There are a lot of ways to make a job easier, whether it's losing weight, learning a new skill or cooking a fantastic dinner. But there's a big difference between doing something more efficiently and avoiding the work altogether. There are no "big" shortcuts. If you're spending more time looking for them than doing the thing you need to do, it's time to re-evaluate why you're doing it in the first place.
Illustration: Jim Cooke
Doing Something Faster Is Not the Same as Avoiding Work
Here at Lifehacker, we're all about useful shortcuts. Shortcuts that help you type faster, clean out your email inbox or get dinner on the table. These shortcuts are about efficiency and working smart. But as the "life hacking" movement became more popular, more people took advantage to peddle shortcut methods for skipping work or "getting rich quick" in place of actual effort. These are nothing new, but they're given cult-like praise in this age of efficiency. And people have mistaken getting things done faster for not doing them at all.
As an example, take the book that made Tim Ferriss famous, The 4-Hour Work Week. He pitches the idea that you can make a lot of money and only work four hours a week by outsourcing work and putting your business on autopilot. This isn't a new concept by any means, and it isn't even inherently bad advice. In fact, anyone can do these things on a smaller scale: automating your finances can make saving easier, and outsourcing minor chores can give you the extra time to do the things you love.
But will you get rich and only work a four-hour week? Probably not. Ferriss was able to achieve this lifestyle because he grew up in a good neighbourhood, went to a good high school, went to a good university, got a good job after that and made good money. Then he started a business selling exercise supplements. In short, he's an educated, rich, white, childless male. He came from a places of privilege to give advice to others in the same position. Which is fine if you're in that place, but most of us are too busy hustling to keep food on the table to even consider implementing most of his "life hacks".
These aren't tricks for working more efficiently, they're ways around work. Self-help gurus tend to view work as a stupid waste of time that needs to be removed. The same basic creed follows for the work required to lose weight or learn a skill. Want to lose weight fast? Follow Dr Oz's way to do it without putting forth any effort! Want to learn a language? Sure, do it in a week! That's ridiculous.
Sure, you may see results right away, but those results will disappear quickly, because these "shortcuts" create unsustainable habits. They trick you into seeing short-term results but long-term failure, and leave you wondering where you went wrong. Inevitably you'll assume your failure is a personal one, blame yourself, and go buy another self-help book to get back on the horse.
Let's use weight loss as another example. Caloric restriction is a popular shortcut for weight loss. The reason is pretty simple: you eat less. You'll even see a little weight loss over the course of that diet, so on the surface, that shortcut seems to work. Unfortunately, when you return to a normal diet, you'll put the weight back on. As we've pointed out before, a diet has no beginning and end. It's not a shortcut to losing weight, you have to sustain a healthy diet forever alongside exercise if you want to stay healthy. When you try to get around the work, you'll be disappointed, which makes it a lot easier to fall back into the bad habits that got you there in the first place.
There are no shortcuts that remove the real work required to achieve your goal. You can read faster, but that's at the expense of retaining the information and recalling it later. You can work out harder and faster, but you can't avoid the actual effort and energy required to get results. It's about working smarter and getting rid of the tedium — not getting out of actual hard work.
Stop Defining "Work" As Something You Don't Want to Do
The real problem here is our philosophy on work. People tend to view work as a negative thing to be avoided, and that's an unhealthy idea to push on people. If you really want to make big changes in your life, you have to recalibrate this view. We need to stop bitching and whining about the work required to do things. The point of life hacking is to get things done quickly and efficiently without wasted effort, not to fool you into thinking there's a miracle cure to a disorganized apartment or a super-busy job.
Learning a new language, getting a raise, losing weight — they take work — and if you hate the work required to get to them, maybe you don't want to do those things that badly. If you really want to learn a language, then doing the work should have a positive effect on you, even if it's just a feeling of accomplishment after every session. Even exercise, which is notoriously difficult for some people to fall in love with, doesn't have to dreadful. Work may be hard, but in the end, your effort should have a positive effect on you and your goals, whatever they may be.
Your job's no different. Sure, not everyone can follow their passion and love their job. But that doesn't mean you should hate your job. If you find yourself looking for any way to avoid work, it's probably time to leave your job. That's easier said than done for many, but at the very least you can try to improve your work without leaving, or take it slow and plan your escape. Again, there's no shortcut here — just smart planning.
When you're always looking for shortcuts, you're breeding contempt for the actual work. That's inevitably going to have a negative effect on you in the long term. Your boss will notice you're not doing your job correctly, something will fall apart, or a client will notice flaws right away.
It's human nature to look for magic bullet solutions to common problems. Not feeling creative? Take a holiday! You'll be 100% more creative when you get back! Depressed? Exercise and it will fix everything! Sadly, that's not really how it works. You can't just blindly take advice and follow steps and assume you'll get results. Yes, sometimes we fall prey to this line of thinking and over-promise the bang for your buck that some lifestyle changes really offer. But no single solution changes everything. In order to live happily — whatever that phrase means to you — you'll have to work for it, so you might as well stop viewing work as a dirty word.