Category Archives: Life-hack

These posts deal directly with life-hacking. Life-hacking being defined as observing behavior, determining how to optimize for a desired result, modifying behavior, and observing the changed result.

Life hack: Getting better gas mileage

On my way to a metric-based lifestyle, I started taking a closer look at my gas mileage. This was a metric that I have been collecting for a while and thought I should be able to improve rather easily – lending itself to improved daily discretionary spending.

I recently purchased a 2010 Ford Fusion Sport. According to Ford’s specs I should be getting 18mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway. I’ve put 11,000 miles on my car in 6 months – most of them highway driving so I should be getting near that top MPG range in this car. However, I rarely broke 300 miles on a single 17.5 gallon fuel tank (I usually filled up with 14-15 gallons). In fact, most of my fuel-ups netted me 270 miles. For the longest time, I couldn’t get above 18.x miles per gallon according to the sensor on my car. This left lots of room for improvement in a car that says it can do a lot better.

I keep a journal of my gas fuel-ups. Here are the metrics before my changes:

Avg Miles/Tank Avg Gallons/Fuel-up Avg Miles/Gallon Est. Gallons/Year* Est. Fuel Cost/Year**
272 14.53 18.71989 1282.059 $3,653.87

* Based on 24,000 miles a year (my current pace)
** Based on $2.85/gallon average price tag

I just had to do better. I used to get a thrill out of getting 300 miles out of a tank of gas. I wanted to know what it was like to get 350 miles — maybe more. Without any research on the web, I just tried a few things – things that might be common sense for others, but were just not a big deal for me. Here is what I decided to do.

No More Distracted Driving

I have a ton of gadgets that can vie for my attention while I’m driving. In the past, those gadgets would get my attention – particularly if I was in stop and go traffic. I decided to make a habit of ignoring everything but driving. After driving through three tanks of gas, I noticed that I was consistently getting around 300 miles per tank. Distracted driving seems to have cost me about 10% of my fuel efficiency!

No More Aggressive Driving

I’ve lived in a lot of big cities where it was eat-or-be-eaten when it comes to driving. Again, in stop and go traffic, I would tend to stay very close to the bumper of the next car so others wouldn’t cut me off. I made a conscious decision once again to start driving far less aggressively. I use my cruise control when I can. I stay far behind the cars in front of me. A defensive driving instructor would be proud! Oddly enough, I feel a lot less stressed when I just acknowledge that people are going to keep cutting me off and that’s ok. The result? My last two fill-ups gave me over 350 miles per tank and my current tank is on target to give me about 365 if it keeps on pace! This is amazing.


I’ve nearly squeezed an extra 100 miles out of every tank just by changing driving behavior! Let’s put this in perspective. Here are the metrics after my changes (assuming I get the 365 miles out of this tank):

Avg Miles/Tank Avg Gallons/Fuel-up Avg Miles/Gallon Est. Gallons/Year* Est. Fuel Cost/Year**
357.5 14.53 24.60427 975.4406 $2,780.01

If you compare that against my previous cost, I’m on track to save $873.86 this year – and that’s if I don’t change anything else. Being that this is an iterative process, I’m going to try more behavior tweaking to try and get my MPG up.

Life Hack: A metrics-based lifestyle this decade

I’ve never considered myself to be a “life hacker” by any means. I have been concentrated on my career and comfort in the past decade and that came at some great costs. So, I decided to start formulating a plan to make changes to my life based on metrics. I will become a life hacker — for better or worse.

Metrics imply measurability and that’s what I intend to concentrate on at first — things that I can measure, change behavior, then measure again. While there is non-empirical consequence to many decisions that I make on a daily basis, I decided to start here. For instance, my first metric-based decision of the decade was to avoid stopping at Starbucks this morning. I estimate that a stop at Starbucks averages 15 minutes of my time, $5 of my wealth, and a negative drag on my health (250 calories, 47 carbs, and 180mg of sodium taken from my daily allowances of those items).  A case could be made that this has decreased my momentary happiness. I’m not measuring that. In fact, I’m trying to do away with decisions based on immediacy. While my short-term aggrivation is great, I am speculating that over time this will turn into a net-positive for my happiness.

There are a lot of things that I want to change in my life this decade. But I’m going to concentrate on a few major areas, and break them down further as it makes sense to do so. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to come up with an automated process to view my progress and give myself “triggers” to remind me when I’m slipping. Eventually, I’d like every decision I make to tigger a flurry of facts in my head before moving forward. That should also make its way into my structured planning for the day, week, month, quarter and year.

So here are the areas where I’m going to concentrate:

  • Health – I’d like to improve my health through better nutrician, exercise, and sleeping habits. I will be measuring:
    • Daily intake of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, sodium, and water.
    • Daily exercise in the form of pedometer-tracked steps, cardio minutes, weight lifted and reps per exercise, and stretching minutes.
    • Weekly weight
    • Hour slept and number of times I woke up
  • Wealth – I need to start planning and budgeting better. While I’m not exactly a spend-aholic, I can do better in my planning and spending decisions. I will track:
    • Monthly savings contribution as a $ amount and a percentage of income
    • Weekly investment changes
    • Daily discretionary spending
    • Quarterly credit score
  • Time – This is where I hurt the most. I don’t have enough time in the day to do everything I want. I’m hoping making metric-based decisions will free up some time and help me better plan. I will track:
    • Time spent blogging
    • Time spent learning
    • Time spent on household chores
    • Time spent commuting
  • Others – I will add additional metrics as I think of them or as I see a need to improve this process.

Obviously each of these are going to need base-lined for a month or so. I will be using whatever tools I can to accomplish this base-line. I’m planning on using an Omron HJ-720ITC Pocket Pedometer with Health Management Software to track my steps. I’m using the iPhone LiveStrong app as well as CalorieKing to track my daily nutrition and exercise metrics. I’m considering the Zeo Sleep Coach after Scott Hanselman recommended it, but for now I’ll just use some plain old pen/paper tracking, so to speak. I may also pick up on the Nike+iPhone app at some point, but not just yet.

If you are interested in tracking my progress and keeping me honest, I will be posting what I can under the “life hack” category on this site.

Happy new year everyone!

Life Hack: Working around ADHD-like Symptoms

For years, it has become more and more difficult for me to concentrate when I am trying to study. I try repeatedly to block everything out and just concentrate on reading a book/article/webcast, follow along with the examples, and get through the material. Each attempt fails miserably with my frustration that I got absolutely nothing done. I’ve attempted to integrate methodologies like Getting Things Done to my routine. However, all of this means nothing if I can’t even concentrate on the task GTD lays before me. I didn’t always have this problem. I stayed very focused and on task as a child. While I could easily get distracted from a task, I also had the ability to block everything out and focus like a laser on anything I wanted to. Things have changed. I’ve gotten older. My career has taken a different path. I’m in a different place. My personal life has changed drastically. I’m constantly worried about and distracted by politics. I need to make a change.

I’ve tried everything to correct my problem. People have given me recommendations41SSqGcuXbL._SL160_[1]. However there are so many issues at hand. When I’m studying, I need internet access to look up an occasional tidbit. However, internet is a huge distraction. If I open a browser, you can bet 30 minutes from the time I open it I’ll have about 10 browser sessions open with multiple tabs reading about topics I have no business reading about during my study time. I need my phone as I’m in constant contact with people I rely upon and who rely upon me. Silence is killer and the mere idea of realizing I’ve been in the same spot for an hour sends me into severe displeasure and I feel like I’m wasting the day. However, if I’m amongst people I know, I tend to want to talk to them. It’s all a disaster. I realized I needed to solve these problems so I attacked them one by one.

Desired Outcome

  1. I need internet access, but I don’t want the distraction of browsing.
  2. I need to stay in touch with people without having constant non-critical conversations interrupt me.
  3. I need to be around activity to prevent me from being stir crazy but I can’t sit around chatting with people I know all day.

Solution Proposed

  1. Go somewhere without free internet access. Use my phone to access the internet. The slower connection and smaller screen keep my browsing targeted at solutions when I need them.
  2. Turns out the iPhone is perfect for this. Since the iPhone is single-application-centric, it prevents me from getting interrupted by email and twitter. So I keep my phone with me, but I just keep my non-critical communication tools closed. Better still, I have moved all of my task-oriented applications like “Remember the Milk”, “Shopper”, “Evernote” and “Bing” on my main page of my cell phone. When I look at the phone, all the red “todo” circles showing up on the page remind me every time I open the phone that I’m on task.
  3. I go to Starbucks to study. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works for me. I have the non-specific white noise of people I don’t know chatting in the background without the temptation to join in a conversation. I’m not going stir crazy as I’m out of the house. Working on my laptop rather than my multi-screen monitor helps me stay focused on the software studying task at hand. Starbucks/AT&T charge for internet access through my laptop so I’m not distracted easily.


So far all of my proposals have worked. I find it very natural to stay focused. If I have to “think” about staying focused, that thought in and of itself will distract me. This method currently keeps me on task without having to think about what task it is I’m performing. Too much monitor real-estate leads me to distractions and a quickly responding system leaves me to run down multiple rabbit trails. I tend to think the large number of us who claim “ADD” or “ADHD” are not inflicted with anything other than reinforcing poor habits and living years of distracted lifestyles. That said, I think it should be possible to relearn to properly focus through some hard work.

Let me know what your life hack is. How do you stay on task?

What technology actually improves your life?

Nearly a year ago, I blogged about the fact that I had no “cool” technologies in my house.  I didn’t own a single gadget that anyone would consider to be “up to date” by any standard. I didn’t own a PDA, a laptop, or even a modern cell-phone.  I didn’t have flat-panel monitors or anything other than a standard 27″ television — with a broken power button at that.  I had several computers in the house, but all of them were at least a year and a half old. 

I decided after posting that complaint that things were going to change.  I released my death grip on my cash that I had been hording and sprung for a new, improved, gadget-savvy image.

Flash forward to today — 11 months after that post.  As I got ready to head into work, I closed up my 17″ widescreen HP media center ready laptop and turned off my HP printer/copier/fax.  I packed up my Gateway Tablet PC and shoved it into my Microsoft backpack along with my 60GB video iPod, assorted USB flashdrives, bluetooth adapters, folding headphones, and the like.  I strapped my 8.1 MegaPixel Nikon digital camera and Audiovox Smart Phone to my belt.  I put my Motorola bluetooth hands-free headset on my ear.  I walked into the living room and turned off my 50″ Plasma TV and shoved the wireless controllers for my Xbox 360 under the TV stand.  I walked out to my car and looked at the windshield cluttered with an XM SkyFi2 satelite radio, a Sirius satelite radio, and a Microsoft Streets and Trips GPS device.  Now, I say all of this to point out that I’ve gone from one extreme to another and at no small expense.  I sometimes wonder if I should have just hung onto my cash, but in other instances, I really enjoy my products.

I asked myself as I traveled to work this morning “Have I gotten my money’s worth out of these devices? Have they made my life better — or just more expensive?”  It seems that many of today’s top technological gadgets are great at overcoming technological problems, but do they really enrich our lives?  My Smartphone is one device that I just couldn’t live without.  I keep track of my appointments, birthdays, phone numbers and so much more on that little thing.  I also keep a copy of Microsoft Pocket Streets and Trips on there — which is a great little tool for getting around.  There is no question that this device makes my life easier in today’s society that requires that I know how to contact any number of people, keep track of appointments and schedules that change every hour, or keep me up to date with birthdays of family members all the way on the other side of the country.  My camera is great. Photos are so hard for me to keep track of.  I keep a few but they are usually buried in boxes that I have to dig for if I want to view them again.  I can snap pictures of the mountains out here in the Pacific Northwest and immediately send them to my parents.  The camera is a great addition to my “technical family.” That said — there are other devices that just seem to be excessive (Who needs XM and Sirius and an iPod?  Could I do without them? Most likely.)

I could go on and on talking about my devices.  Instead, I’d like to hear from you.  What technologies have made your life better?  These could be services, pieces of hardware, or even websites in general.  I want to know what technologies make a difference in your everyday life and what technologies have you invested your hard-earned money into that haven’t been worth it.