Life hacking tips and tricks


This post is a random list of life hacks I use on a regular basis. By “life hacks” I mean any type of shortcut or trick that saves time. Most I’ve been doing for so long I can’t recall where I learned them. But where I know I’ve linked back to the source. If you find a couple that work for you, great. My job is done.

Around the house

  • Storing things. Put things away in the place you would LOOK for them. For example, don’t think “where should I stash my emergency sewing kit?” Instead think, “if I were looking for my emergency sewing kit, where would I look?” Then stash it there. Also works on the computer with files and file folders.
  • Photography. Best advice I’ve ever gotten was “take more pictures but delete nearly all of them.” Professionals delete 99% or more. It’s sometimes a bit painful, but 5 years from now I’ll be glad I saved only the real gems. Each year I get a bit more aggressive.
  • Music and Stereos. I’m a big Sonos fan, details in this post.
  • Paying Bills. Stamps, checks and envelopes are evil. Most regular bills will take a credit card for autopay. For those that won’t, for example paying your credit card bill itself, you can set up direct payment via your bank. A bit of a pain to set up, but huge time savings once you are done. Everyone knows about this, but if you haven’t done it yet it’s well worth doing.
  • Product reviews. The Wirecutter is awesome for electronics reviews. And sister site The Sweethome does appliances and things around the house. Both these sites only list the best in any category. No ratings. They just tell you what to buy. Great. Much better than the consumer reports model.
  • Books. While I prefer eBooks for convenience, it costs 75 cents to reserve a book at my local library. And even though my local library has very little in stock, it’s part of a larger library system that has almost everything. The reservation can be done online, and you get an email once the book comes in. The reserved books will be transferred to your local branch and put on the hold shelf, which is typically right by the door. No hunting around. So for 75 cents I can order and read anything. Awesome deal. About 20x cheaper than buying eBooks.
  • Diet and Weight. Carbs make you fat. Post 1. Post 2.

Work and To Do Lists

  • GTD. I’m a (moderate) fan on the Getting Things Done (GTD) way of thinking. What I like about GTD is the idea that everything coming into your inbox should be assigned a spot. GTD in pure form gets very structured about this. But I think you can take this insight and run with it without the full blown toolkit.
  • To Do List. In practice I use a text file for tracking my to do list. And this is broken out into a tactical list and a strategic list. Ad hoc I might create special lists around particular projects as well.
  • Email. For email, I read everything each day. I respond to what I can right away. For ones I can’t, I flag them. If urgent and I can’t get back to it right away, I leave it in “unread” status. What happens over time is my flagged email email grows. The solution for me is to review the flagged queue off hours, typically the weekend or one late night. Then I push my email queue back into my main text to do lists.
  • Urgent and Not Important. I’m also a fan of the chart below out of Covey’s Seven Habits book. GTD can be thought of as a way to get yourself into strategic zone II, where you focus on important but not urgent work. At least once a month I need to remind myself that constant firefighting is a sign of bad planning, not being a hero.
  • urgnetnotimportant


  • Backups. Just moved to backing up my home computer with online backup service Backblaze. Wirecutter likes both Backblaze and Crashplan. Picked Backblaze because it was better for ease of use and had fewer features, which to me is a plus. Took two weeks to completely back up the roughly 250 MB, which was a while. But it seems fine. You can special order a hard drive with your backup data if you need to get it quickly. Still keeping a local backup hard drive in the house, but to be honest it is never that up to date. Hence moving to online autobackup.
  • Junk email. Your gmail address can be extended with + sign to use for one offs. Helpful to do every now and then. Details here.
  • Passwords. Use Last Pass for passwords. Also use the phone app as well. Wrote it up in a post here.
  • Multi-person computer use. Technically the right way to handle multiple people on same home computer is to have them login to different accounts. Secure and proper, but a time consuming pain. Alternatively, just have everyone use different browsers. We have four mainstream browsers: IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari. Since most personalized stuff is online, separating by browser works fine.
  • Phone Apps. Rather than do a review, I’ll just publish a screenshot of what’s on my home screen right now. Anything on my home screen I use all the time and would recommend. Screenshot below, plus listing apps in text format: Nightstand, Camera, Google Maps, Navigon, Rhapsody, Music, Sonos, Instacast, Flipboard, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Kindle, Instapaper, Google, Safari, Evernote, Bloons TD 5, PvZ 2, Weather Line, Find iPhone, Chrome, LastPass, Clock, Runmeter.
  • homescreen2013


  • Buy kid clothes after school starts, not before. Kids completely change their mind once they see what other people are wearing.
  • Cricket publishes great print kid magazines. Cricket web site is here.
  • One trick to get kids to save money is to pay super high interest rates on what they put in their savings account, where you pay the interest. Won’t work for older kids who have too much cash. But paying 4% per month interest on bank account money has been a pretty good way to teach savings, so we’re doing it for now.
  • Getting your kid a phone or smartphone. This study on adoption is helpful on level setting when to do it.

Sort of a random list. But if you find something useful, hopefully it was worth scanning through.

By Nathan Taylor

I blog at on tech trends and the near future. I'm on twitter as @ntaylor963.


  1. Nice list…currently use CR but will have to check out your suggested review sites. Here are a couple additions to family / kids:
    1) family: make a weekly menu and shopping list. Takes about 30 minutes on weekend but more than make up for it during weeknights and we eat more variety and healthier.
    2) kids: Highlights magazine makes a new series called Top Secret adventures that our 2nd grader really loves.
    3) Kids lunches: we recently purchased Thermos containers for kids lunches that allow us to get away from everyday sandwich. We’ve done beans & franks, smoothies, and soups and kids seem to like them.

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