Life hacks. Pro tips. Cheats. Kludges. Heuristics. We all call them something different, but every field and every digital community has them. They’re shortcuts — simple processes, tools, or nuggets of insider wisdom that make work (and life) easier.
A good shortcut isn’t about cheating your way out of the necessary effort. It’s about finding a better, smarter, more efficient way to do something — ideally one that saves time, makes life easier, and gets you closer to your goals. Experts in every field use shortcuts. In fact, in many cases knowing the best shortcuts is what makes someone an expert in their field.
As a professional photographer, I can edit a photo in 6.8 seconds. (Yes, I timed myself.) That’s because I edit about 200,000 of them per year. My Adobe Lightroom interface has become a sea of carefully positioned panels, presets, and toolbars, and I have a complex system of labels and tags that let me categorize my photos with single memorized keypresses. These are my shortcuts. I’ve developed them over years of practice, and they help me do my job several times faster than when I first started out.
Shortcuts are everywhere — even in nature. Our eyes are inside-out not because it makes sense for them to be that way, but because it simplifies other aspects of brain growth and doesn’t cause too many other problems, so evolution never bothered to fix it. It’s also why eating spicy foods hurts — instead of creating a new receptor for pain, the body repurposed one that detects heat (and also, completely by accident, detects chili peppers). Some of the best systems ever to evolve— our bodies and brains included— are chaotic, beautiful, kludgy piles of shortcuts.
In general, the more complex a system is, the more it lends itself to simplification through shortcuts. And almost nothing is as complex as modern tech. Tech has the capacity for great evil when it’s misused. But because of its presence in every aspect of modern work and life, it’s also a fantastic generator of powerful shortcuts. The right apps, automation, gadgets, and other tech shortcuts can make your life more…