Simple Exercise That Will Improve Your Life Immediately
SHORTCUT-O-MATIC: A Simple Exercise That Will Improve Your Life Immediately
About a year ago I wrote an article about a simple exercise I created to help teams solve problems without discussion. It was called “Lightning Decision Jam” and it became a surprisingly huge hit! Since I wrote that article, people from companies all around the world have been contacting me and telling me how much it’s changed how they work for the better.
Lighting Decision Jam (or LDJ) was perfect for groups of any almost any size from 4 to 120. It just works! There was one glaring problem with it, though… it doesn’t really work for an individual. That’s right, identifying and solving your own problems in a systematic way just hasn’t been possible… UNTIL TODAY!*
*For you pesky commenters: That was a joke.
Today I’m going to introduce the perfect exercise to make your own work and personal life better by searching for inefficiencies and creating smart shortcuts. The exercise is super simple and you don’t need much time or setup.
How Shortcut-O-Matic Works
The idea behind Shortcut-O-Matic hit me when reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. In it, the author poses a set of questions that are meant to ‘stress test the boundaries and experiment with the impossible’. The question that had the biggest impact on me was this:
What would this look like if it were easy?
It’s a deceptively simple but powerful question to ask yourself. Tim writes that if you’re feeling stressed, stretched thin or overwhelmed, it’s usually because you’re overcomplicating something or failing to take the easy path because you feel like you should be trying harder.
The exercise is based on this one question, and the focus is all about finding the ‘easy path’ to solving a problem.
What you’ll need:
A piece of A4/Letter paper
Fold the paper once so you have 4 sides to work with
Time: 15 minutes
That’s it! There’s always a temptation to use post-its but I wanted to keep the stationery bar low. There’s nothing stopping you doing this when all you need is a single sheet of paper.
1. Choose something to shortcut
A great way to start this exercise is to make 3 categories:
Under these 3 categories, list out as many things as you can think of that you feel stressed about. Here are some examples:
Meetings outside of the office
Teeth issues (I’m Irish so I have a lot of these)
Junk food lunches
No time with friends
Buying a place in Berlin
Now choose one of those, ideally the one that bugs you most, and get started!
2. Write out the things that bug you about it (WHT’s)
Since you want to find the easy path, you’re going to have to envision it. What would this be like if it were easy? In an ideal world, what are the things you wouldn’t have to do?
You’re essentially going to list out all the little things that annoy you, starting with the words “Wouldn’t Have To…”. Framing your annoyances in this way lets you see the problems you can eliminate or improve. I call these “Wouldn’t Have To” statements, or WHT’s for short.
At first it might feel weird to use the WHT format, so I’m going to show you a few examples here:
Topic: More Muscles
WHT: Get up early to go to the gym WHT: Work out alone WHT: Constantly think of eating enough protein!
Just to lock this in for you, imagine you’re saying “I want to be more muscly! This would be easy if I wouldn’t have to work out alone”.
Okay, that should give you a pretty good idea of how WHT’s work.
3. Weight and choose
Now think about how irritating and time consuming these WHT’s are on a scale of 1–10.
Give each one a score (the higher, the worse), and pick an especially annoying one to work on. Make it count; you can always come back for the others later.
4. Write at least 10 potential solutions
There’s no need to overthink this and don’t worry about feasibility: Just take a new page, write your chosen WHT on top and list out 10 possible ways to solve it. This could either make the WHT dramatically easier or it can even remove it from your life completely. I like to start each of these sentences with “I could” or “I would” to make the format simpler.
How about an example here?
WHT: Work out alone
I could contact friends who live near gym, see if they want to work out together
I could get a personal trainer
I could use an app to see if anyone in the area wants to be a workout buddy
I could do a group workout like Crossfit
5. Choose a solution
Now choose the solution that either stands out to you the most, or one that seems like it would be a fast and easy experiment. I generally don’t choose anything that would take more than 2 weeks to validate. Don’t get hung up on your decision here; it’s not important to choose the “right” thing, just go with your gut feeling.
5. Create a shortcut experiment
Now, write your solution on top of a fresh page and create a simple, clear, achievable experiment that has an end date. On this end date you’ll check if your solution worked or not.
Don’t worry, there’s an example experiment further down.
Let’s see Shortcut-O-Matic in action
One of my first times using Shortcut-O-Matic was on the topic of my podcast. A few things were bugging me about it but I couldn’t quite figure out what… so I ran a quick session to pin them down.
I asked myself: “What would the Podcast look like if it were easy?”
I wrote down the “Wouldn’t Have To’s”
I took a piece of paper, put WHT on the first line and started listing every Podcast related task I could think of that I wasn’t enjoying. Here are some of the things I wouldn’t have to do in an ideal world:
WHT export video + send to editor
WHT upload audio to iTunes and Soundcloud
WHT set up for each episode
WHT schedule guests
WHT research for each episode
And I kept writing until I ran out of things that would make the podcast easy for me.
Weight and choose
The next step was to add “weight” to each of the WHT’s. In the case of the podcast, I used time and simply added the amount of minutes I would save if these tasks didn’t exist:
WHT export video + send to editor (20 mins)
WHT upload audio to iTunes and Soundcloud (15 mins)
WHT setup for each episode (10 mins, but sometimes with mistakes)
WHT schedule guests (3–5 emails)
Once I had some way to “measure” each of these WHT’s, I was able to move on to the next step: I simply chose the most time consuming and most annoying task that I have to deal with weekly.
10 potential solutions
Next, I took a new piece of paper and wrote my problem, “WHT export video + send to editor”, on the top. I then started writing bullet points underneath of potential solutions ranging from time reducing hacks to the all-out crazy. (I hadn’t come up with the “I could” framing when doing this for the first time so you’ll notice it’s missing from the photos.)
I could let video editor do it
I could get a dedicated “Podcasting” computer that stays in the editing room
I could not bother with video, check how many people really watch on YT
I could auto export to the editors’ Dropbox
The crazy thing is, while writing the list I started to realise that the reason the whole thing was taking so long was just because I started with a stupidly inefficient system. I just didn’t spot how archaic it was until I did the Shortcut-o-Matic exercise.
Choose a solution
At this point I was looking at some great time-saving solutions, but the problem was that there were too many options. In the end I selected the solution that looked the easiest and fastest to experiment with:
I could auto export to the editors’ Dropbox
Create a shortcut experiment
Next, I imagined how this would actually work in bullet-point steps:
Invite editors to Dropbox
Explain workflow to editors
Set up “save path”
CHECK BACK AFTER THE NEXT EPISODE TO SEE IF IT WORKED
The crazy thing is that I realised I had been doing work that the video editing team was happy (and getting paid) to do just because I was working so inefficiently. With this simple experiment I haven’t had to even think about the video edits for the last 3 episodes.
In this case the first solution I tried did the trick. If it hadn’t, I’d simply have tried another one. And what happens to the ones you never use?
Nothing 🙂 Remember, this is meant to take the pressure off!
So yeah, that’s all there is to it! I hope you give it a try, and if you do, I hope you’ll let me know either here in the comments or via DM on instagram (@jicecream). Oh, and thanks to Jake Knapp for naming this exercise for me!
Thanks for reading if you got this far.
Me doin’ my workshop thing
For a tiny bit of context, this is who I am: I’m an Irish guy living in Berlin Germany who travels around the world teaching amazing companies how to work better together and launch products faster. I’m the co-founder of the product design studio AJ&Smart and I host the Product Breakfast ClubPodcast with Jake Knapp (the guy who invented the Design Sprint).
If you’re interested in Product/Innovation processes and discussions, you should def check out the Podcast (We had the amazing Jason Fried on last week!).