Home » Change Management » Life Hacks That Work

Tackling life's challanges

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

I often like to say that you are your own best project management tool. What we do, day to day makes the difference. These are some of the lifehacks I use after six decades of life. My notion of a lifehack is a habit or activity that provides significant benefits for a reasonable price. For example, I’m not striving to become an Olympic athlete by running every day. I’m trying to get the benefits of running, but I don’t want to spend too much of my valuable time during the day doing it.

Many of these life hacks, the ones I share here, were life-changing for me. Once I started doing them, life significantly improved and I wondered why I hadn’t discovered them earlier.

Eating A Plant Based Diet

By the time I hit my 50s, I had more aches and pains than I could count.  I still felt, however, that I was in better shape than most of my peers. I was after all over half a century old, I argued, of course, I’d have physical issues.  

Due to a health diagnosis, I stopped eating meat for a week.  I was only going to do this for a week or two. In one week the arthritis in my upper back, that I had had for 15 years, disappeared.  The type of arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, runs in my family and two of my siblings have it. The Mayo Clinic had diagnosed it in me, said I had the genetic marker and told me I could get stronger pain medicine as it inevitably got worse.  

Instead, my arthritis disappeared. In addition, all the little aches and pains I had felt in the early mornings, never happened any longer. I then went and read everything I could readily get my hands on about food and health.  The book “The China Study” was the final source that put me fully into the camp of pursuing a plant based diet.

Before changing my diet I had tried to get back into running again to try to improve my health.  I had not run consistently nor in any case had I ran in a race for a good twenty-five years. I had never been an athlete in school. I’d always been the kid at the back of the pack.  I did get into running out of necessity when I had joined the US Air Force. I ran enough that I then ran in races including some half marathons (13.1 miles, averaging nine-minute miles) but that was in my late twenties. 

After I had changed my diet, my twice weekly five mile run, that I could do but would leave me exhausted for half the day, suddenly became routine if not quite effortless. On one occasion, momentarily thinking that I still needed to get my run in, I realized that I had just finished my five mile run twenty minutes ago!

Strength Training

I signed up for and trained for a half marathon and after successfully completing it, I then signed up for a full marathon a year later.  For about six years I trained for and ultimately ran in four of those annual marathons but finished only two of them. The problem was that I kept hurting myself during training, typically a knee or an ankle. In fact, I never ran in a marathon where I was healthy. I was always nursing a sprained knee or an ankle or something that ultimately forced me to walk at the end, always in significant pain, or in one case to just drop out. 

I then read that those runners who cross-trained suffered fewer training injuries, so I started to cross-train, and that included strength training.  Strength training became another one of those life changing events, that had little to do with why I started to do it.

With strength training, so many of the little things in life became fun rather than being a chore to get done.  In one example, my daughter in college was changing dorm rooms and so we went to help her. I didn’t particularly look forward to it and even got her assurance that her three-sport boyfriend would be there to help out. A year later she moved again. This time, I noticed, I was looking forward to the challenge of moving her. She’d moved from the fourth floor of one building to the third floor of another building and there were no elevators in any of these buildings. Moving her was actually fun, including the 40 lb mini-fridge.  

I also have to admit to a love-hate relationship with yard work.  So many days I would see the lawn needed mowing and I’d wait “just one more day” before mowing it.  Now, I just go out and mow it and barely notice the effort. Finally, I found myself hanging off the back deck staining the pergola. It required balancing, leaning, reaching, and twisting to stain all the nooks and crannies of the pergola.  It was just fun to do. A year earlier, I would not even have attempted it and would have hired someone to do it for me. 

I’ve now regularly read that strength training is important, especially as we get older. Even being over half a century old I never noticed any real decrease in my strength.  I could still do most everything I could have done before, or so I thought, but I sure didn’t look forward to doing most of them. Once I started doing simple strength training (pushups, pullups, planks, curls, deadlifts, etc.) physical efforts became fun to do again. I once more enjoyed doing things that were physically challenging. 

High-Intensity Training 

In my ongoing quest to improve my running, I decided that in order to run the marathon faster, I simply needed to train by running faster. I started out by doing interval workouts on a treadmill.  I liked the treadmill because I could dial in a pace and it would hold me to it. I was able to just barely hold on to do one mile in eight minutes. It felt good because that was how fast I could run the mile back in high school. What it took me a few weeks to notice was that my concentration and alertness skyrocketed for days after I did these speed workouts.  

For days I’d feel as sharp as I’d been in my 20s and 30s (memory, attention to detail, relentlessly working or playing, etc.).  Problems (e.g., roof leaking water, car breaking down, drama with my family, Python script failing, computer locking up, etc.) no longer elicited a mental “oh, no not one more thing!” but instead became intriguing and interesting things to solve again.  I once again relished solving problems as they happened. All this by just working out hard and long enough that I’m sucking wind at the end of the exercise (e.g. Tabata).

Sleeping On The Floor

One day in the year 1990, I went out running as I did just about every day.  It was a bit different this time as it felt as if my backbone didn’t have any cushioning.  The run was fine but the entire time I felt a clunk … clunk … clunk in my lower backbone as I ran.  By the end of the day, my back was locked up and I could barely move around. It got a bit better the following week, but from that day on and for the next 20 years, I had daily lower back issues.  I had to plan each time I lifted up one of my kids. Getting into my car on more than one occasion caused me to throw out my back and I once had to literally crawl back into the house and call in that I’d be working from home.  I tried all sorts of exercises, many of which helped, but none of them gave me more than a little temporary relief.  

I traveled a lot, so I spent a lot of time in hotels.  Getting to sleep with my lousy back and with the often lousy beds was often difficult.  On numerous occasions I would just throw the blankets onto the floor and create a bed on and sleep there.  I finally noticed that on those times I just slept on the floor, I slept better than normal.  

One day I just decided to sleep on the floor at home.  I put down a sleeping bag by my side of the bed and threw a blanket over it. That was it.  My wife thought I was a nut, but she was also used to the nutty things I did (my wife once described my life as one big ongoing experiment).  After about a week of sleeping on the floor, I woke up one morning just feeling good. That was not too unusual, but when I got up, it then took me a while to notice that I’d had no issue with my back.  Over the next few weeks and months, I simply had no issues with my back. On one occasion I did lift something heavy and I could feel it straining my back. I just knew I had messed it up again and expected my typical six weeks of hobbling around until it was normal enough again.  Nope, it recovered within a week, and my back was fine again.

Getting rid of my back issues by just sleeping on the floor for a week was a simple life hack that turned out to be another life-changing event for me.

Meditating

Since the time I was in my mid teens I had worked at studying and practicing, to put it simply, to be a better person.  My life experiences up to that point in my life found me insecure and angry with life in general. I, like many people, spend a lot of time reading books such as “I’m OK – Your OK”, “Psycho-Cybernetics”, or recordings such as “Love Is Letting Go Of Fear” and listening to self help gurus such as Earl Nightingale and Leo Buscaglia.  I read and reread or relistened to these sources so much that I could have taught them almost verbatim. I practiced their “steps for success” and other formulas regularly.

Did any of these work?  Actually, they just about all worked.  As long as I worked diligently at them I saw results.  Simple things such as intently paying attention to someone I talked to would consistently transform the conversation and even win over doubters.  Making and committing to goals really did noticeably increase the chances of achieving those goals. Nevertheless, I never found following any set of rules very satisfying, even as they generated positive and sometimes startling results (well, goal setting I’ve now done forever).  I did, however, continue to find, read and practice many self improvement strategies for the next 15 to 20 years.

In 1990, one of my favorite speakers, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, mentioned in a presentation that he had taken to doing meditation.  He did not mention a particular practice that I can recall, but I do then recall researching various meditation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation.  In doing this research I came across Zen. The history and practice of Zen just sucked me into it and from just “trying it out” I soon found I had adopted it as my “how to be a better person” practice.  The fundamental was so simple: to “pay attention” and that fundamental explained for me why most of the other practices I had tried had worked, because I had worked at them attentively.

Like running or any exercise, getting benefits out of meditation requires persistent practice. My comfort with living in this crazy world and living with myself has exponentially improved through meditating especially when compared to my years as an angry young man. 

Keep Looking and Trying

Managing life, like managing projects, requires beneficial behaviors and practices for us to be successful.  These are some of the life hacks that have worked for me over the years. We are all individuals and all coming from different frames of reference.  The underlying principle of these life hacks was that I kept looking for ways to improve, for myself individually and for how I managed organizations and projects. That continual honest searching and trying of ideas uncovered behaviors that radically changed my life for the better. 

What are you doing to continually improve yourself as a whole person?

Thank you for sharing!

3 thoughts on “Life Hacks That Work

  1. Travis Lembcke says:

    Bruce – Really love your blog and the insights you have to offer. So much wisdom and solid advice for life and managing projects. I am 13 in on project management for corporations and find many truths in your lessons and more I can consume. I hope to read it all before you decide to pack it up and close the site.

    1. Bruce Benson says:

      Travis,

      I’m retired but I don’t plan to take down the site until I’m “done done” with life. As I plan to live to be 100, it will be up for a bit longer.

      I wish you continued success in your projects and career. Keep learning and trying things, that always worked very well for me.

      Thank you,

      Bruce

      1. Travis Lembcke says:

        Bruce,

        Thank you for your commitment to sharing your knowledge and experiences in addition to the good wishes for my success and what remains to be learned.

        From what I’ve read so far I can’t wait to hear how your 100th birthday goes. 🙂

        Kind Regards,
        Travis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *
Email *
Website