A Lesson on Shortcuts.
There are none.
Do you remember, as a kid, having to walk places? To school, to a friend’s house, to a playground? No matter how near or far, we always looked for a shortcut. More often than not, that shortcut was more trouble than it was worth.
There was a ravine in my backyard and a ranch behind it. I lived in a curb and gutter, cookie cutter house neighborhood. Still do, as a matter of fact. Many of my friends lived in the same neighborhood, some on the same creek. Other friends lived in other neighborhoods on the other side of the creek, beyond the ranch. There were many times we used the creek as a “shortcut” from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another and even to the elementary school. It was a “shortcut”. Not.
When we walked the creek one of several things were likely to happen, if not all of those several things; we ‘d get caught for trespassing and get yelled at, and, if we were caught on the rancher’s property, we might get shot at with rock salt from his pellet gun. We might get poison oak. Correction, other kids might get poison oak, I GOT poison oak. We might get scared by a snake, or by something else. I remember one time, finding a dead animal that had had its fur burned off. My friend told me “the devil” did that kind of stuff. I was terrified to go anywhere near there for years. It was possible we’d lose our footing on the steep banks and end up falling into the large masses of thorny blackberry bushes. By the time we were all about eleven years old, we figured out the sidewalk was a much better, far less risky and way more direct route to almost anywhere we wanted to go.
But, the lesson wasn’t complete.
As an adult, as a driver, I prefer to keep moving. I live in California, keeping moving is sometimes a tremendous challenge. I have been known to “shortcut” on surface streets to avoid traffic on the highway. I get to keep moving, but rarely, rarely, rarely, do I get to my destination any quicker than I would had I stuck it out on the highway. When I drive home from Sacramento to Napa, I take Highway 12 between Interstate 80 and Highway 29. Unless the traffic gods are smiling down on me in an unusual manner, I’m going to be moving much slower than I’d like on Highway 12 through “the canyon”. Wine country tourist traffic and lots of road construction lately just exacerbates the situation. A half-mile before the intersection of Highways 12 and 29 is a “shortcut”, North Kelly Rd. It sneaks around behind the business park and pops out onto Highway 29 a mile up. I always, always, always take this “shortcut”, thinking, as a “local”, no one knows about it. I’ve done this for over thirty years with the same result. I’m usually one of about five cars that sneak off to the right down this route. Nine times out of ten, I pop out onto Highway 29 a mile or so up, immediately behind the car I’d been behind through “the canyon” on Highway 12. But, still, I take my “shortcut.” My sanity may be questioned at this point.
There are other shortcuts we all favor. There are shortcuts for tasks at work, for losing weight, for cooking, for cleaning, for gaining wealth, and knowledge. Remember Cliff Notes? They never served me well. Ever. When will it occur to us all that shortcuts are never shortcuts, and usually result in taking more time and effort later on? Am I right?
Today I was working on a project for a client. It is a tedious, tiresome task and for some reason, I told my client I’d just “finish it up” for them rather than sending the project to them to complete at the end of our eight hour consulting session like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would take me an hour or two to finish, and, based on the number of emails and phone calls I’d had from them before the consulting session with questions that numbered far greater than any of my other clients, heck, more than all of my other clients, combined. I rationalized that it would ultimately take me less time to “just do it” than it would to have to walk them through it over the course of two weeks via hundreds of emails and conference calls.
I opened up the task at hand on my computer this morning knowing exactly what had to be done. I cringed at the tedium and tried to mastermind a “better way”. A shortcut. While I procrastinated, I mean, made my coffee, I had a fantastic idea! A shortcut! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I ran upstairs to my office, coffee sloshing in my travel coffee press slash mug I got for Christmas from my mom. I sat down at my desk and began my new, improved, better way, the shortcut to the long, tedious task before me. You know, the one I said would only take an hour or two. Two hours later, I wasn’t even a quarter of the way done. Fortunately, I was wise enough to only employ the “better way” on the first of four sections of the project.
On the second section, I reverted to the “old way”, the long route, and an hour later I was done with the second section. I procrastinated at the half way point, I mean, I went for a run over my lunch break, then ate lunch because I was ravenous, then took a shower because I smelled beastly, and dried and curled my hair, and carefully applied makeup, because I might go somewhere this afternoon if I ever get my work done, and finally, I sat down at my desk to finish up the task. Two hours later, I’d completed the last two sections. The shortcut in the morning ended up costing me over an hour of time I could have put to so much better use. The shortcut wasn’t a shortcut at all. This morning’s shortcut cost me in other ways. Because the first section, the one I “shortcut” took so awfully long, I ended up taking a break, needing a break, at the half way point. Perhaps if I’d just done it the way I knew would work, the way that has always worked, the way we teach other people to do the task, I’d have finished the whole project before lunch and could’ve used my afternoon for other, more important work. That more important work just got sloughed off onto tomorrow’s to-do list.
We just gotta realize that a shortcut, though it usually seems like a great idea, no matter what the task at hand may be, will almost always result in more time, more effort, and often, abandonment of the task, especially when we’re talking about fitness, wealth, weight loss, and health. You’re not likely to get poison oak, see a snake or fall into blackberry bushes, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to end up spending more time and more effort than you bargained for by trying to shortcut that which just takes time. Just keep to the highway.