Stop Looking For Shortcuts

This article was originally published in July 2017.

Everyone is looking for shortcuts.

We want to speed read books in a matter of minutes, while somehow remembering every detail of the contents.

We want to take a powdered Chinese mushroom or algae extract and experience a miraculous boost in brainpower.

We want to sleep 3 hours a night and still be energetic.

We want to be millionaires by the time we’re thirty or to start the next Facebook in our garage while maintaining a social life.

We want a 7-minute workout or a 2-minute meditation session or a 15-minute nap.

We want to hack and negotiate and manipulate and outsource and trick our way towards productivity, success, happiness.

We want to read a clickbait-y article and learn the top ten tips for whatever it is we’re aiming for.

We want takeaways, action points, shortcuts, secrets, an edge.

The problem is that shortcuts just don’t work.

They really don’t. The older I get, the more amazed I am at my own ignorance and incompetence. I am astounded by how far I have to go in so many areas of my life. So I understand the craving for shortcuts. I too wish they existed.

But they don’t, and more often than not they prove to be a harmful waste of time.

Harmful because they lead us to try, fail, and decide we can’t do it (whatever it is.) A waste of time because we could be truly learning or progressing in that time we waste trying to beat the system.

Cram for a test and you will forget the information a day later. Speed read or listen to sped up audiobooks and you won’t enjoy or remember anything. Try to learn a complex skill in a short time span and you’ll probably develop bad habits which make moving beyond the basics harder than it should be. Try to make or break a habit too fast and you’ll just backslide.

Shortcuts come back to bite us.

Sure, we can streamline and improve processes, refine techniques, use the right tools and figure out which pitfalls to avoid.

But there are limits. There’s a limit to how fast we can read, how much we can get done, how efficiently we can learn, how many pills we can take, whatever.

I have a self-enforced ‘no shortcuts’ policy. Whenever I find myself veering towards one, I do the opposite. Take the long cut. Do the difficult thing.

It can be small. I might find myself tempted to undercut my writing goal for the day by 100 words, so I decide to reach it, then do 100 extra. Or I might notice myself skimming over a page of a book, so I go back and reread it twice.

It’s about discipline, not efficiency.