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7 life hacks from the ‘Minds and Machines’ podcast

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Minds and Machines with Andrew McAfee” features podcast interviews with some of the most respected names in technology leadership. To date, MIT Sloan’s principal research scientist and his guests have discussed heady topics such as the future of machine learning, globalism, business regulation, fake news, activist investors, and facing death.

They’ve also talked about reading, exercising, having breakfast, and eating pistachios. These topics came up when McAfee asked his guests for life hacks — general tips that help us save time, improve productivity, or remove frustration in our everyday lives. Whether it’s practical, innovative, or completely obvious, a life hack is something that makes our lives better.

Here are six life hacks from McAfee’s guests, plus one lesson that McAfee himself has learned.

Patrick Collison: Read and listen to better content

Collison, the founder of online payment processing company Stripe, uses an app called Pocket to collect articles and podcasts that he intends to check out when he has time.

“You should not read the most interesting thing that you know about at this very moment. You should read the most interesting thing that you've come across in the past week or the past month,” he said. An app such as Pocket, he added, “will significantly increase the average quality of the [information] that you consume. It's a magazine curated by somebody with implausibly similar taste as yourself.”

Alex Rodriguez: Wake up early and exercise

It comes as little surprise that Rodriguez, the former Major League Baseball All-Star and current Guest Shark on “Shark Tank,” focused his life hack on fitness: “Wake up early. Exercise.”

This life hack is more than just sage advice. Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can improve executive function — actions such as task switching, selective attention, and short-term memory. What’s more, this research has also shown that exercise can slow cognitive decline as we age.

Susan Athey: Choose what’s important

Athey is a professor of economics at Stanford, a longtime consultant to Microsoft, and a mother of three. To excel in these roles, Athey said she has been “very relentless” about first delegating what’s not important and then not worrying about how others accomplish the tasks she has deemed not important.

What is important to Athey? “There's no substitute for spending personal time with my kids; that I don’t compromise on,” she said. “I've taken a million red eyes so I can be back for breakfast. I've turned down a lot of international travel to be with my kids. I suffer the annoyance of my colleagues by not taking people out to dinner.”

Reid Hoffman: Leave room for serendipity

Eliminating unnecessary meetings from our daily calendars is a common life hack, said Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a venture capitalist with Greylock Partners. People often do this to work more efficiently, but Hoffman said it’s also important to “deliberately leave some room for serendipity” — to leave room for conversations that have nothing to do with the projects on our calendars.

“What you're trying to do, in fact, is not actually eliminate time and meetings from your schedule,” he said. “You're trying to get high-value time. It's like experimentation.”

James Manyika: Use your access to give others opportunity

While the racial, gender, and economic disparities in professional opportunity are systematic, every successful person can help close the gaps. James Manyika, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company and chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute, uses his life hack to support others.

“Any time any of us convene a meeting, make sure of the 10 people we’re going to invite that we know we need for that meeting, have two others,” he said. “Have a young person, have a poor person, have an uneducated kid, have a black kid, bring somebody. Bring a friend who doesn’t have access.”

Andrew McAfee: Never leave without a notebook and a pen

McAfee revealed in his conversation with Hoffman that, at a previous lunch meeting, McAfee had to borrow a pen so he could write down something interesting that Hoffman said. (Hoffman had several in his pocket to spare.)

“Now, leaving the house without a notebook and a pen feels about as wrong to me as driving a car without a seatbelt on,” McAfee said.

Carl Bass: Put those pistachio shells to use

The life hack from Bass, the former CEO of Autodesk, won’t help us read more articles or prioritize our time at home — but it will change the way we crack open pistachios.

“If you have to open a pistachio nut — and sometimes they're really hard to open — the best way to open the pistachio nut is to take one of the ones that's easy to open … and then use [the half shell] to open the rest of the pistachio nut,” Bass said.

Listen to full episodes of “Minds and Machines” at Andrew McAfee’s website.

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