Laziness | An Undiscovered Strength (Asset)

Cover photo by Graham Holtshausen on Unsplash

Are you lazy?

If you’re like me you probably don’t want to admit you are lazy or even have lazy tendencies. I know deep down, though I tend to be lazy. This flies in the face of me having a strong work ethic. There are definitely times I can be very hard-working. I recently completed renovating our backyard pergola. This job was a huge undertaking and involved many hours of sanding, patching and painting. I recall one hot, summer weekend working two fourteen-hour days (approximately 6.00 am – 8.00pm each day) to get the renovation to a state where it could be left until later in the year when I had more time to finish the job. Similarly, in the process of converting our home into an urban farm we spent many long, hot weekends digging out vegetable gardens and planting trees in our front yard. This involved mixing by hand in a wheelbarrow several cubic meters of sand, compost, charcoal, and clay to prepare soil for our plants and trees. It was hot backbreaking work for both my wife and I. Given these examples why then do I say I’m lazy?

The context is decisive

If the task at hand is something I want to do or enjoy doing it is very likely I won’t waste time or energy resisting it. I just get on and do it. However, if it is something I don’t particularly want to do or don’t enjoy I will take my time getting to it. In this scenario I procrastinate and defer the task to sometime later. Ultimately, for me the context is decisive.

Procrastination is not the same as laziness

The dictionary definition of lazy is to be disinclined towards activity or exertion; not energetic or vigorous. With this definition being lazy is not the same as procrastinating which simply means to defer to sometime later. Earlier in my career I used to put things off, including making decisions. I often waited until the deadline was upon me or a decision had to be made. This was a poor way to operate and I learned that I did not do my best work when I left things to the last minute. Thankfully, I became much more proactive and transformed my habits to complete tasks weeks in advance of deadlines. This greatly improved the quality of my work and my stress levels decreased accordingly.

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Although I am now much more proactive with tasks I don’t want or like to do, I’m aware that if possible, I would not to do the task at all. In this regard I have a lazy tendency. On the surface this seems like a bad trait. But is it? Reflecting on this, I’ve concluded that being lazy may not be all bad and rather may have several positive benefits that are worth mentioning here.

Laziness can improve process and efficiency

I don’t like wasting time. Nor do I like working on cumbersome and inefficient processes. One of my strengths is improver – to improve things. Having lazy tendencies, I naturally look to find ways to improve and simplify what I’m doing. Is there a better or more efficient way to do this? Are there superfluous steps that can be eliminated? At work our time is often our greatest asset and saving time wherever possible is extremely valuable to the business. I was a scientist and I used to follow experimental methods precisely. With practice and experience I found I wasted a lot of time on unnecessary steps that could be avoided. I streamlined the process and saved money and many hours in the lab. The time I saved was far better spent doing other things like reading and discussing ideas with colleagues. If you have lazy people around you at work reframe this quality as an asset rather than a liability and use their laziness to your advantage. Get them to work on your processes. If there are ways to improve them or make them more efficient and save you time and money along the way, they will find them.

Laziness supports delegation and empowers teamwork

Early in my career I learnt that one way to empower my team was to delegate tasks to them. As a leader I would delegate tasks as often as I could. At the time I used to justify my action with thoughts like “this is positive for their development” and “this will build their confidence.” While this is true, I now realise that a big reason why I could easily delegate to others, especially later in my career, was because I was lazy. If didn’t want to do the task at hand I would naturally look to delegate it. In this regard being lazy held multiple benefits for me. It supported me to give up the control and helped me nurture trust and reliability with my team. Delegating a task to a team member in effect says to them “I trust you; I rely on you to do this.” This builds their confidence and independence (autonomy) to empower them to increase team performance. Lastly, to delegate tasks to others empowers me. It saved me time and freed me up to do more important work like deeper strategic thinking and planning.

Laziness nurtures creativity

Over my life I’ve known many people that are incredibly busy. They never seem to stop. I recall thinking I wouldn’t want to work as busily as they do. Compared with them I would see myself as lazy. On reflection I’m pleased about this. What I now appreciate is that when we’re busy we typically won’t slow down and take the time we need to to perform at our best. Our brain is capable of amazingly creative ideas. There’s a catch though. We need to give our brain time to create novel ideas. Creativity occurs when our brain connects disparate pieces of information. However, this takes time, and we need to give our brain time to connect these dots. If we are too busy to slow down, we don’t give our brain the time to find the best or novel solutions. To do our best work we need give ourselves time to stop and think to find the best way forward.

Stephen Covey promotes this concept in his famous time-analysis model. According to Covey we ideally want to spend 80% of our time in the Important and Not-Urgent quadrant of quality. This is where we naturally do our best and most creative work because we have the time to do so. Conversely, in the Urgent and Important ‘fire-fighting’ quadrant we don’t have time to do our most creative work. We’re too busy ‘putting out fires’ as Covey says. Being lazy we tend to avoid getting too busy. We leave ourselves with plenty of time for creativity and finding novel and innovative solutions. Notice how this ties in with the idea of improving process and efficiency I mentioned earlier. I know I do my best writing when I have given myself plenty of time to incubate my ideas about the topic before I sit down to write.

Laziness affords growth and development

Finally, keeping busy is an effective way to stop ourselves from doing the deeper reflective work that we need to do for our ongoing growth and development. Being busy it is easy to get stuck in a work mode where we don’t leave ourselves anytime to stop and ask “is there a better way to do this?” This quote by Covey “I’m too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe’’ perfectly captures this notion. Yet, if we slow down and do the reflective work undoubtedly, we’ll find better ways to perform the task at hand. Less haste, more speed. The same also applies to our personal growth. Without taking the time to reflect on our performance or lack thereof, we won’t identify areas we need to develop. I’m often amazed that clients keep themselves busy to avoid doing the work on themselves that ironically, if they developed would make them more effective at what they do. Being lazy naturally slows us down. It gives us the time we need to reflect and ultimately, grow.

Bringing it all together

While we tend to think of laziness as a negative trait, as I’ve outlined here there can be several benefits to being lazy. It can be a driver of innovation and improved processes and efficiency. Laziness naturally supports us to delegate tasks helping us to empower our team and ourselves to increase our team performance. Not surprisingly, being lazy helps us avoid becoming busy. This affords us the opportunity to do the deeper reflective work to develop ourselves to overcome our limitations. Being lazy especially helps us develop our creativity and find the best and most innovative solutions to move forward.