed the following week. Her followers do make the occasional comment, but this is primarily a one-woman experiment, all based on her first-hand experience.
On a recent podcast in which I interviewed Melanie, I made the comment that it’s like watching a reality show, in which she unfolds a brand new episode each week. As I followed the course of events from one week to the next, I found myself with a nervous feeling of anticipation. Would she find the perfect technique that meets all her needs? Would she get to the end of the year and conclude that Lifehacking is just a self-indulgent waste of adult time? Was she going to refute everything I knew to be true from my own experience, invalidating a lifetime of personal lifehacking?
This is the power of doing real-life testing… on a real life. You’ll probably find yourself, like I did, flipping to the techniques you have known and and tried, wondering if her experiences matches up with your opinions. As she surprises you with some of her findings, you’ll find that it’s hard to argue with each post. Why? Because it’s factual. Like a good researcher, she doesn’t make leaps in logic, telling the reader that they need to follow the systems that she uses, or doesn’t use. She never concludes that her experience is one everyone should share – she sticks to the format you’d expect of someone who works in a lab every day wearing a white coat. Like Sgt. Joe Friday she’s just following the data.
This sets her blog apart from so many self-improvement, time management and productivity posts making their way around the Internet. Many of them consist of no more than untried, untested and un-researched opinions in which authors don’t bother to provide any evidence for their suggestions. They just repeat the stuff once read in a book or blog, without offering any new perspectives, content or information. After they are done, others reply with their opinions, leading to a round of lightweight dialog or heated disagreement, after which everyone gets tired and goes home, none the better.
The lifehacking community needs more people to do what she’s doing – basing their advice and conclusions on empirical data. Whether the data comes from the researcher herself, or from other trusted fieldworkers, we need to be informed by more than the amateur blogger who wakes up in the morning with rehashed and random ideas for improvement.
This would take us out of the rut we’re in at the moment in time-based productivity – where the over-abundance of Top Ten Lists are choking a readership that’s becoming tired of seeing the same old tips repeatedly recycled. Her blog is a sparkling example of what can be done with some hard legwork, which is where all breakthrough thinking originates. I hope she helps take Lifehacking back to a time when it was about sharing stuff that works based on factual experience, rather than empty suggestions designed to do little more than generate SEO traffic, Likes and Re-tweets.