Being told laziness is bad seems to be a childhood universal. I was certainly told several times as a child to “not be lazy.” This article will explore why laziness is a good thing.
Laziness, if intelligently implemented, can be used for our advantage. It can make our life drastically easier by ensuring that we apply our efforts in the highest-value activities which produce the highest returns. Laziness allows us to cut through the “useless work” that many of us have somehow been convinced is a good thing (read this article for more on that).
Embracing our laziness often means letting go of the image we have of ourselves; our ego. By letting go of the ego we open ourselves to the limitless opportunities for freedom which life provides.
By the end of this article you will see laziness in a new light.
What Is Laziness?
Laziness is the desire to be comfortable. It’s our animal desire to remain exactly where we are, without exerting any energy to change our circumstances.
Laziness is resistance to change. It’s what we feel when we realize there is a responsibility we need to take care of, while being so utterly comfortable we couldn’t be bothered to do it. Like when we’re huddled under a blanket, watching shows and gorging on ice cream when we realize we forgot to walk the dog or let the cat out.
Laziness is that flash of resistance which prevents us from unsticking ourselves off the couch and doing what needs to be done.
Sometimes laziness wins. Other times we win. It’s our eternal struggle.
And it’s a wonderful thing.Laziness is an evolutionary mechanism, which every human has, with one purpose: energy conservation. Please read this article for more on that.
We are lazy because in the past our ancestors had to work a lot more than we do to remain alive. They had to hunt, gather and collect water every day. Over the course of billions of years, natural selection produced humans capable of keeping themselves alive long enough to reproduce while using a minimum of energy.
In other words, we have evolved to be lazy. It’s our own personal efficiency maximizer, compliments of mother nature herself.
We should be grateful we have it.
The key is knowing how to use it.
Meet Ernie J. Zelinski, The Lazy Achiever
In 2018 I read a book which changed my life. Admittedly, many books I read change my life, but this one stands out among the many. It was called “The Lazy Person’s Guide To Success: How To Get What You Want Without Killing Yourself For It” by Ernie J. Zelinski.
I was in Industra, a coffee shop in Brno, which is a city in the Czech Republic, where I was living at the time with my girlfriend. As it’s name suggests, Industra is in the industrial part of Brno. It has a large hall, which the owners rent out for different events. On that particular day they were having a used book sale. I’m a sucker for used book sales.
While most of the books were in Czech, they had a small shelving unit filled with books in English. At a glance, many of them were falling apart, dogeared and dusty, but I decided to look through them anyways. You never know what you’ll find in a used book sale.
The moment my eyes passed over the book, I was smitten. The title spoke directly to my heart. I knew instantly that this was a book for me. It cost me 100 Czech crowns (around 5 dollars). Can you imagine that? What a beautiful world we live in where we can access life-changing information at such a bargain!
Anyways, I bought the book and read it cover to cover, twice, while taking copious notes.
The book’s overall message was that in order to be truly successful we had to do things differently from the way most people do them. We have to work a lot less and think a lot more.
We have to be productively lazy.
What Is Productive Laziness?
Productive laziness means investing our time and energy into the highest value activities we can.
For example, if you’re a salesperson tasked with cold-calling customers, your highest value activity is… cold-calling customers! Surprise. Your highest return activity is not rearranging your desk, chatting with your coworkers and browsing the internet. It’s making those calls.
A salesperson can show up to work and do 1 hour of cold calls. By the end she will have done an hour of work. However, she can also show up, waste her time for three hours and cold call customers for 30 minutes. She will have been at work for 3.5 hours and will have worked less than when she did one hour of high-value work.
Focusing our time and energy on the activities which propel us forward. That’s being productively lazy.
This seems like common sense, but many of us seem to be utterly unaware of it. Many of us waste our days pretending to work. According to David Graeber, an anthropologist, around 50% of the work done by society is useless.
The Broad Applications Of Productive Laziness
The applications of productive laziness extend beyond our job. It can apply to any area of life. Take this blog as an example. One of my highest-value activities is coming up with ideas for what to write about.
But sitting down and coming up with ideas is difficult. Forcing creativity never works.
So instead of working harder (which doesn’t work), I’ve studied what activities make creativity flow (walking and reading, for example). I regularly take walks, read and write in a notepad. When I do these activities, ideas come.
Am I being lazy? You bet I am!
Am I getting work done? Absolutely. And not just any kind of work. I’m getting high-value work done while being lazy. After all, without good ideas for articles to write I would have nothing.
I still have to put in the work, of course. If I want to publish an article, I need to write it. Here, productive laziness comes into play again. When I write, I focus deeply on my writing and get it done.
So I can spend more time being lazy and not working.
Productive laziness is the key to sustainable, astounding success. It’s my life’s creed. I wasn’t always this way. I was a “try hard.” I believed that working more and more (or pretending to work) would get me the life I wanted.
It doesn’t. It just leads to burnout. Most of us have been taught to follow what I call “the burnout approach.”
How Most Of Us Are Taught To Become Successful
That’s what we’re taught. Work. Work. Work.
Work hard and you will succeed. The key to success is work. Work sets us free. Bla bla bla.
Don’t get me wrong, work is essential to success. But it’s only half of the equation, at most. It could even be argued that it’s less than that. The other half is “creativity.”
I worked hard from the time I was 12 until I was 25. If you read this article you’ll learn that I pretended to work for 2 years (age 25-27), but before that I was actually quite the hard worker.
I got the good grades, the awards, the scholarships, the recommendations, the shout-outs. I ticked all the boxes, crossed all my t’s and dotted all my i’s.
Want to know what all that work earned me?
More work! Go figure…
What We Really Want Is Freedom!
But my hard work didn’t earn me freedom. Solely working hard only earned me more work! If you want to be free, you need to work hard and be creative. And the more creative you are the less you have to work.
The market doesn’t care about how hard you work. It only cares about results.
Ever read “Animal Farm” by George Orwell? It’s a satire of the Soviet Union. One of the characters is a workhorse. The horse always does what it’s told and works hard every day, plowing the fields for the good of all the farm animals. It never stops to reflect. All it does is work. It ends up with a broken back and being sold to the slaughterhouse.
The horse represents the people. The unthinking, unreflecting mass into which we’re herded from childhood by countless conditioning forces. Convinced the only way for us to live is breaking our backs for the benefit of others.
We reap what we sow. If all we’re ever doing is following orders, working and not thinking creatively for ourselves we are never going to stop working. I see this all the time with friends/acquaintances who are lawyers, doctors, engineers and scientists.
My friends and acquaintances are highly schooled people working at renowned institutions. They work. Hard. And what’s waiting for them after they finish the work they’re doing now? A fancier title. And more work. Repeat this until retirement.
It’s fine if this is what you want. But I sense that more and more people are waking up and realizing that isn’t what they want.
I’m One Of Them
I want freedom. And I want it while I’m young, strong and healthy. I don’t need a large office or a fancy title. I wanted those things before, when I was doing what I was told and working hard. Those things are trinkets which only serve to please the ego. Compared to the treasure of freedom those things are chump change.
A large office and a fancy title are like the medals awarded to soldiers who go off to die in war. Napoleon Bonaparte said: “Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war.” They’re the shiny ego boosters; making us believe following orders will earn us rewards which make us feel and look good.
I now realize that life is for living, not collecting. We can either keep our ego or be free. We don’t get to do both.
Take some time to reflect now. Why are you pursuing your current career? Is it because it stirs your heart? Does your heart beat faster when you imagine succeeding in your career? Do you feel a jolt of joy and excitement in your chest when you envision your success?
If you don’t ever feel that excitement in your heart when you envision success in your career, you’re betraying yourself.
Are you really doing what you want to be doing? Are you living life on your terms? Or are you letting money, status and power choose for you?
The Tricky Tricky Ego
Reflect deeply on this. The ego is a trickster. This doesn’t make the ego bad or an enemy. The ego is.
The ego has holes it wants to fill and it will make us do anything to get its way. It can convince us that we’re working at something because we like it, when it’s really because we want the medals (ego boosters) which come with it.
And if we earn our medals through hard work then we’re only going to work harder and harder to earn more of them. But nothing can satisfy the ego.
I know this because I was tricked by my ego for most of my twenties. I believed I wanted to be a hot-shot scientist working at a famous institution. For a while, I was on my way to becoming that.
I was 27 when my ego collapsed and I came in touch with my true desires. I experienced my mid-life crisis when I was 27. That was a tremendous gift, I will be grateful for it for the rest of my life.
That is how I know these things now. Through personal experience. This isn’t something I read. It’s what I’ve learned through careful and meticulous self-examination. And lot’s of meditation.
There are other options out there that don’t involve breaking our back to please our unpleasable ego. But we can only begin to see them once we let go of who we think we are and start Being who we are.
Who Is More Free?
Human beings are born free. It’s only through intense, prolonged conditioning that we become convinced we have to accept other’s authority over us. But our spirits never forget they’re free.
We have a deep, primal yearning to express that freedom. In the back of our heads and in our heart of hearts, we know it. We know we are meant for more than following orders and sitting at a desk until we’re old and tired.
There are tremendous options out there, once we let go of our ego.
We can use our skills and interests to start our own small digital business, work hours we set, live where we want and earn just $30,000 a year. Read “The $100 Startup ” by Chris Guillebeau to learn about this. Most people in that book earn twice that or more while running a business they love.
Or we can go to school, get a good degree, get a high-status, high-paying, high-stress job and work 40-60 hours a week and earn 100K+ a year.
Thirty thousand dollars a year is not a lot of money in San Francisco, New York, London or Paris. But it’s a lot of money in most of the world. That’s certainly the case in Latin America, which is where I grew up.
Out of those two options, which one brings more freedom?
We’ll only be able to see the options which bring us freedom once we become free of our ego. Our ego is our first prison, all other constraints stem from it. That’s a universal law.
Lose the ego, find your freedom.
In Conclusion: Accept Your Laziness, Lose Your Ego
I wrote this article to move you. I hope I have accomplished that. Much of the common wisdom we get taught today leads us to competing with each other for fewer and fewer jobs. It keeps us locked in a rat race which only ends when we retire or die.
Being lazy means standing out. Few people like being called lazy. I’m one of them. I’d rather be productively lazy and free than be hard-working and famous/powerful. For a while I pretended to work and hid my laziness, but that only lead me to burnout and anger. Our real power is unlocked when we accept ourselves as we are.
In fact, the more productively lazy we are the more likely we’ll be wealthy/famous/powerful. In order to be productively lazy we have to be creative. And creativity is how fortunes are made!
If you’re lazy, I invite you to accept it. Wield your laziness! Make it work for you! It’s a wonderful gift; it can give you the world, if you let it.
To our wealth and success.