I hate cords. Electrical cords. I loathe them with the loathing of one thousand suns.
Some people are upset that the future has arrived and has not brought us flying cars. I am indignant that we can communicate with the printer, send files and photos, and sync all our devices wirelessly, but we still have to recharge those devices through gross, hideous cords.
Relatedly, I have a storied relationship with the idea of “life hacking.”
What is Life Hacking?
I remember the first time I heard about Lifehacker. I checked it out, and one of the top posts was about boosting your Wi-Fi by putting your router up high, toward the ceiling. The picture accompanying the post featured a router mounted high on a bare wall, with a black cord snaking diagonally across a white wall.
“Who would live like that?!” my inner sanctum shouted, internally, at Lifehacker. “This site is obviously not for me.”
Later, I actually ended up using the tip—I set up a router on top of a seven-foot tall bookcase, cord hidden behind the bookcase, router obscured by a strategically placed openwork basket (so as not to block the actual, you know, Wi-Fi).
But I was still just angry at that post.
I mean, why do I want faster Wi-Fi? So I can make money marginally more efficiently? And why do I want the money? Once my survival and security needs are met, I want it so I can live elegantly. But I can’t enjoy my scotch while looking at a cord snaking across a wall.
“Life hacks” are often thought of as clever, DIY solutions that allow a person to work more efficiently, which, in theory, would lead to working less.
From Nikil Saval in Pacific Standard:
Life-hacking wouldn’t be popular if it didn’t tap into something deeply corroded about the way work has, without much resistance, managed to invade every corner of our lives. The idea started out as a somewhat earnest response to the problem of fragmented attention and overwork—an attempt to reclaim some leisure time and autonomy from the demands of boundaryless labor.
But how many people really use life hacks to work less? After all, you have to take the time to read Lifehacker (or Tim Ferriss or whatnot) and to implement the hacks. I hypothesize that such people are more motivated by wanting to feel clever than by wanting to work less.
And to be fair, I also am not primarily motivated by working less. I’m interested in ways to work more beautifully.
Enter: Elegance Hacks
I’m one of the lucky ones. I like my work. Sure, everyone wants to make more money in less time, but in my ideal world, I’d still be plotting on my laptop at an otherwise empty hotel bar.
I like elegance hacks. I want to ritualize ease, beauty, and enjoyment in my work. I want to make elegance easier to achieve, more often, and more regularly. I’d like elegance to just be there when life is feeling inelegant.
You might argue that this is what Martha Stewart has been doing all along. Certainly her eponymous magazine can help you host an elegant soiree. But it has precious little to do with the world of work. Martha Stewart is a billionaire, but she has sold you a world in which you do not have an office, or a laptop, or a mess of chargers that you need both at home, and with you in your bag, and that’s why they’re such a mess.
In Martha’s world, elegance is something to be painstakingly manufactured. Finish your work so you can do more work to make an elegant home life. Pardon my unenthusiasm.
Because I would like to experience elegance during the bulk of my life—while typing. I would like to experience elegance during meetings, and when tossing my charger in my bag on the way to work.
If you, too, are looking for a more elegant work life, here are a few of my favorite hacks.
Elegance Hack #1: Tweak Your Browser
Set your browser to go to the last page you were on when you shut down. (In Chrome, Preferences -> On Startup -> Continue where you left off.)
Then, every night before shutting down your computer, close out all your work tabs. (Seriously, give yourself a sense of closure for the night, even if the task is not complete. Do not use open tabs as a to-do list.)
Then visit something lovely—an inspiring blog post, the Instagram account of a faraway friend. Open it up, and then shut down. When you start work the next morning, you have a little internet gift from yourself and an otherwise blank slate to begin work.
You can also make your browser itself more aesthetically pleasing with the help of free themes in the Chrome Web Store or the Momentum extension that gives you a stunning photo every time you open a new tab.
Elegance Hack #2: Give Your Work Bag a Place of Honor
Surely you have a bag or two: a work tote, a slouchy messenger bag, a utilitarian laptop bag, a ruling-the-fashion-industry power handbag.
Are they always in the way? On the floor, on a coffee table? Hung over your desk chair until you want to sit down, and then put on the coffee table, until you want the coffee table? Why wouldn’t you have a dedicated place for one of your most-used (and useful) possessions?
If you Google “handbag storage,” you find a lot of ways to store beautiful handbags you’re not using. You find very little about where to drop your everyday bag when you come home from work.
Make an honored space for the bag! Try a nice basket. A basket with only one, slightly-smaller-than-the-basket-sized item in it looks both luxurious and formidably organized. Or, install wall hooks. Or, let your bag rest comfortably inside a storage ottoman, which looks great and will give you extra seating.
My bags used to slump against the legs of my desk. No more!
Elegance Hack #3: Modular Storage for Your Work Supplies
If your work is truly all contained in the cloud, accessed from a single device with an excellent battery life, bless!
But if you’ve got a laptop and a notebook and some scraps of paper and a couple of chargers—or you regularly run around town doing different kinds of work—store your items in modules, rather than just rushing around and trying to throw all the right stuff into your bag.
Papers (and even tablets and small laptops) can all be shuffled together into a vinyl zip project file like this one. These are cheap, make a mess of paper look organized, and are fantastic for travel. Chargers can go in a mesh pouch like this one, along with, ideally, a phone backup battery and any other just-in-case doodads, like a flash drive. I have another, similar pouch for the dry-erase markers and eraser I bring when I’m going to be giving a presentation. You get the idea.
Of course, there are handbag inserts for all the regular items in your purse. Audit your bag every two or three weeks, removing items that aren’t serving you or that just make you feel gross or angry when you put your hand in there.
Then, put all the modules you don’t carry everyday in a central location at home: a basket, a bin, or dedicated desk drawer.
Of course, organizing your work supplies is, itself, work. Don’t do it just to obey some gender stereotype or cultural prejudice in favor of tidy people. Only do it if you would enjoy the ease and aesthetic pleasure it provides.
Elegance Hack #4: Back Up Your Data—and Your Angst
Do you approach your laptop or work computer with dread? Is that machine just a repository of incomplete, overwhelming, distressing tasks?
Back up anything that makes you feel bad, and then delete it, either using a physical backup drive, cloud storage, or both. I’m serious. A half-finished project your boss is haranguing you about but you can’t finish because he keeps giving you other work to do? A project you just finished for a verbally abusive client? Pictures of your mother who is always nitpicking you about something? Get them off your computer!
Set up a storage system where you can easily re-download any distressing files, work on them as needed, and re-upload. (And if your important files are no longer on your hard drive, you might want more than one backup location.)
For most of us, your computer is where you do your life’s work. Your workspace shouldn’t be a trigger-laden minefield.
And as long as you’re removing sources of stress and displeasure, you might as well clean up that computer desktop as well. (Don’t feel like you have to organize everything into tidy new folders. You can just make a folder labeled “Archive 2014,” dump all the random junk in it, and be one step closer to inner peace.)
Just think: What would it take for your computer to seem like a calming, beautiful, and meditative space?
It’s Not Always About Saving Time
Have you ever been on a road trip with someone who wants to eat fast food in the car so you can get there faster, while you just want to stop for a nice lunch in a new town? Unless I’m speeding to a family member in the hospital, I’d rather take an enjoyable six-hour trip than a miserable 4.5 hour one.
Sometimes you’re rushing towards a deadline, but do you really want your entire work life to be that way? How can you make your daily work more elegant?