43

In-line with my other question: Is there anything that isn't on-topic here?

Can we get a clear definition of what a lifehack is?

I think if it's clear what a lifehack is, we can clearly define what is or is not on-topic here, and also who our experts are.

  • 4
    This is the number one thing we need to define. Is any question Ok but only "hack" answers are acceptable? I'm not clear on what type of questions are acceptable. – liebs19 Dec 9 '14 at 22:45
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    I put the [featured] tag on this question because this must be answered definitively for this site to thrive. – hairboat Dec 10 '14 at 0:14
  • 1
    I totally agree. I'm asking a lot of questions and as a result getting a lot of questions closed for not being on-topic without the topic actually being defined. – user100 Dec 12 '14 at 1:40
  • Could start an evolving definition of life hack in the community wiki for eventual inclusion in the "About" page? – user100 Dec 12 '14 at 1:40
  • 3
    @KevinJohnsrude That's what we're doing :) But you're right, it's time to try and make a short, clear statement – Zach Saucier Dec 12 '14 at 1:41
  • @ZachSaucier I second this. Without an attempt to make something we are just all over the board. We need one starting point for discussions going forward. – liebs19 Dec 12 '14 at 2:02
  • @liebs19 I attempted to do so in my answer below – Zach Saucier Dec 12 '14 at 3:11

12 Answers 12

18

Pulling from Bobo's answer, MattS.'s answer, all of these meta posts, and a long discussion in the chatroom, here's my definition:

A lifehack is a technique that can be implemented quickly and is used to make one's physical life more efficient when a more standard approach (as defined by that area's experts) or a product is either unavailable or undesirable. Lifehacks are creative, meaning they use materials that are on hand for uses besides their intended use.

This definition can be applied to questions and answers. Looking through all the meta questions once more, this definition helps solve a lot of them.

This definition is now part of the scope of Lifehacks.

  • I think this seems like a solid definition. We just need to turn this into a list of rules for questions so they will draw these types of answers from others. – liebs19 Dec 12 '14 at 13:49
  • @liebs19 That's attempting to be done here – Zach Saucier Dec 12 '14 at 14:18
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    All things considered, there are many things wrong with this definition. The standard approach is a red herring because different people have different standard approaches. If “everybody knows” a solution, on average, 10000 people in the US learn about it per day. Creativity is irrelevant — using material at hand is definitely an element, but “intended use” raises the standard problem again, and “besides their intended use” is a groundless artificial restriction. – Gilles Jan 2 '15 at 8:01
23

Going by the answer from @Bobo, I think that the very definition of what a lifehack is, is actually a solution, not a question.

So we need to try and flip it around and think what sort of questions produce lifehack solutions. Looking at this list of top lifehacks, these are the questions that would have to have been asked first to receive these sorts of responses:

  • How to find your luggage on an airport carousel
  • How to keep a door from latching, without wedging it open
  • How to properly iron around the buttons of a shirt
  • How to prevent bin bags from leaking
  • How to keep dirty laundry from smelling whilst travelling
  • How to fill a container that doesn't fit in the sink
  • How to stop charger cables from breaking

They all seem to revolve around life's little annoyances, so maybe that's what the question scope should be? True, not all of them are going to produce lifehack answers, but in a Q&A format, these are the questions that are most likely to do that.

I think that my definition for the question scope would have to be something along these lines:

"Questions are in scope if they request a solution to a problem, that the majority of people face at some point in their life, that can be implemented more quickly, with more common tools, and is easier or cheaper than common or obvious methods, if those methods already exist.

If a question already has a common solution that they want to improve, they must explicitly state the method they want an improvement to, and which aspects needs to be improved"

In my opinion, this scope will allow all of the questions above, and all of the questions currently on the site that aren't already on hold, with some editing. When I say editing, the only thing that would need to change for the majority of cases that don't match the scope, is to add how they would like to improve upon existing methods. For example, https://lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/236/how-do-i-prevent-ants-and-cockroaches-from-getting-to-my-food could clarify how they would like the solution to be better than the common solution of pesticides, ie cheaper, more effective or using items around the house. OPs own answer in this example used cucumbers, so if that was the result they were wanting, they would ask for an answer using objects that are normally easily obtainable or already in the house

As for who our experts are, that's a whole other debate. But I do see people on Facebook have graduated from somewhere called "The University of Life", that sounds like a good place to start asking ;)

  • 2
    You can view my previous answers to this same question at: discuss.area51.stackexchange.com/questions/13293/… but I mostly just wanted to comment to say that this SE is blowing up like crazy, like I've never seen an SE do before—now maybe that's just because it was just launched in private beta, I don't know, I've never seen one before—but still, I can't help but feel a bit of satisfaction seeing the naysayers, at least so far, apparently proven wrong! – Josh Zmijewski Dec 10 '14 at 22:18
  • Your answer here is inconsistent. If the scope is “life's little annoyances”, then hackiness of answers doesn't come into play, and improving on existing methods is irrelevant. (Besides, if a question must improve on existing methods, that would make the site a research-only site, forbidding problems that have been solved before!) – Gilles Jan 9 '15 at 20:30
12

Here's my definition of lifehack. Feel free to debate any of it.

A lifehack is a quick solution to a problem. Usually the solution is an outside-the-box or unexpected solution, hence the term 'hack'. The problems tend to be trivial, yet irritating for those who have to deal with them. Lifehacks are simple and can apply to many people.

This question is a good example, because lots of people can be affected by this and it is nice to find an easy solution.

  • 8
    This is the definition of a good answer for this site. Unfortunately, this doesn't help define a question. Do we closer any question that has an easy answer even if it may also have some outside the box answers? – liebs19 Dec 9 '14 at 22:34
8

When I google "What is a lifehack" I get this definition:

a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one's time and daily activities in a more efficient way.

Which to me would imply that a lifehack is just the term used for the most efficient solution to a problem.

  • 1
    If that is true then we better close this as duplicate of personal productivity – Vogel612 Dec 10 '14 at 17:18
7

The danger with inventing our own definition is that every new participant to the site will have to be taught it. This will lead to a lot of frustration as people come with their own idea and we have to tell them that our idea is different. There is a lot to be gained in adopting a standard definition.

There isn't a central authority who defines what a life hack is. The best we can hope for a consensual definition is to follow dictionaries and encyclopedia: reference material that's shared by everyone, not just by the Lifehacks Stack Exchange founding clique.

Therefore I propose to align with Wikipedia's definition. I am copying the current relevant part of the article here.

Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. It is arguably a modern appropriation of a gordian knot — in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner.

For me, the key ideas are:

  • solves [a] problem: a lifehack must be about solving a concrete problem. It's a “how” question, not a “what” or “why” question.
  • an everyday problem: a lifehack concerns everyday life. Problems encountered as part of professional life, or requiring specialized knowledge, are not lifehacks.
  • increases productivity or efficiency: a lifehack is about solving the problem quickly and with few resources, not about finding the solution that produces a high-quality result.
  • trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty: a lifehack can involve taking shortcuts. It doesn't have to be robust or generalizable. It doesn't need to have been covered in peer-reviewed literature: something made up on the spot is fine as long as it works.
  • How do you decide if something requires specialized knowledge (and is then not a lifehack)? – GimmeTehRepz Jan 12 '15 at 16:53
  • @MattS. A guideline is, does this require professional expertise? This will need to be refined — we've already had predictable meta threads on medical questions and “see a professional”. One clear case is that something that's part of your job is off-topic. – Gilles Jan 12 '15 at 17:04
6

I don't have a definition for what a lifehack is or isn't. However its decided, though, keep in mind that questions need to be able to be judged without answers. Requiring an answer to be able to judge the question means there are going to be lots of questions without answers, that can't be closed.

Having to know the answer to a question in order to judge whether its on or off topic is very problematic. The point of closure is to prevent answers, because the question doesn't meet the current standards of the site.

Whatever definition is decided, base it on the questions, not the answers.

4

I've given this a some thought lately, because while this topic presents a lot of challenges for our model, I think this could be a very useful site, if we can limit the scope enough to make it appealing to a core community and as helpful as it can be.

My thinking below doesn't deviate much from Zach's accepted answer, which I like a lot. But I wanted to pull out the pieces of that that I think are key, and to touch on a couple of challenges and issues below.

I think there are two core criteria that define what should be considered a lifehack for our purposes:

  1. Unknown or not obvious to many laypersons who confront this issue.
  2. Easier or more effective than the most obvious approach. (Alternately, it fits the asker's specific criteria or constraints: "A drill won't work for me, as I need a solution that won't wake up my light-sleeping Sea Monkeys").

Assorted Thoughts

  • There probably has to be an obvious approach. https://lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/2393/is-there-a-way-to-fix-the-broken-stand-for-an-apple-cinema-23-acrylic-display IMO fails the test, because it's literally, "How do I do a thing?" There's obviously a fair bit of interpretation needed here, but the site clearly can't allow just any question about "How do I do something?"
  • "Laypersons" is important. If someone posts a clever way to unclog a toilet, using nothing but your roommates toothbrush, it doesn't matter if toothbrush-plunging is covered in the first semester of plumber school. What makes a lifehack cool is that somebody has found some way to do something useful to a ton of other people who can use it but don't know it.
  • I'd be careful of requirements like 'creative'. Overly subjective requirements lead to a lot of pain and frustration; many reasonable people will disagree strongly about what is or isn't creative. Plus, some solutions may be completely uncreative, but qualify simply because they're hugely helpful but a huge number of people have no idea they exist.
  • Don't over-focus on 'experts'. For a topic like this one, what you really want is a passionate core community. On many sites, that means experts who do something constantly, often for a living. That's just not realistic here. What you're going for is a scope that is limited enought that a large group of users is excited to come here daily, to shepard the topic and moderate the site, and to keep having converstations like the one we're having right now. That means it can't be "anything goes," but I'm not sure Lifehacking "Experts" is the right definition.
  • We may want to keep an open mind to "specialist product" answers, at least initially. Admittedly, products can be challenging for a ton of reasons. Many of them (spam issues) aren't too relevant until sites are much bigger, but some are. But here's the thing - if a product is truly obscure, cheap, and solves someone's problem (often cheaply), it seems counter productive to be shutting down an answer saying "honestly, you'd never know it existed if you don't make buggy whips, but 'Old-Timers' Whip De-Cracker' does exactly what you need, and it's only fifty cents on BuggyWhipSupplies.com". Let me be clear - shopping questions have a lot of problems, but for young sites, when the best answer to a specific problem is a product, it seems crazy to refuse to allow it as an answer.

This is the one that scares the crap out of me, but we may as well admit it now:

  • For a lot of questions, It will NOT be possible to evaluate whether they are on-topic without seeing the answers. I know. I know. But whether you use my proposed definition or someone else's at the end of the day, we're talking about things that are essentially defined loosely as, "Most people didn't know such a better way existed!" Put another way, the more useful a lifehack is, the more likely is is that many people think the question that elicited it can't be solved by one.

That's a problem. And frankly, I don't know exactly how to solve it. But the first step is admitting it, and I don't seen any definitions proposed that really seem like we won't often need answers to evaluate the question.

  • 10
    If we really end up needing to require answers before deeming a question on or off topic, it seems to me that this site cannot possibly work on StackExchange. It would be a terrible way to run a site. – Sterno Dec 30 '14 at 17:47
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    @Sterno, I think it's a big challenge, but do you see any way to define a way to really identify what questions are "likely" to have unknown, but useful answers before you see them? I'm not arguing that that's a good thing; simply that we want it not to be the case, but we're facing a topic that essentially is defined by answers. – Jaydles Dec 30 '14 at 17:47
  • @Jaydles I don't, but that's the point. If we can't come up with a way to do that, then this site just isn't going to work. To be perfectly honest, I don't understand why this site came out of private beta without coming up with an answer to this question which didn't rely on there already being answers. – Wipqozn Dec 30 '14 at 17:52
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    I've wrote quite a bit in the comments here about why judging the on-topicness of a question based on the answers is a really bad idea. – Wipqozn Dec 30 '14 at 17:53
  • I'd say the only way it could work (and I still think it would be a bad idea) would be to require all questions to be self-answered at the time they're asked. Then you could at least judge them by the question/answer pair, yet leave it open for new answers to come in. Though, like I said, I still think it would be bad. Better to just say "If we can't figure out what makes a question on-topic without having an answer, we should shut the place down." – Sterno Dec 30 '14 at 17:54
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    We're having this problem with lore on Gaming. Currently (or previously?) lore questions were off topic if it's not answered in the game. The intent of this was to eliminate questions about companion books, but it turned into a problem of needing to know the answer to know if it is off topic. Which is highly problematic because by definition the asker doesn't know the answer unless they self answer. – Unionhawk Dec 30 '14 at 17:54
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    @Sterno Requiring all questions to be self-answers is a terrible solution, so bad in fact that I wouldn't even call it a solution. It means the only people who can come to us for help are people who don't need help to begin with. That just doesn't make any sense. – Wipqozn Dec 30 '14 at 17:55
  • @Wipqozn Right. It makes this a "lifehack repository" rather than a place you come with problems to seek answers. Effectively, it turns it into a wiki with vote tallies. However, in a sense, that seems to be the goal if you're going to judge topicality by whether or not the answer is a hack. – Sterno Dec 30 '14 at 17:56
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    @Wipqozn, I think that a lot of people using the site think it is working. As I said, I have a lot of concern about the answer vs. question issue, but my point here is that 1) I think the site is working, but 2) I worry we're not confronting that we don't know how to address that problem. – Jaydles Dec 30 '14 at 17:56
  • 1
    I also agree with @Wipqozn that while self-answered questions are awesome for this site, requiring them wouldn't work; you can't reasonably restrict questions to those who don't really need the answers. – Jaydles Dec 30 '14 at 17:58
  • Well, good. I'm kind of glad to have that "must be self-answered" idea shot down, since I didn't particularly like it. In this meta discussion, I left an answer about how "No" is a valid answer. I think most of what I said there applies as well if you just change "No" to "Doesn't have a 'hacky' answer". I just can't see it working as a close reason. – Sterno Dec 30 '14 at 18:03
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    I'm wondering perhaps if this "Should we close if there are no lifehack answers?" idea needs its own meta. – Sterno Dec 30 '14 at 18:07
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    This is helpful content, but I feel like it should be placed on a meta issue discussing it specifically – Zach Saucier Dec 30 '14 at 18:37
  • Watch out your roommate! – Tim Dec 30 '14 at 18:39
  • On ""specialist product" answers" -- makes sense. Care to open a new Meta question on the topic so that this can be made clearer to everyone? – Shokhet Dec 30 '14 at 23:09
1

I've been answering questions here for a week now, and frankly... Most of the questions I've seen fall into a category I'd call "robot maid questions". That is, you already have a solution to your problem and you're just hoping there's some crazy sci-fi solution that requires less thought or effort.

These questions... Really suck. Because what you get tends to be one or both of two responses:

  1. The normal, usual, "common sense" solution.
  2. Some crazy solution that's either more dangerous, more expensive, or less effective than #1, but in theory allows you to half-ass the job.

Most of the time, you would be wise to go with #1. No one is going to die if you don't solve your problem immediately, and more often than not there's a really good reason why everyone already knows about the usual solution: the tradeoffs you'll make for #2 aren't worth the small advantages they bring.

But, sometimes... Once in a blue moon... #2 is nice to know about - not because you'll want to use it, but because for circumstances beyond your control you've no other choice. I've started calling these the "Car Talk 9-volt battery solutions"...

My definition of a Life Hack: jumpstarting your car with a 9-volt battery

Years ago, the popular radio show Car Talk discussed the practicality of jumpstarting your car in an emergency using two bits of wire and an ordinary 9-volt battery. The conclusion was that this was a long shot indeed: getting such a tiny battery to supply enough current (even for a very short period of time) would be difficult under even ideal circumstances, and would most likely destroy the battery in the process (potentially harming the hapless hacker). Nevertheless, it was speculated that in dire circumstances it might be possible to start a small vehicle this way in order to avoid some worse fate.

I believe that this is the essence of a Life Hack:

  1. A problem that cannot be solved by conventional means
  2. A situation where not solving the problem would result in calamity
  3. #1 and #2 combining to produce desperation from necessity
0

A lifehack to me constitutes the solving of an everyday problem with an uncommon solution. This can be achieved by using everyday objects in an unusual manner, or by implementing a not so well known method.

This raises the question when would something not be a lifehack? The answer is pretty simple; for it being a lifehack calls for a problem to exist, in the absence of a problem or issue, the solution can never classify as a lifehack.

  • 1
    So in other words.. Everything is a lifehack? – GimmeTehRepz Dec 10 '14 at 17:17
  • @MattS. No: "A lifehack to me constitutes the solving of an everyday problem with an uncommon solution." – RichardBernards Dec 11 '14 at 7:55
-3

I've already posted an answer, but decided to split this part off of the original answer to make voting clear. I'm sure of the rules laid out in my previous answer, and less sure about this part of it.

I want to suggest one more rule, that I'm not so sure about:

That last one is very nebulous, admittedly, but I think if we can get five users with CV privileges to VtC a question as "uninteresting," then I think we can bet that the question actually is uninteresting.

  • 2
    The problem I see is that 'interesting' is extremely open to interpretation; And it could change over time, which could get confusing. – GimmeTehRepz Dec 11 '14 at 1:24
  • @MattS. I know....but again, if we get five high rep (3K rep) users to agree that it's uninteresting, then it probably is....but anyways, I'm not really committed to this answer, I'm not sure it's a good idea, and tossed it out to see what people think -- this is Meta, DV if you disagree ;-) – Shokhet Dec 11 '14 at 1:30
  • 1
    I would prefer that we come up with objective criteria, to reduce the destructive culture that can occur when personalities clash. – user100 Dec 12 '14 at 15:06
  • @KevinJohnsrude Good point. This is Meta, DV if you disagree ;-) – Shokhet Dec 12 '14 at 18:06
  • Answers can make a big difference to how interesting a question is, so I don't think it is useful to judge a question based on this. A question could be closed preventing the answers that would highlight why its interesting side is not immediately obvious. – trichoplax Dec 17 '14 at 11:14
-3

A lifehack is something that fits one or more of the below criteria:


  • A method of doing a common task simpler/faster.

Q: How can I make sure I get the USB plug in the right way up?

A: Align the two holes so they are at the top of the cable.

  • Using items in unusual ways to achieve some goal.

Q: How do I increase my car's keyfob's working distance?

A: Stick it under your chin and use the button. This also works with garage door openers.

  • Modifying an item to change its purpose.

Q: How do I eject a SIM card from an iPhone (without the tool)?

A: Unbend a paperclip and use one of the ends.

  • Repairing broken things.

Q: How do I unstick my laptop keyboard's space bar?

A: Take off the key, clean it, and clean under it. Let everything dry, and then replace it.



A lifehack is not something that fits any of the below criteria:


  • Using items the way they were meant to be used.

Q: How do I remove a stripped screw?

A: Use a "Stripped Screw Remover".

  • Using things/ideas/etc to not get things on you. These are overused and should be off-topic here. Just wash ________ whenever you're done. Or, alternatively, just be careful/smart! (Getting things off of other things are on-topic)

Q: How do I keep apple juice from sticking on my hands?

A: Corn cobs.

  • Improving self-image or metaphysical things. This is self-help, and while considered life-hacks in other places, are not really applicable. Anyways, those horses were already beaten to death, beaten until they became zombies, beaten to death again, and so on. Seriously. Go to WalMart/Barnes & Noble/your local megamart/Google. You will find literally thousands of things on self-help, reducing procrastination, and losing weight. Humans are vain and always dissatesfied with themselves. If SE decides to do this, it should be it's own SE. Keep it physical here. (Math is an okay exception, but you should really ask in Math.SE)

Q: How do I avoid procrastinating?

A: Read one of the hundreds of thousands of online articles that have something to say about that.

  • Doing an alternative that is similar to what you're trying to do, but different enough that it isn't really "hacky".

Q: How do I swim without getting my hair wet?

A: Shave your head.



Other Guidelines


  • Answers should never have you explicitly buy something ("Go buy, this, this, and that."). You should be able to do any life hack with only things around your house/easy to find. If you need it, go ahead and buy it. But don't explicitly buy things for lifehacks.

  • Any item used in an answer should have more than one use. Lifehacking (and hacking) is adapting things so they work for you, how you want them to.

  • Lifehacks should not be "easy." They should be more out-of-left-field instead of something that anyone can think of (Q-Tips to clean ears, anyone?). Those lifehacks help nobody, because everybody knows them or can find out in seconds.

  • A really good lifehack addresses a problem that everyone has, but few people know how to solve.

  • Legality should not be an object here. While doing illegal things are wrong, people have use cases. Don't get in trouble. Instead, add a little note to anything that may be seen as illegal:

Questions

I am only attempting to access/use/whatever my own property and possessions. They are owned solely by me, and I have a right to do whatever I want.

Answers

Performing this answer on anything that is not your property is illegal, and may cause fines or jail time. I assume no responsibility for anything that happens to you.

  • ALL LIFEHACKS MUST BE SAFE! If you're not comfortable with your eight-year-old doing it (under adult supervision), do not post it here. Safety is very very very very very important!
  • 2
    How can this criteria be applied to questions, not just answers? – Zach Saucier Dec 12 '14 at 14:14
  • 1
    @ZachSaucier There are some nice question-focused parts of this answer, but large sections of it do indeed apply just to the answers. – starsplusplus Dec 12 '14 at 16:32
-6

I feel a lifehack is simply a solution to a problem which might fit on another forum, but may be to basic or unorthodox for that forum.

For example, I could ask for a quick way to multiply two numbers. That is too basic for mathematics.SE, therefore it can fit in lifehacks

  • 6
    -1. This makes this SE a "catch-all, everything goes" site, which is against SE philosophy (see the set of links in my answer). If we follow this rule, that will basically guarantee that this site never makes it out of private beta. – Shokhet Dec 11 '14 at 4:05
  • 4
    Also; pet peeve: SE is not a forum (1, 2) – Shokhet Dec 11 '14 at 4:08

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