Essays on Technology and Culture

Sometimes There Isn’t An Easier Way

“There has to be a better way.”

It’s the sentence that’s inspired countless inventors, entrepreneurs, and shysters alike. The lifehack is, in it’s ideal form, an better way to do something that’s a pain in our lives. Better in what way? Maybe it’s faster, more reliable, more consistent, cheaper, or just plain easier than the alternative.

It’s the sort of thing that, in an era when efficiency and productivity are valued over all other things, people will latch onto. So we find those better ways, force them into our lives. We iterate our workflows, automate repetitive tasks on our devices, and buy books that promise us ways to turbocharge our professional and personal lives. We do more, and we do it faster—maybe not always better, but at least faster. And so we have more time to do… what, exactly?

Often, it seems like we’re just freeing up time to do more of what we’ve been trying to do better. Get your work done in half the time? Do twice as much work. Found a better exercise routine? Do it at lunch, and get back to your desk for more work. Or do it twice. Or both. If “efficiency” is the hammer, you’ll never run out of things that look like nails.

But not everything can be lifehacked, refactored, streamlined, and automated into efficiency. It’s a lesson I’m seeing as I try to get in better shape. No matter what promises your training regimen makes or how “efficient” it is, from the Seven Minute Workout to
Couch-to–5K, you can’t make your body improve faster. At least not without dumping more time into it, and that’s exactly the sort of thing we’re trying to avoid, right?

You can take a crash course in a new skill, or join a programming boot camp. The syntax for some programming languages you can learn in an afternoon. Sure it’s fast, but it’s an easy way to get stuck as an advanced beginner, unaware of what you don’t know, overconfident in what you do.

Some things in life are going to take time. The process is doomed by it’s nature to be inefficient, slow, tedious, and frustrating. That’s the whole point. When you rush through it to get to the goal, overlooking the things you’re doing wrong from either ignorance or carelessness, you sell your endeavor short. Efficiency isn’t the end-all and be-all of our lives. Slow it down.