Help me live the good life - by sharing your tricks
April 23, 2020 9:08 AM   Subscribe

I wanted to post this question for quite some time, but had trouble framing it. After reading this interview with Donald Knuth I suddenly realized what is I'm really after: "A person’s success in life is determined by having a high minimum, not a high maximum. If you can do something really well but there are other things at which you’re failing, the latter will hold you back. But if almost everything you do is up there, then you’ve got a good life. And so I try to learn how to get through things that others find unpleasant.". Share your tricks how you raise your minimum!

I've read similar threads on the green before, although some I cannot find anymore. It's an answer if you can point me to those that I missed, but I'd be the happiest if you could post your own, original, not yet covered tricks. (superpowers from books, life changing realizations (2017 edition)).

Also, I should emphasize that no trick is trivial: if you found it useful, bring it on! I'll start and admit that until a couple of months ago, I didn't realize that x % y is the same as y % x, so that I can easily compute the 8 percent of 25 by taking the 25 percent of 8. Elementary, still...

Other examples:
- long time ago I read here on the green a trick burglars use to quickly search a chest of drawers: by starting from the bottom and leaving the drawers pulled out, they don't have to push back each of them like they have if they were to start from the top. (but can't recall that thread)
- Kelly betting in simple situations - if you ever face a bet under favourable odds, you could do worse than following the simple Kelly formula
- cutting a circle out from a square piece of paper then folding a funnel out of it (to filter oil for reuse in the kitchen)
- fundamental investors getting into an untapped market, and finding that all the old textbook measures still work where people don't know about them (being one of the few pros is definitely having your minimum high compared to others)
- your favourite mental math tricks for easy calculation
- using nifty command-line tools for special purposes (like jq for working with json, tmux, zsh, etc etc etc)
- using the horns of the Moon to find the direction to south
- spaced repetition for memorizing stuff efficiently

Your trick can relate to anything under the sun (and beyond!) -- I'm interested!
posted by kmt to Education (17 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that I need to do things that I do not enjoy doing FIRST. Whether clearing to table or having a difficult conversation, I just suck it up and do it. This was a life changer.
posted by LaBellaStella at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2020 [15 favorites]

As a computer programmer for 45 years at some point I realized that if I can't write the comments for a section or function so they'd be easily understandable by another programmer at some future time, then I don't understand it well enough to write the code. So I write the comments first, then write the code, then test the code and when I fix the bugs I fix the original comments (unless the comments were right and my code was wrong).

I think this is actually a version of ELI5 (explain like I'm 5 years old) which is attributed to Feynman, though I only heard of that in the last few years. Sadly not all programmers follow my pattern.

My favorite command line tool is ffmpeg. Is the list of things it can do shorter or longer than the list of things it can't do? By the way it's available on Windows as well.
posted by forthright at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

If you are ever called upon to entertain a large group of kids, buy a big bag of 12" balloons, blow them up (regular air, not helium) and put them on the ground or the floor. 25 big blown up balloons will entertain kids from 3 to 13 for an amazingly long time.

(I have canceled planned party games because the balloons were so fun.)
posted by gideonfrog at 12:17 PM on April 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

When writing an email, write the body of the message, edit it, title it and get it ready to go, and THEN type in the recipient's email address. If there's no address until you are definitely ready, then you can't accidentally hit send on an unfinished or poorly-worded message.

I had hesitated to suggest this, as I thought this was a common tactic, only to discover that it had never occurred to my husband before now, so I guess not everyone knows about it. It's been a life-saver!

Similarly, if you are creating a calendar invite in Outlook, particularly one with fussy timezone details, create it as an appointment in your own calendar first and save it, then double check that it's showing up at the right time in your own calendar, before you send an incorrect invite and have to follow-up with a correction.
posted by DSime at 12:29 PM on April 23, 2020 [17 favorites]

I don't procrastinate. When I heard about needing "real id" drivers licenses, I made an appointment right away and so I had my new license well before it would have expired and I didn't have to jump through hoops to get it. Same with Doctor/Dentist appointment. I make them on a schedule and take care of them--which stood me in good stead during this time because I had my annual Physical, my annual eye appointment, and my 6-months cleaning all done in January and so I don't have to worry about that during SIP. Same with income taxes, paying property tax, renewing my vehicle license, etc. I also pre-order my medication before they run low (I know, all of this comes from privilege--however, even when I was broke, broke, I tried to keep up with as much as I could because I didn't want late fees, etc.--I had an AAA card because I knew I had no money for a tow/battery jump).

All this helps with controlling my anxiety and helps me to have a more drama-free life. I do the same thing with work assignments--I make sure I touch everything at least once during the day even if I can't finish it in a day, I've at least moved it along to completion.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2020 [14 favorites]

In a situation where leaders are asking for volunteers for various tasks, jump in early for something you can do easily and avoid being stuck in the end with something you are no good at.

Don't sit around guessing about something that can be easily determined.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:59 PM on April 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: - Special "things" are not only for special moments. Rather, by using the special thing, you can make any moment more special. So, if you have fancy teas, fancy wines, fancy ingredients, good dishes, nice clothes, favourite shoes, special cologne, nice underwear, fresh flowers, etc, use them. I have added some significant happiness to my life to actually enjoying the nice things I have instead of "saving" them all. Put the truffle oil and the finishing salt on your frozen pizza. Drink mimosas in stemmed glassware sunday morning at home.

-the "formula" for a salad dressing is 60% oil, 30% acid, and 10% flavours.

-tie all your shoes up tight enough that they stay on, but loose enough that you can pull them on without unlacing them. Tying up your shoes is a terrible activity unless you're going running.

-sort of related to your minimum vs maximum thing: it's been shown that small annoyances effect your happiness level more than big things. So, if there's little things that bother you, reducing the friction from those will actually do more to make you happy than acquiring or achieving the big things you want. So if you hate your coffee mugs or your sinks drip or your keys stick, spend the time to fix those small annoyances.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2020 [28 favorites]

The term lifehacks covers some of this, and then you get the backlash of people saying "That is not a hack, it is just a tip!" Regardless of the literal meaning, it is now a term that covers everything from pushing in the tabs on the ends of your foil dispenser to saving the change from every transaction in a separate account.

My first tip is to read the answers to the posts under the tag lifehacks, which has 63 posts
My second is to check out related terms when using a tag based system: lifehack has 64 posts - likely more than 1 that doesn't have the first tag, so worth a look there, too.
posted by soelo at 2:47 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think I've mentioned this on Metafilter before but I will do it again.

I have learned that things look very dark to me when I wake up at 4:00 in the morning. I have trained myself to say to myself "This is not the time to think about this. I will think about this in the morning."

This only works if you keep the promise to yourself though, and do think about it in the morning.
posted by wittgenstein at 3:16 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I would have interpreted Knuth’s advice as less about tips and tricks and more about the merits of investing time in identifying and ameliorating your own weaknesses, in a bigger-picture way. Viewing it that way, it rings so true to me.

In parenting, Mr. e and I wind up thinking about this a lot. We’ve got one of those high-mean,-high-variance kids and so we spend a lot of time focusing on helping her with the stuff that’s hard for her, to raise that floor. I guess my only one weird trick there is if two people tell you your kid has a weakness it’s probably a thing that is going to be part of the floor, so you should think about whether the floor it currently defines is acceptable, and what you’re willing to do to help raise it.

Honestly I probably do not focus enough on helping myself with the stuff that’s hard for me — I’m 40 and American and still can’t drive, e.g., which often winds up being the limiting reagent for my life. I do pay better attention to this at work and I tend to spend chits on the social part of my job, something not all statisticians are particularly attuned to (but we all should be; good relationships with collaborators are mission-critical).
posted by eirias at 3:30 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

When I was a teenager, I would repeatedly hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. Once, I did it so many times, I missed an important meeting. I resolved then to never hit snooze again and, believe it or not, it's one of the best decisions I ever made. I'm 52 now, never sleep in, wake with the sun, and never miss the best part of the day.

In short: never hit snooze and become a morning person.
posted by dobbs at 4:45 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Checklists, as in Atul Gawande’s good short book.

When something has gone wrong, try to figure out why and defend against making the same error again. (Put a fix on the checklist!)

shopping by the pull or Navy (?) method; for anything important, the replacement goes on the shopping list when you take the last one out of storage, not when the last one is half used up. Never having to do a shopping run in a hurry is great.

So is eiras ’ point about introspection and fixing your personal weaknesses. Much harder and more unpleasant in the doing, though.
posted by clew at 5:07 PM on April 23, 2020 [11 favorites]

"This is not the time to think about this. I will think about this in the morning."

This only works if you keep the promise to yourself though, and do think about it in the morning.

Definitely true, but not right after you wake up in the morning. You have to be out of bed and have walked around a little bit. Do your ablutions and make coffee. Then you can think of the scary/sad/irritating thing. Otherwise this:

never hit snooze and become a morning person,

which is also excellent advice, becomes much harder.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:52 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

For me, the secret to solvency was Double Entry Bookkeeping—a principle that’s been around for a couple of millennia. I’ve used it in YNAB with great success for 2.5 years.

You shouldn’t necessarily wash your clothes according to color. Most likely cold water washing is fine, which makes color a non-issue. It’s more important to sort clothes by the amount of time they will take in the dryer. As with most things, begin with the end in mind.

Sun exposure is key for good health and happiness (in responsible doses).
posted by Jane Austen at 6:17 AM on April 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of these things naturally sound incredibly corny even when they're quite useful. Also, if you go looking for this type of advice, a lot of the stuff available on interpersonal relationships shades into creepy NLP / PUA / instagram influencer territory. Nevertheless... the following tend to be things that someone has mentioned, I've internally snorted at, and then tried later and found embarrassingly effective. Off the top of my head, hacks that I use regularly, in no particular order, and ranging from the trivial to the fundamental:
Try to strike a balance of asking questions of people and talking about yourself. Also, you can be "attentive without intense" by making pseudo eye-contact - look between the eyes and slightly below or sightly above.

Standing or sitting straight makes you look and feel better; and I say that as someone with awful posture.

Always dress like you are going to get pulled into a board meeting unexpectedly / bump into your soulmate at lunch; and I say that as someone with no dress sense.

If you can't explain something clearly to someone else, you probably don't understand it as well as you imagine.

Try to figure out what your values and beliefs are and live life according to them. It's more interesting and narratively consistent, for one.

Reserve your pasta water. Creamy flavours in pasta sauces often come from starch, not from dairy.

Exercise regularly, even if you don't really enjoy it.

Try to have at least one "life-time learning" thing going on. I came to this late, but it's great and tends to open up interesting directions in life that you hadn't imagined. (Even better if you can get some kind of qualification at the end of it.)

You can pick up new practical skills really easily if you learn to follow instructions in quite a literal, mechanical way. Golf? Knitting? Motorcycling? Wakeboarding? The trick is to find someone to teach you, then literally do exactly as they say, without getting overwhelmed by everything else in a novel and slightly anxiety-inducing environment. However illogical it sounds, bend your knees like they tell you, lean down the slope, etc etc.

Talking of anxiety, feel free to take a Xanax or a beta-blocker before an interview, or before public speaking.

Don't overwater your houseplants.

Buy property somewhere central but unfashionable with nice buildings. Everyone else will come around to the area at some point. (That said - this is my mother's advice. My parents now live in a very nice part of their city with eye-watering property prices, but I grew up in the same house when the area was a red-light district, and it kind of sucked).

If you live in the EU, price labels have the price / unit in small print. Everywhere else, learning to divide price by quantity is useful when you go shopping.

If you don't have equity in a company and you feel like you're working too hard, you definitely are.

You can change most bicycle tyres using your thumbs, without tyre irons. It's technique, not strength.
There's probably a lot more! But that's all I can think of for now. Keep things in your life maintained, I guess! Buy tools and go to the dentist regularly. And tell the people who you care about that you care about them.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:46 PM on April 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh hey also learning both clove hitch techniques and both figure 8 techniques are handy when you need to tie things to other things.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:58 PM on April 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would put in time to learn to read faster. It pays off in so so much extra time and pleasure from reading fast. I learned to read faster through a standard "learn to read faster" book as a kid and I rememver it taking about a month of practice on the bus home every day. The books on speed reading all give much the same advice and you can get software that helps practice with an e-reader instead of having to use a folded bit of paper against your page. I started at about the regular speed of 300wpm and generally read around 1-1.6Kwpm if it's fiction. In a year, that means I read about 200+ printed books and lord knows how much fanfic. Reading all the news is like half an hour in the morning, and while I read non-fiction more slowly at maybe 600-900wpm depending on the material, it's still way more efficient.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:34 AM on April 27, 2020

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