'Smartcuts', not Shortcuts: 7 Habits to Make You Better TODAY
We're all looking for the shortcut these days.
- In fitness: "Get shredded in 6 weeks -- no exercise required!"
- In book marketing: "Write a best-selling book and make millions -- follow this strategy."
- In entrepreneur crowds: "Turn your side hustle into your main gig overnight -- just follow this proven blueprint!"
When you encounter "proven" shortcuts like these, I hope your inner Jiminy Cricket pipes up and urges you to run in the other direction.
See, shortcuts don't lead to high achievement or lasting accomplishment.
Smartcuts, as the entrepreneur and journalist Shane Snow advises, are a smarter way of doing things that lead to faster success.
Best of all, most of these are free and can be implemented in 10 minutes or less.
7 Smartcuts That Will Improve Your Life Today
Smartcut #1: The Benefits of Breathing Through a Fast-Food Straw
Most people (me, you, etc.) breathe short, shallow breaths, like all those tiny handbag dogs at Whole Foods.
Over time, breathing this way can cause neck, shoulder, or back pain. It impairs proper oxygenation in the body, can increase anxiety, and keep your body's stressful "fight or flight" mode activated.
Here's how to fix it:
Steal (or buy) 2-3 straws from your local fast food joint, connect them, and go lie on your back.
The goal of this straw technique (which was developed in a Russian special forces dive school) is threefold:
- More economical use of air when breathing through an oxygen tank (straw in our case).
- Greater breath-holding time.
- Maximum activation of the diaphragm <---- this is money.
Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is done by contracting the muscles between your thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity.
Mostly, taking slow, deep breaths that fill your belly, helps reduce stress hormones which are usually elevated thanks to sub-optimal breathing and the normal stress of day-to-day life.
Meditation is a learned discipline in conscious breathing and self-observation. Breathing through a straw is just breathing through a straw -- no learning curve.
I do this for a few minutes every morning because it's a guaranteed way to make me feel more calm and relaxed by forcing me to stop breathing like an idiot.
Smartcut #2: Cure The Harmful Effects of Sitting (while sitting)
An exaggeration, maybe, but sitting for 8+ hours every day is a sure way to develop the dreaded hunchback posture and tight hips.
The solution for mobility at work?
Buy a lacrosse ball and sit on it.
This move will help breathe life back into those steel cables you call hamstrings.
Here's what to do:
While sitting at your desk, wedge the lacrosse ball under the crease between your butt and your upper hamstring.
Put as much pressure on the ball as you can stand and “hunt” around for those tight spots around your glutes and upper hamstrings. Really dig in there, and once you've found a tight spot, do some leg extensions to help "un-glue" any trouble areas.
Spend about 5 minutes per leg, then stand up and shake it out; see how you feel.
Instead of static stretching, this direct approach in rolling out the knots and matted tissue is the optimal way to restore mobility and improve the sliding surfaces of your fascia.
For more specifics on fixing posture, movement, and living pain-free, check out this podcast we did with movement specialist Aaron Alexander.
Smartcut #3: The Simple Way to Prioritize & Limit Distractions
I used to think multitasking was a skill.
The reality is, trying to do too many things at once degrades your ability to go deep on the work that matters.
Multi-tasking doesn't work as well as you think it does .
Instead of dividing your attention thin, pick one task, devote your full attention to it and attack it.
Ideally, you'll do this with a time constraint like the Pomodoro Timer
For 25-minute blocks of time (or whatever window you choose), focus on your priority task.
When the timer goes off, detach for 5 - 10 minutes, then dive back in for another burst or uninterrupted work.
Repeat as necessary.
Why does this work?
- Having small time constraints means you can work with time, not against it.
- Short sprints and scheduled breaks means more focus, improved learning, and reduced risk of burnout
- Less distractions
- Better time management
- It's about focusing on your priority (sing.) not priorities (plur.)
Instead of spending time making to-do lists for the week, pick your high priority task, set a timer and get to it.
For more tips on how to focus and avoid distraction, check out our 5 Hacks to Improve Memory and Learning.
Smartcut #4: Fix Lower Back Pain with the Couch Stretch
Kelly Starrett, physical therapist and movement guru, argues that this one stretch will undo years of sitting.
When you sit all day, the muscles that wrap around your lower back and outside of your hip, and into your groin shorten. When you stand back up, instead of sliding and elongating smoothly, they become “glued” in this shortened position.
The result is lordosis (anterior pelvic tilt and awful posture).
In the weight room it's called duck butt (no explanation necessary).
Introducing: The Couch Stretch.
*Side effects might include better posture, hip freedom, deeper squats, and greater outlook on life.
Spend about 5 minutes on each side (make sure to brace your abs and squeeze your glutes) and you can call it a day.
The first time you do this you'll probably be shocked at how tight your hips are.
Smartcut #5: Write Like Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway, the prolific author, was known for his simple, unadorned, direct writing style.
It's what made his writing pop and come to life.
This directness set a precedent for generations of future writers who wanted their writing to be as clear and direct as possible.
I can’t say this hack will make you as good a writer as Hemingway, but whether you're writing an important email or the next great American novel, this app is sure to help you get your point across.
It’s called the Hemingway App.
When it's time to edit your work, simply copy and paste your text into the app.
Sentences that run too long, unnecessarily complex words, verbiage, or fluff will be highlighted and the app will show you the general readability of the writing.
I use it just about every time I write something intended for the public consumption (including this article you’re reading right now).
Smartcut #6: How To Increase Your IQ
I hate this thing.
You will too.
But it's an effective way to break a mental sweat in a short period of time.
The app is designed to be used as an assessment tool in cognitive neuroscience to measure working memory and memory capacity.
The goal is to increase the user's ability to maintain and manipulate pieces of information (both visual and auditory) in working memory.
It takes a while to get the hang out, and your brain will be stressed, but it’s a great way to keep mentally sharp.
Smartcut #7: Speak To Be Heard
How well do you speak?
The answer is probably "well enough", but if you really want to optimize the way you communicate with the world, you need this book (it's less than $5 for the kindle version).
Here's a sample exercise:
A few questions to ask yourself while practicing:
- Do I hold my head up and enunciate clearly?
- Do I mispronounce or stutter on any words?
- Do I inflect properly?
- Do I speak in a monotone or do I alternate pitch effectively?
- Am I persuasive? Not?
- Do I move my mouth to one side for certain words?
The truth is, effective communication is everything, and unless you make a comfortable living as a writer or you're satisfied being a hermit, you better make sure you speak well.
This is one smartcut that can literally make you more effective in every aspect of your life and your success.
So there you go, 7 hacks to fix your body, mind, and productivity that yield maximal results with minimal time and effort.
These aren't shortcuts. They're just better blueprints and biohacks that lead to greater results.
If you don’t believe me, just take it from my officemate, Bruce Lee:
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
If you enjoyed this article, check out this post on The 9 Best Travel Tips to Reduce Jet Lag
Now it's your turn.
What are some of your favorite smartcuts?
Which hacks that have helped you reach success in your health, your goals, or your life?
Let me know in the comments below!