My lazy life

Some books get you thinking and Fred Gratzon’s The lazy Way to Success definitely did that to me. Damn you, Fred!

I have seen the light. I now realize that my ingrained laziness has not only been one of the major forces shaping my life, it’s been a boost to almost every important area of my life.

Lazy me
Me, doing what I do best: Nothing.

Here are some random thoughts on how laziness has helped me in my university studies, in my work in IT, in leadership and in entrepreneurship.

The lazy student

When I started studying at the University of Southern Denmark (I graduated with a masters in computer science in 1994), I was always envious of the over-achievers. You know them – they’re the people who are always prepared for today’s lecture, have done their homework and never need to do any last-minute, aaaaargh-exams-are-only-two-weeks-away studying. Like I did. Every. single. semester.

I used to beat myself up for not being like them, but in the end I accepted, that I’m just not that person. The final realization came to me while I was writing my masters thesis (on virtual sensors for robots, if anyone wants to know), and I discovered that some days I can’t write. I literally can’t put two words together and have anything meaningful come out. I can frustrate myself nearly to death trying, but I won’t get anywhere.

And other days, writing is totally effortless and both the quantity and the quality of the output is high. I am in fact having one of those days today, I can’t seem to stop writing. What I realized was that this is me. It’s the way I work, and I have go with that.

So I adopted the lazy approach to writing, which is that I write whenever I feel like it. And my output on a writing day easily outweighs the x days where I didn’t get any writing done.

Incidentally, the thesis still got done on time and it got me an A. So there!

The lazy developer

Masters degree in hand I went on to become an IT consultant and developer, and I quickly learned this: If I’m programming something and it feels like work, I haven’t found the right solution yet. When the right solution presents itself, the task becomes fun and easy. I also get to admire the beauty of an efficient, simple solution.

Good code is a pleasure to maintain, tweak and refactor. Bad code is hard work. Also laziness means only doing things once, instead of repeating yourself all over the place – another hallmark of good code.

The lazy leader

After my IT days I went on to leadership and learned this: If leading people feels like hard work, you’re most definitely not doing it right. The lazy leader adapts his leadership style to the people around him to the point where it feels like he’s doing almost no work and people are leading themselves. I refer you to this classic Lao Tzu quote as proof that this notion is more than 2500 years old.

When I spoke at the Turkish Management Center’s HR conference in Turkey, one of the other speakers was Semco’s CEO Ricardo Semler. He said in his presentation that Semco recently celebrated the 10th. anniversary of Ricardo not deciding anything in the company. It started when he took 18 months out to travel the world, and discovered that the company ran just fine without him. If that ain’t laziness on a very high plane, I don’t know what is and you can read all about it in Ricardo’s excellent book The Seven-Day Weekend.

The lazy entrepreneur

As an entreprenur, my approach has been this: Start a lot of small projects and see which ones grab me. Rather than try to analyze my way to an answer to which opportunity is the best/will make me the most money/will be the most fun, I float a lot of ideas in a lot of places. Some happen, most don’t. The ones that happen are by definition the right ones, and they are always fun to work on. Always.

Conclusion

It’s common to think that success only comes with hard work, but I’ve found the opposite to be true for me. In my case, success has come from NOT working hard, and my laziness has definitely done me a lot of good. The only difficult part has been to let go of the traditional work ethic and accept my laziness. To work with it instead of against it.

Will the lazy approach work for you? Maybe not. Maybe you get more success from working long and hard, from putting your nose to the grindstone and applying yourself. But if you’ve never tried the lazy approach, how can you know that that doesn’t work even better? Give it a shot, you might like it!

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25 thoughts on “My lazy life”

  1. Thanks for your wonderful words regarding my book in both your email to me and your book review. I am delighted you found it valuable.

    Laziness definitely rocks and rules. If properly harnessed, laziness is an enormous power that can accomplish anything and everything. If someone is working hard, it only means they weren’t smart enough or creative enough to have found an easier, more effective way of accomplishing a task. There is ALWAYS an easier way.

    Speaking of laziness, your final paragraph inspired me for my next blog entry which I will post next week. Your insight about starting many small projects and seeing which grabs you is incandescently brilliant. You are absolutely right when you say that the ideas that happen are by definition the right ones. Those are the ones to focus on. In other words, “Where there is smoke, pour gasoline.” I only quibble with your choice of words. You don’t WORK on those ideas (Heaven forbid!); you PLAY with them.

    All the best,
    Fred
    The Laziest Man in North America

  2. What was I thinking Fred. Of course you play with those ideas. Geeeeeez :o)

    Or they play with you / through you. With the best ideas, you’re not really doing much, and yet amazing amounts of stuff happens .

  3. Alexander

    I love the idea of laziness being the best way of living your life. And to start lots of projects and only pay attention to the ones that start working and then play with them.

    My only problem, and I suspect others too, is that if we stop the work ethic new business slows and then comes to an abrupt halt in the bankruptcy courts.

  4. Thanks for you blog, I’ve been reading it for about a month without commenting at all, but I just want to respond to Jim, who thinks that if everyone were lazy, nothing would get done..

    Economic progress can be thought of as laziness: were the first farmers and herders too lazy to go out and forage wild plants or hunt wild animals? Were the first sailboat or steamboat makers too lazy to move their boats with good ole hard work at the oars? Was Ford too lazy to make each car unique and special when he started pumping out thousands of cheap identical cars off a factory line?

    What I’m trying to say is that laziness can be defined as “avoiding work” and economic progress can be defined as “avoiding unnecessary work”. Alex and Fred just admit that laziness can drive them to do great things, and be happy while doing it.

  5. Where do I start? This week, I lost my girlfriend of 7 years; my last day of employment is April 6th I just leased an apartment before the pink slip and I washed my cell phone. Lighting can strike in the same place within a week. Why did this all happen in a week?

    The apartment is small (600 sq ft) and I have a little change before I set off on another adventure.

    I managed people for 10 years while I was in school. When I finished school I started studying Cisco networks (I did it for the money). Then 911 came and IT went south so I started my own business, I did okay economically, but I did not like what I did.

    IT opened up and I ended working in a NOC (Network Operating Center) 7PM-7AM. What a life or lack of one. Now I am at the crossroads of life. I have been one of those

  6. beautifully stated.but its not laziness.its better understood as understanding and working with ones own creative rhythm.calling it laziness,while striking to the attention,might be better understood as a reflection of the limitations of traditional western thought,which is at times reductively linear and literalistic.

  7. Hey! Thanks alot! I really got a good perspective on my study habits and how I can achieve success. I’m a high school student right now, and, as I am applying to colleges, I am also envious of those over-achieving, self-witted bookworms! :P Anyways, thanks for the article. lol I am procrastinating as I type. Man! I love this article! Thanks much! Statistics can wait for me.

  8. One of the proudest moments of my college life is the night where I finished three papers, totaling 11 pages, entirely within the span 12 hours, from 6 PM to 6 AM. I still have the 64-oz. soda tub from 7-11 that got me through that wonderful evening, and I still don’t think I’ve slept better in my life. Of course, the best sleep always begins at 7.

  9. Hi!

    So you understood our blogpost and you seem to speak german? :)

    I really found myself in your description “The lazy student”. I’m not that kind of guy, who begins early enough with exam preparations, too. Every time again :) And I’m doing quite well in my studies anyway. My lazy-strategy seems to be kind of weird to the just-in-time-sitting-in-the-first-row-of-the-auditorium people, but I think I’m a lot less stressed out than most of them are.

    And I have made the same experiences when I’m programming something. Sometimes it just ‘feels right’. And if it does, it has nothing of hard work, even if I spend hours and hours on it.
    It’s a bit like arts education in school: you have to be crative at a certain, over-directed time. You can be a great painter, but necessarily at any time. If the time is right, you can give your best…

    So keep on being lazy,
    best wishes from Germany,

    Sven :)

  10. “As an entreprenur, my approach has been this: Start a lot of small projects and see which ones grab me. Rather than try to analyze my way to an answer to which opportunity is the best/will make me the most money/will be the most fun, I float a lot of ideas in a lot of places. Some happen, most don

  11. I am entering my junior year of college this fall and I too have been envious of the over-achieving, well-prepared, involved-in-everything-on-campus students.

    I highly value my education and I love my college, but finding a disciplined routine that is ideal for being thoroughly prepared and well-versed on homework material has been a struggle (pretty much all my life, not just college).

    From reading this article I realize it might be a struggle for me because I’m trying to be someone I’m not. This summer I made my usual list of goals I wanted to accomplish…. and as usual the list is not completed.

    Thank you so much for giving me a new perspective! The word, “lazy” has always been associated with failure and flawed character in my mind. However, it doesn’t have to be. I can still be producing good work, smart work, and a high volume of it if I embrace I am and apply it to each task, homework, or career.

    I’m excited to give this a try: finding ways to be myself and have fun in every project and task of the day… and see which ones get done :)

  12. My suspicion is that the ‘over-achieving, involved in everything’ students had already discovered this. They simply knew how to identify the times when they were ready to work on something, and go do it then. As long as they kept switching from what they were ready to work on to what they were ready to work on next, they could be very productive, while being ‘lazy’ by putting off what they weren’t ready for yet.

  13. Ilearned the value of laziness WAAAAAAAAY back in the 70s when I read Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail’. A great success story! :D

  14. There is always an easier way. It is much easier to eat nothing but mcdonalds and beef jerky than to cook healthy meals but that doesn’t mean it’s better T_T

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