Life hacking is a pretty annoying concept. Superficial consumers of “life-hacking” content don’t quite grasp the understanding that good things take time. The moniker tricks you into thinking magic will happen overnight.
But locked away within the cultural trope is a nugget of truth that is well understood by the tangential quantified-self movement. By tracking all your baseline metrics, you can monitor performance and optimize your habits and inputs.
Taken over a long time horizon, subtle adjustments, better habits, and greater mindfulness lead to accomplishment, health, and optimizing.
So I came up with my own behavioral trick. Life hack is a sexier name—that’s why it was in the title.
My life hack blends a diet idea with a productivity principle.
Part One—Intermittent Fasting is a Good Idea
You may need to be sold on this. If not, skip to part two.
There is a lot of evidence that fasting is a great way to manage your caloric intake and lose weight. Anecdotally, you will hear a lot of different reasons to try it.
Proponents suggest that giving your digestive system a break allows your body to operate more efficiently and to dedicate more energy to cognitive tasks and repairing cellular damage. This is a contentious issue for some and I am not making a medical recommendation. Research and consult an expert before trying it yourself.
Personally, I’ve found fasting slightly reduces how much sleep I need and makes me sharper. I generally don’t eat before a big interview or writing session.
I’ve also found that after fasting, I am much more appreciative of the flavor of a salad or bowl of quinoa.
It is not a perfect solution. If you fast, then eat donuts and drink soda the rest of the day, you will be at a net negative. If you eat well, fasting may be a tactic with which to experiment.
The practice of fasting holds up to the Lindy Effect, a term recently popularized by Nassim Taleb in his books Antifragile and Black Swan. The Lindy Effect suggests that the future life expectancy of non-perishable things like an idea or technology is proportional to their current age.
For example, Twitter has been around for 10 years, so we can expect it will exist for about 10 more years. Another example would be evidence of wine consumption in 7,000 B.C. China—9,000 years ago—suggests humans will be drinking wine for another 9,000 years.
Fasting has a deep religious history, suggesting it’s Lindy Effect worthiness.
Hindus often set aside a day of the week for regular fasting.
Catholics restrict meat intake and the number of meals during Lent.
Buddhist monks and nuns commonly do not eat after their noon meal.
Fasting is the third of the Five Pillars of Islam, which Muslims practice during the holy month of Ramadan.
If you want more about why you should try fasting, try Google.
Part Two—You Should do Your Most Important Task First Thing Every Day
Once again, you’ve probably at least heard of this concept before, but it’s unlikely you’re a practitioner. Why? Easy. It’s really hard to stay disciplined and complete your difficult tasks when there are easier tasks like checking email.
Productivity master David Allen insists that all your tasks be broken down into actionable next steps. This fosters a sense of control and allows you to prioritize and focus your action.
One issue is that once you’ve listed all your next actions, you’ll naturally fall towards completing the low-hanging fruit that’s easiest to complete.
The real payoff for doing your most important or painful task first? It feels so good once you’re done.
You’ve won the day before noon.
The rest of your day will flow smoothly without your biggest task looming over your psyche.
The Life Hack—You Can’t Eat until You’ve Finished Your Most Important Task
So let’s put these two ideas together. Taken in a vacuum, these two practices are valuable. Mixed together, you get biological reinforcement and a helpful distraction.
No food until you’ve completed the toughest thing on your to-do list.
It sounds rough because it is. But like Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac “There are no gains, without pains”
Your strong biological need to eat will propel you towards your unpleasant task with a hard-to-replicate gusto. The task is the only thing standing between you and chow.
Your hunger pangs will dissipate once you’ve gotten started. Your focus will pull your attention away from your hunger.
This practice has been magic for me. I am having the most productive year of my life and my personal goals have risen to new heights as a result. My hope is that this technique can have a similar effect on you.
Once the task is complete, eat something tasty to celebrate.
Takeaway & Caveats
This works for me. It might not work for you, and that’s fine. It’s what tinkering and experimentation are all about.
The key is small, actionable steps that are part of your larger project. If the tasks are not appropriately sized, you are destined for failure.
You have to hold yourself accountable for this to work. Trust me, most people do not want to talk to you about fasting. It’s even more obnoxious than people who talk about their diets.
If you try it, let me know how it goes. I like to nerd out on this stuff.