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Thirteen life hacks

by Tom Johnson on Sep 1, 2014
categories: technical-writing

The other day I ran across a post detailing 46 brilliant life hacks. Since then I've been mulling over a few of my own life hacks and wanted to share them here. The following are a few tips that have worked for me. They are totally random, covering "life" in general, but I'll share them here in case someone finds them beneficial. (Sorry that I'm too lazy to be more unique with my images. Most of these images are from Flickr.)

1. To avoid carrying a bulky wallet in your pocket, get an iPhone case that holds cards.

I have a Speck iPhone case that holds 4 cards: credit card, license, gym membership, and train pass. I haven't needed to carry around a wallet ever since. (That means I never lose my wallet either. If I do misplace my phone, the find-my-iphone app from works great.)


2. To get to sleep at night, listen to an Audible book until you drift off.

The trick to sleeping when you're not crash-dead tired is to remove light sources. But even with light sources removed, my brain still meanders here and there with a thousand thoughts. The audio book removes the light source while allowing my mind to focus on something other than its own random thoughts. After 8 minutes, I'm usually out.

Audible has sleep timers that automatically shut off at a specific time so you don't wake up at 2am with the Audible book still running in your ears.


3. To quickly capture what subject matter experts are explaining during a meeting, open Evernote and hit the record button.


Evernote has a handy record option when you create a new note. More than once a recording on the sly has come in handy when I need to document something.

4. To avoid the plain, boring taste of water, squeeze a lemon in it.

You can either squeeze a lemon in or just put lemon slices in there (the peel gives off the flavor). I love the taste of lemon water in contrast to plain water. I drink it a lot more often too. Since "discovering" lemon water about a year and a half ago, I rarely drink regular water. To give the water more interest, add a couple of slices of cucumber and watermelon too.


5. To avoid twisting your ankles while playing basketball, bike to work.

Biking has an amazing ability to strengthen your ankles. I used to twist my ankle about ever 6 months playing basketball. Since biking to work for the past 3 years, I rarely twist my ankles anymore. If I do twist it, my ankle is so strong it self-heals in a few minutes.

Bike to Work Day 2013. District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell riding in to City Hall

6. To feed into another person's desire for autonomy and control, present two options and let the person choose one.

My wife does this to me pretty frequently, and it's a technique that comes in handy in any setting. Our brain really likes choice. Even if you give people a crappy choice, when someone feels that they chose something on their own, they more willingly embrace it. For example, to get someone to agree to your design, present them with two options -- one obviously poor, the other what you want.


7. To avoid boredom while washing dishes, prop a laptop or iPad near the sink and watch your favorite show.

My wife has little hooks mounted on a cupboard where she hangs her iPad. Wireless headphones are a must here if you don't want to blast others with your TV show. When I have a good show on (for example, the reality show "Naked and Afraid"), the show can compel me to continue washing dishes or cleaning for a long time. If you're not focused in a specific place (e.g., walking about doing yardwork), try listening to an audio book instead.


8. To stick with an exercise schedule, find a sport you really enjoy and become an expert at it.

I'm thankful that I developed an interest in basketball as a kid. There's no way I'd stick with a running schedule or some other solo exercise activity if it weren't a sport I loved. My wife's love of yoga helps her stay with regular exercise as well. I love biking too, even though I'm not that fast.

(In this short video clip, this is actually me shooting the ball.)

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9. To make your website load quickly, use a CDN and also strip away all unnecessary plugins using the p3 profiler to identify slow-loading code.

If you want fast hosting for your WordPress site, you could pay $30/month for a managed WP hosting account, but that's a little pricey. I buy budget hosting from Bluehost and then deliver my content through MaxCDN.

The cost for the budget host + CDN is much less than the managed WP hosting option. My site won't go down, and search engine results will increase as well because of the quick loading time. If you're using WordPress, the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler plugin gives you a timeline display showing which WordPress plugins load the slowest.


10. To further your career, blog about your experiences on a regular basis.

I attribute this one habit -- writing about what I'm working and thinking about -- to major career opportunities and advancement. It's a simple technique for a huge payoff. Blogging regularly challenges the way I think and provides opportunities for others to guide me in beneficial ways.


11. To train a child how to ride a bike, let the child coast around on the bike without pedals for a few weeks first.

My 3-year-old rides better than most 6-year-olds because she coasted around a bike without pedals for a month. It's amazing how well this technique works. Here's a video of a kid on Flickr scooting around on a bike without pedals.

12. To enforce timeout at home, reverse the locks on your kids' doors.

I almost forgot what a lifesaver this hack is until one of our doorknobs broke and my 3 year old kept getting out of timeout. Reversing the door locks helps us implement a discipline technique (time-out) that is easy to enforce and has pretty decent results.


13. To control your kids' access to mobile devices, use the Guest Network on your router and then disable it when you want to restrict your kids' access.

We have tons of devices at home (old iPhones, Kindles, iPads, Roku, desktop, etc.). All of these devices used to access the primary network. Then an engineer told me most routers have a "guest network" option. He was right. I configured the guest network option and put all of the devices the kids use on it. When I want to turn off the Internet, I just disable wireless access to the guest network, while my computer continues humming away online on the regular network.


Those are my 13 life hacks. What are yours?

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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