This one simple trick can make everything easier and faster

Here it is, tested, effective and worthwhile:

Stop chasing shortcuts.

Personal finance, weight loss, marketing, careers, beating traffic, relationships, education–everything that matters to someone often comes with heavily promoted shortcuts as an alternative.

Fast, risk-free, effortless secrets that magically work, often at someone else’s expense.

But if the shortcuts worked as promised, they wouldn’t be shortcuts, would they? They’d be the standard.

A shortcut is not an innovation. It’s not a direct path, either. Those work, but they require effort, risk and insight.

If you can’t afford the time and effort to do it right, you probably can’t afford to do it over after you realize that the shortcut was merely a trap.

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Which change?

You can change the way people get the things they want.

Or you can change what they want.

Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are two of the wealthiest people in history. They got that way by changing how people used tools to find new ways to get what they already wanted.

Nelson Mandela and Jacqueline Novogratz picked a different mission. Trying to change what people want in the first place.

Both paths are available, but they’re different.

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But why does it take so long?

The original book could take three years to write. Retyping the manuscript might take a day or two.

Modern work isn’t time-consuming because it takes a long time to type.

Physical constraints aren’t usually the gating factor, either. It’s not a physical speed limit that holds us back.

It might be:

Coordinating the work of many people often leads to slack and downtime.

Persuading others to go along with our ideas requires clarity, persistence and time.

Pathfinding our way to the right answer isn’t always obvious and takes guts.

The first thing we try rarely works, and testing can take a long time to organize.

Persuading ourselves to move forward can take even longer.

A coordinated, committed group with a plan for continuous testing and improvement can run circles around a disorganized group of frightened dilettantes.

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Getting the word out

For some, this is the holy grail of marketing.

If only more people knew what you know.

If only they were aware of what you have to offer, of the work you can share.

Perhaps you can get more people to click on your video, read your tweet or see your Instagram.

Alas, awareness is not action.

Everyone reading this is aware that Peru is a country. But that doesn’t mean you’ve visited recently, or have plans to go soon.

Everyone reading this is aware that turnips are a root vegetable. But knowing they exist doesn’t mean you’re going to have them for dinner.

Awareness is important, but it is insufficient.

Action comes from tension, desire and fear. Action is the hard part.

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Productive choices (which?)

When you’re doing scary creative work, or work that requires emotional labor, it’s natural to want to walk away a bit. To distract yourself. To go shave a yak, mindlessly eat or bother someone in the next cube.

This is the main activity online, actually. People avoiding the real work.

One useful practice is to have forced choices that break up the work but that are also productive. Not fun, that would be a mistake, but productive.

Example: For the next hour, we either need to be developing a brand new strategy for your widget rollout or re-filing forty 1099s. One or the other, switch when you want to. If it gets too scary on the brand side, let’s do some mindless filing.

Or perhaps it’s answering HelpScout requests. Or auditing a specific set of financials.

The key is that it be something both important and unfun.

It’s a no-win situation. Unless you want to think of it as a no-lose situation.

It turns every distraction (in either direction) into a contribution.

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Mastering the medium

We know what it sounds like when you’re great at AM radio, classical music or even reality TV. We can imagine the tone and content you’ll need to be really good at being on Broadway.

Jack Dorsey has made it clear that Elon Musk has mastered Twitter. He wrote, “I like how [he] uses Twitter. He’s focused on solving existential problems and sharing his thinking openly. I respect that a lot, and all the ups and downs that come with it.”

Before you decide to master a medium, it’s worth considering the ups and downs that come with it. It’s not free. It costs. Is it worth it?

Does being good at this medium help you achieve your objectives beyond simply being good at the medium?

Yes, you might attract a crowd on the Bachelor or at the local fight club. You could probably be a world-class javelin catcher as well. But to what end?

If you’re going to put so much effort into a form of media, it’s worth deciding if it helps you or only the people who run the platform.

If you don’t want to go to Toledo, don’t get on the bus to Toledo.

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Time travel is exhausting

If you’re imagining your future and then looking back at today through a rear-view mirror, it can wear you out.

Writing a book (all caps, WRITING A BOOK) or preparing for a TED talk (already in all caps) can paralyze an ordinarily productive person.

At the same time, tweeting is easy for a lot of people.

That’s because Twitter makes the false promise that it’s all about now. Whatever. Write what you’re doing, or feeling, or angry about. It’ll be obsolete in ten minutes. No future, no rear view mirror.

On the other hand, a book feels permanent. It’s not for now, it’s for later. It’s your testament, something for strangers to read.

And so, when you sit to write your book (or your blog, for that matter), you imagine who’s going to read it, one day in the future. And then you reflect from that distant, amorphous place back to now.

Time travel.

Without a doubt, we need to do this now and then. We need the discipline to think hard about the implications of our actions. We need to plan, to envision, to make trade-offs. It keeps us on track, doing work we’re proud of.

But when you find that it’s paralyzing you, it might be better to get back to now. Sit around the campfire and simply tell your story. Your story as of now, for the people who are with you, now.

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