3 ideas you can steal from startups and use to hack your own life

The word “hack” has a lot of meanings.

If you’re accused of being one, it means you’re churning out poor quality content (either in a more professional environment, or just as a human being generally). The phrase was invented as a way to describe someone who’s working hard, but not adding value. A good sister/brother phrase would be “sucking at life.”

In the startup world it most often refers to anything designed for one purpose that you re-appropriate elsewhere. Think jailbreaking, which is when tech savvy users take a mobile device and make it do something that it wasn’t originally designed for. Another common variation is “growth hacking” which is about finding creative ways to add volume in production, sales, content, etc…

But you can also hack things to work in any part of your life.

My friend Nora and I use the phrase “It’s Like Anything Else” as a way to remind ourselves, and others, that when we get stuck or uncertain we should use all parts of our life to give us information on what to do. Mostly she and I are talking about interpersonal relationships (friendships/dating) but the idea works for pretty much anything. If you’re a badass at your job why wouldn’t you consider applying concepts from there to your non-work life?

Here are  3 things I’ve learned from working at a startup:

1. Prioritization Rules

In any given moment in your life there are hundreds of things worth doing, but which ones absolutely have to get done to keep long term goals on track?

Since I don’t like to leave stones unturned this is a hard one for me. I can’t maintain friendships with everyone I want to, and I can’t execute on all of the personal projects I want to (art, music, writing). I’m learning to let go of what is not essential (even if it would be good/nice). Which leads to the second thing…

2. Move quickly / Maintain Momentum

This one’s tough. I like understanding the angles before making a big decision. In a startup environment there often isn’t time for this, so you have to make quick, concrete decisions that allow you to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

You only have so much room on your calendar / in your brain, so revisiting important things is key and being in motion already allows you to quickly move (or “pivot,” the common phrase in the startup ecosystem). An example would be making a connection with someone you feel really gets you, but being too busy to set work and other friendships/projects aside. In that example you might decide to move quickly by calendaring a regular 30 minute coffee date every couple of weeks.

3.  Make time and space for vision / insight 

“Visioning” is actually something I find easy to engage in. Which is interesting because people often tell me it’s the hardest piece in their lives. I hear from people all the time that they feel bogged down in their job/relationship/activities.

Typically it comes with an explanation of how those things are screwing with their sense of self and/or holding them back. The thing to keep in mind here is that there’s a difference between content and structure.

A good example would be a friend I talked to last week, she’s a nurse in a big hospital that has a complex set of bureacratic policies. But her actual unit is fairly small. Within this unit she partially reports to someone (not her actual boss though) who constantly engages in passive aggressive behavior, and gets hung up on details. So of course anyone she deals with is expected to do the same.

My friend has blown off steam about the situation to me a few times and provided examples that made me say “yes, yes, and yes, those are all stupid and don’t make any sense structurally.” But she feels stuck, her suggestions / attempts to change things aren’t working.

Which leads to my last two points about vision:

1) You can’t negotiate with someone who doesn’t have any.

2) Vision doesn’t belong to any particular person, nor is it limited in any way whatsoever except by your own imagination.

If you don’t consciously make time / space to think about what’s working, what’s not, how it makes you feel, etc… then you’ll always be at the whims of someone else’s vision, or even no vision at all.

What sort of “hacks” do you steal from one part of your life and use in another?

11 thoughts on “3 ideas you can steal from startups and use to hack your own life”

  1. In sales, the best sales people became “smart friends”. They got to know their target and what was important to them, then sold them on whatever product based on how that product would benefit their lives. The average to not so greats sold based on features and couldn’t “put it in their hands”….or help the person imagine HOW it would become useful. I’ve found this tool can be used in practically any area (including interpersonal relationships…as it requires communication and the ability to SHOW a person through your words the WHYs).

    I also believe that when you want to change a person’s behavior (significant other, child, employee)…the poop sandwich tends to get the best results. You tell them something they’ve done that you like and why…you tell them where they can improve (the poop) and why…and you end with one more thing you admire or think they do well and why…and be sure that the praise is sincere.

    Those are my two “hacks”.

    1. Interesting, I like that first one. What sparks me is people who have that attitude of “how can we be helpful to each other.” As a low level transaction you have to be careful someone doesn’t leech your energy, but when you meet someone who’s on the same level it can be amazing.

  2. Great tips, Joe! I particularly love what you said about vision and interpretation—very insightful.

    My previous careers in fashion and film taught me that an artist’s job is to hone his/her craft and stay authentic. If we follow our passions and don’t let NOs get us down, success will follow.

    1. Thanks! Yeah that is a challenge, as an artist/musician one trap I used to get caught in was the idea that authentic creation is spontaneous and free of structure…..with a bit more time and creativity I’ve found it’s the opposite. Good (flexible) structure provides the best opportunity to follow our internal passions and motivation.

  3. I had to laugh when you talked about your struggle to make decisions quickly. Ditto. I was at the mall yesterday and walked away empty-handed because I couldn’t decide on a pair of flip-flops! This indecisiveness is really mucking up my vision:)

    1. Shopping is not my strong suit either. There’s probably a consumer/marketing profile for me as a person who looks at a bunch of stuff and says “that one’s fine, it won’t mess anything up”

      In general that’s made me more likely to make smaller decisions quicker which help inform big decisions later. I think there’s a feedback loop where we model for ourselves unconsciously.

  4. I hack my cooking skills into writing. Creating content in promoting Spain, its peoples, culture, food and products/services require: a fine sense of timing, sensitivity (don’t load the fish with basil of the wrong kind), and a love of color (diversity in creed, color and race).

      1. Absolutely. Should we Google Hangout in the next couple of weeks to think over some ideas?

        I like in your piece that you place it in the context of life hacking as well. I think that’s rad. And yes, iteration with compassion….so so much harder than people think.

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