It is good to be lazy
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“I don't think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness—to save oneself trouble.”
— Agatha Christie
Laziness, or sloth, is one of the seven capital sins. Society despises laziness, yet it is the one thing most of us seek to earn time for. Why was laziness ever considered a bad thing? It can, in fact, can be a great thing. We work too hard in today’s world. And as with many things, you can use laziness to your advantage if you do it right. So, let’s explore how.
There are several negative connotations we like to use to surmise those who spend much of their time doing nothing: couch potato… slacker… lazy bum… sloth… The list goes on. It tends to be a practice we view—and often use—in a negative way. Whether that’s a coping mechanism for depression, or simply a refusal to complete a given task.
It’s a cruel fact that some of our favourite activities—working through a Netflix series, taking a nap, or reading a book accompanied by your cat—are deemed unworthwhile or “lazy” behaviour. Too many of us concede laziness to be a mental flaw. Even though research has found that many people are the perpetrators of overworking.
It’s in our nature to be wired for laziness—we’re designed to improve with it. Look at most animals. You’ll find they spend the vast majority of their time doing nothing. Yet a study on this found highly efficient predators spend more time doing nothing than their relatively unproductive counterparts.
“For all these arguments against laziness, it is amazing we work so hard to achieve it.”
— Hal Crammer, In Defense of Laziness.
In today’s world, a change in attitude—moving away from work and towards more time relaxing—is long overdue. Laziness is the other side of the productivity coin. Once a sign of inefficiency than being smart or purposeful. But as with the highly efficient predators, laziness done right after all. Besides, more successful people are the ones who know when to be “on” and “off”
Health comes first. There is no argument to refute this. The right mindset constitutes that downtime is a necessity for good health. We all desperately need time off in today’s noisy world. Here are ten benefits of laziness that are often overlooked:
You regain control over your body and your time. “We should go for slow work as we go for slow food: quality over quantity, with spare time left to rest and think, not just produce”, says Dr Isabelle Moreau. The idea that we need to be hustling 24/7 is criminal. We lose ourselves in thinking that we’re nothing but a production machine. We’re taught to feel bad for spending even a little time away from our desk—even though the time we spend there is often the cause of our problems.
Lazy people focus on high-leverage activities. Successful people value their time more than anything. So they carefully manage their energy expenditure, avoiding unnecessary tasks to make more time for high-leverage tasks. They strive for minimum input and oversized output by automating monotonous and time-consuming activities. As Frank Gilbreth Sr. famously said, “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it”.
It encourages diffuse thinking. According to Ness Labs, our mind has two modes of thinking: the diffuse mode and the focused mode. It’s vital for us to maintain constant oscillation between the two modes to maximise creativity and productivity. Mind-wandering—a favourite for many—is one way to be in diffuse mode. Used by CEO’s and successful business owners, the benefits of letting the mind wander—without paying attention to anything specific—benefits our focus on our long-term goals, according to a study published in Consciousness and Cognition. Purposeful laziness today helps for a productive day tomorrow.
It improves your mental health and stress. Undoubtedly, downtime is an excellent way to manage stress. With such busy and noisy lives, the lack of things to do can help us process the information we need and dissolve the things we don’t. “Slacking off may be the best thing we can do for our mental health; keeping busy can be a very effective mechanism for warding off disturbing thoughts and feelings. But by resorting to manic-like behaviour we suppress the truth of our feelings and concerns, consciously or unconsciously avoiding periods of uninterrupted, freely associative thoughts”, says psychoanalyst and professor Manfred F.R Kets de Vries.
Laziness can save you money, time, and solve certain problems. Sometimes, someone who needs a solution more than you do will take care of things. Or, the problems you face could just solve themselves over time. You can also save money by omitting unnecessary purchases simply because you can’t be bothered. It’s a win-win.
Laziness supports free thinking. According to a study by Kets de Vries, “taking it easy can work wonders for your creativity”. Quartzy, the publisher of the study, says, “psychological research suggests that doing nothing is essential for creativity and innovation, and a person’s seeming inactivity might actually cultivate new insights, inventions or melodies”.
Better sleep. My ability to sleep improved the most when I learnt how to silence my mind on demand. Getting to sleep can be a challenge for many. And when you learn to let your mind slow down and quieten for the night—ignoring the thoughts about tomorrow’s meeting or the chore you forgot to do—your mind can enter the sleep stages much faster. 37% of British people don’t get enough sleep. And poor sleep is one of the biggest influencers of diabetes, a poor immune system, heart disease, and “chronic sleep debt” which can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Active procrastination vs passive procrastination. In a study on the very subject, the authors found that not all procrastination behaviours led to negative consequences. “Specifically, the authors differentiated two types of procrastinators. Passive procrastinators are paralysed by their indecision to act and fail to complete tasks on time. In contrast, active procrastinators are a positive type of procrastinator. They prefer to work under pressure, and they make deliberate decisions to procrastinate.” Active procrastinators had great control of their time, coping mechanisms, and overall performance. There’s certainly a right way to be lazy.
You become less lonely and have better self-esteem. Time spent alone, being lazy, can improve your well-being and help you learn to appreciate being with your thoughts. We spend a lot of time distracted and disconnected from getting to know ourselves better. A better relationship with ourselves can help us feel less lonely and more comfortable with having nobody around.
Laziness makes you less prone to burnout. Taking regular breaks will give your mind and body time to recharge. I was puzzled by the fact that so few people I knew took time to stretch or take a break from their work. Even small 1-5 minute breaks every hour from your work can provide great benefits to your stress and happiness levels.
Laziness is in itself a neutral habit. There are numerous benefits to downtime. But the specific context in which we feel lazy—the job we have to do, and the length of time we procrastinate for—all impact how useful downtime can be.
“When manipulated as a tool—with caution, control, but no unnecessary shame—laziness can be used to be more productive and more relaxed over the long run. Being lazy can lead to smarter decisions, innovative solutions, and better mental health.”
— Ness Labs.
What’s on My Mind
I’ve been taking more time to reflect on this year, and downtime has been a core practice for me. I started the year thinking that I needed to be “on” 24/7, working hard and producing as much as I could with the free time I’ve had to make myself feel like I’m working hard. But this is what led to my acute burnout.
Instead, realising that 20% of what you do truly accounts for the majority of your daily success. I, instead of trying to produce quantity, aimed for small-scale but high-quality efforts. Shortly after, I began producing work I was far happier with, and it still shocks me with how much time I now have during the day. Try this for yourself too.
Much of today’s information came from Ness Labs, one of my favourite places to go for thinking better and improving my creativity. I’ll always recommend reading the articles on there.
One of my articles was recognised by The Startup, Medium’s biggest publication, and published in their sister publication: Curious. It’s on positive reinforcement for our best habits, have a read here if you’d like.
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