As children we were told that we would never amount to anything if we were lazy and that hard work was the key to success. But what if laziness and procrastination could actually help you go further in life?
There are a few reasons why being an eager beaver isn’t always a good idea. Some problems may end up getting solved without any effort from you. And is a first-mover advantage all it’s cracked up to be?
It’s the second mouse that gets the cheese. The hapless first mouse could end up getting trapped in its efforts to get ahead.
Bill Gates once said that he would always “hire a lazy person to do a difficult job” at Microsoft. Why? “Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
Here are some of the ways you can use your laziness to your advantage and turn procrastination into an asset.
Too lazy to be lazy
Sometimes, laziness can be used to protect you from yourself. According to Karthick Venkatesh, who posts advice on question-and-answer network Quora, he has a 29-character password for Facebook and Twitter.
“When I have to work, I just log off from these,” he says. “So, whenever I feel like taking a break and using Facebook, I am just too lazy to type my password.
“Eventually, owing to my laziness, I go back to work and have a really productive day.”
Why procrastination works
If you wait until the last minute to complete a task, you are forced to focus on the project at hand. According to Quora poster Caroline Sin: “There’s nothing like not having enough time to complete a project to make you realise what’s critical, and what isn’t.”
“If I start early on a project and stick faithfully to my schedule, I almost always do more work than I need to,” she explains. “A lot of that work I simply throw away.
But if I wait until the last minute to work on something, the stress of it automatically narrows my focus to what’s important, and I quickly jettison the rest. I throw no work away, I work quickly and efficiently, and I get it done.”
Work will always swell to fill the amount of time allotted to it, argues another Quora user, so limit the space into which it can expand.
Make the machine do it
Phones, lifts, cars, all these things were invented to avoid or minimise work. Lazy people automate as much as possible. Rather than tweeting throughout the day, for example, they will use a service like TweetDeck to schedule tweets for the whole day in one go. Job done; time for a cup of tea.
Human beings were supposed to work less, not more, following the rise of the machines. In his 1930 work Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that by 2030 he expected a system of almost total “technological unemployment” in which we’d need to work as few as 15 hours a week.
Working less doesn’t mean being less effective. Devotees of the “Pareto Principle” believe in the 80-20 rule: basically, just 20pc of your efforts deliver 80pc of the results – there is the “vital few and the trivial many”.
The idea was originally conceived in 1906 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who created the formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country (20pc of people owned 80pc of the wealth). However, it is now a much-vaunted time-management technique.
Of the things you do during your day, only 20pc really matter – in theory. Lazy people can cut down on 80pc of their workload by identifying and focusing only on those things.
Are you lazy? Or just really good?
You may be lazy because you’re good at your job.
Really efficient people will naturally have more downtime than their peers.
If you finish a task, and find yourself watching cat videos or liking endless pictures on Facebook, is it because you’ve finished your work early? Are you twiddling your thumbs because you have nothing else left to do?
Take Tobi Lütke, the CEO of the e-commerce platform Shopify, couldn’t be bothered to work with difficult customers anymore, so he got rid of them. Lazy? Perhaps. But the result was that he could spend more time focusing on valuable customers.
“If you go into business school and suggest firing a customer, they’ll kick you out of the building,” he says. “But it’s so true in my experience. It allows you to identify the customers you really want to work with.”
In 2007, Tim Ferriss published his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, in which he extolled the virtues of the Pareto Principle and of working as little as possible. The self-help book was a worldwide success, selling 1.35m copies in 35 languages.
According to Ferriss, to be truly productive, we must check our email just once a day and outsource every small daily task to virtual assistants, focusing only on those tasks that generate the largest return.
You can only be lazy if you’re clever
Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord was Germany’s chief of the army before the Second World War. He said that all his officers were two of the following: clever, diligent, stupid or lazy.
According to the general, the most dangerous officer was one who was stupid and diligent. He couldn’t be trusted with any responsibility because he would always make mischief.
However, officers who were both clever and lazy were qualified for the highest leadership duties, because they possessed the intellectual clarity and the “composure” necessary for difficult decisions.
They are masters at avoiding “busywork” such as pointless meetings, he claimed, they delegate to others to get things done efficiently, and they focus on the essentials rather than being distracted by unnecessary extras.
Make money while you sleep
Lazy entrepreneurs build businesses that generate revenue, even when they aren’t anywhere near their desk.
Online products such as training videos, e-books or subscriptions to online content or services could all make money while you sleep, and require minimal input from the business owner.
The explosion in peer-to-peer lenders has also offered lazy people the opportunity to make money by effectively doing nothing – just collecting the interest. Caveat: there is always risk involved in issuing loans.
But there are even ways of making traditional business models successful while being lazy. If you are selling a product, for example, create a range that is like a McDonald’s menu.
Produce five things – burgers, fries, chicken, salad and soft drinks – and just package it all differently and sell them in different combinations to cut down on time and effort.
How to build a lazier society
Working just four hours a week might seem ridiculous to many, but how about a four-hour workday?
A shorter working week would have interesting theoretical benefits. If everyone worked fewer hours, more people would be required to get the job done, reducing unemployment.
Less work would produce slower economic growth but it would also reduce the consequences of that growth, such as pollution. Work, as a commodity, would increase in value – sweat equity is frequently dismissed these days because everyone puts in such long hours.
It would also solve the eternal question: how to achieve a work/life balance. A four-hour workday would leave plenty of time for family and child care.
There could also be resulting health benefits. Burn-outs, stress and inactivity would be reduced, which would reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Should you be more lazy?