Lazy productivity

There are many reasons why I have chosen to live an uncluttered life, and one of those reasons is that I’m lazy. If I need to do something I’m not super excited about doing, I want it to take the least amount of time possible and I want it to cause me little or no stress. I’ve created simple routines for things like cleaning and getting ready in the morning because I need to do these things but don’t want to waste mental energy on them.

An example of this is processing mail when I come home: I instantly shred, recycle, or respond to the mail right when I walk in the door. This routine usually takes me two to three minutes, and then I don’t think about the mail or see it again. I used to just collect it and place it on the dining room table, then I would have to touch it again to move it so that we could sit down to dinner, then I would see it after dinner and think about it again, and then I would have to deal with it after worrying about it some more. In the past, I would spend 15 to 20 minutes thinking about the mail each night. Being “lazy” and organized with my mail saves me quite a bit of time over the course of the year. That, and I never have to worry about paying bills late.

Back in January, Leo Babauta wrote a post on this issue on his blog ZenHabits titled “The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less.” I like his perspective on doing less to increase productivity:

Do Less: The Ultimate Simple Productivity

It may seem paradoxical that Do Less can mean you’re more productive — and if you define “productive” as meaning “get more done” or “do more”, then no, Do Less won’t lead to that kind of productivity.

But if instead you define “productivity” as a means of making the most of your actions, of the time you spend working (or doing anything), of being as effective as possible, then Do Less is the best way to be productive.

Consider: I can work all day in a flurry of frenetic activity, only to get a little done, especially when it comes to lasting achievement. Or I can do just a couple things that take an hour, but those are key actions that will lead to real achievement. In the second example, you did less, but the time you spent counted for more.

Let’s take the example of a blogger: I can write a dozen posts that really say nothing, mean nothing, but take up my entire day … or I can write one post that affects thousands of people, that really reaches to the heart of my readers’ lives, and takes me 1.5 hours to write. I did less, but made my words and time count for more.

If you’re lazy, as I often am, then the choice is simple. Do Less.

But do it smartly: Do Less, but make every action count. Send fewer emails, but make them important. Write fewer words, but make each word essential. Really consider the impact of every action you take, and see if you can eliminate some actions. See if you can achieve a great impact doing less.

This doesn’t mean “less is more”. It means “less is better”.

I don’t agree with everything in his post, but his viewpoint speaks to the heart of uncluttering. Read his post and then come back here to share in our conversation. I’m interested in reading about what your views are on lazy productivity.

22 Comments for “Lazy productivity”

  1. posted by Wendy Lady on

    Leo is one of my heroes. I don’t think he explained well enough *why* cutting back on what it is that we do what we do is a good idea, at least not in this post. Another piece of advice that I’ve read is “live as if your back is against the wall”; and that warlike philosophy also rings true. I suppose that what both ideas mean is that we should spend our time thoughtfully rather than haphazardly, without allowing too much kruft into the mix.

  2. posted by Jay on

    I agree with the general idea that work and productivity are different and that it is possible to spend a lot of effort without being productive. I agree that when working one should maximize being productive.

  3. posted by Gail Gray on

    I am all for doing things the simple and easy way. I agree with “Do less and make every action count”.

    I wrote a post a while back on “5 Lazy Ways to Organize”…

    We sometimes busy ourselves to think we are being productive, but in a sense we are spinning our wheels accomplishing nothing!!!

    Thank you Erin for sharing.

  4. posted by Anita on

    I agree with his overall idea, though I too think he could have articulated it better by applying a few of those principles of efficiency (and brevity!) to his own writing…

  5. posted by CH on

    I have always said if you want it done right, but you want it done fast, then come to me. I don’t play around when it comes to completing a task. I want it done now and done right. I do the same thing with my mail, I pay bills when they come, not when they’re due.

  6. posted by chacha1 on

    I have a problem with small tasks & rituals that consume my time. Every morning … cup of tea; groom a cat; yoga; feed cats; refill hummingbird feeders; water patio plants; tidy kitchen/den; scoop litterbox; organize breakfast/lunch; shower; dress for work.
    I don’t really feel that any of these tasks can be left undone (I want my cats, plants, and hummingbirds to thrive). But the truth is some of these things – most, in fact – could be done at night, before bed, rather than in the morning.
    So “do less” could also be interpreted to mean “do at a different time.” Better organizing (uncluttering) my time could allow me to feel I have more time.

  7. posted by Kancha Lala on

    I’ve read the post and its message can be distilled to the common adage which tells us to work smarter, not harder. There is nothing arguable there; this is the very essence of productivity without burnout.

    But the repeated calls for doing less (and then doing less even more) are unwarranted. I find that a lot of the suggestions of doing less in the original blog post aren’t backed up practically. Sometimes doing less is just that, less. I feel the same way about minimalism as a design philosophy (though it is the all the rage in the current age to expound on its virtues as the foundation of a productive lifestyle) there has to be a point where simplifying just means cutting corners, escaping responsibilities/workload and not reaching your full potential. The law of diminishing returns has to apply here somewhere.

  8. posted by Gumnos on

    When I’ve interviewed (and eventually hired) technical talent, efficient laziness is a key quality I seek in my candidates. The best programmers are lazy. If a task has to be done more than once, automate it and let the computer do the grunt work.

  9. posted by JenK on

    I pay bills when they come, not when they’re due.

    That’s how I got several months ahead on my mortgage — they’d send me a new statement each time they received a payment. And then I’d send a payment. So they’d send me a statement. One day I noticed that they were billing me for 4 months from now and … *facepalm*

    (I assume they’d send them monthly if they didn’t receive a statement, but never tested that theory. My bank is now set to automatically send them the money once a month.)

  10. posted by WilliamB on

    chacha1, I think of being organized as “time shifting.” It may not take less time to be organized, but it means *I* choose when the task is done. Frex, laying out work clothes and packing my lunch the night before. Presumably it takes the same amount of time. But if I do it the night before, I’m not rushed the next morning when I hit snooze once too often (or my neighbor needs a jump) and thus forget something or wear black shoes with blue socks.

    @JenK “My bank is now set to automatically send them the money once a month.”
    Now that’s being efficient!

  11. posted by Linda on

    I’ve always said that I am lazy…I get things done quickly, efficiently because I don’t want to do them again!

  12. posted by Sandy on

    I had company recently, and spent 2 days getting the house in order and it was exhausting. So when they left, I decided to make a list of everything that needs to get done every week, or what I would like to get done each week around the house. That took a long time. And then I made a chart with each day of the week, and picked 4-5 things from that long list for each day.

    For example, I like to have my windows look nice, but I used to do them all on the same day. Now I’ll do the living room windows one day, the dining room windows another day, and so on. Like one day I’ll vacuum downstairs, and another day upstairs. Everything I could think of was put on that long list, and now, in a week’s time, all that stuff will get done (!) but only by doing 4-5 things from that list a day! So today, I looked at my chart and quickly did what I had listed for Monday and got it done and over with, then enjoyed the rest of my day, knowing that as the week progresses, 4-5 things will get done, day by day, and this way it’s not so overwhelming, and yet at the end of just one week, everything on that long list will have gotten done! (I included the yard and my car too). It sounds crazy, but I’m sort of looking forward to this new schedule. There’s something about having each thing written down that motivates me, plus I don’t have to think about it and won’t forget anything or skip anything either, which I’m famous for. (I wish I would have thought about using this years ago, and thought I’d share it).

  13. posted by Helen on

    <>. I love this

    idea but I must recognize that it may be a trap, so sometimes I have to do

    more, just to be sure that my work is the best; and I really agree with the

    idea that work and productivity aren’t the same thing.

  14. posted by Marcie Lovett on

    When I tell people I’m lazy they laugh at me, saying it can’t possibly be true because I’m so well organized. When I say I’m lazy I mean that I don’t like to spend time looking for things or maintaining things; I would much rather be doing things I actually enjoy. Having fewer things and putting them away when you are finished with them increases your free time and allows you to be “lazy.”

  15. posted by Mike on

    Absolutely. I’ve been saying for years that if you want to determine the most efficient path to get something done, find a lazy person and tell them what you need done and that it can’t require any do-overs.

  16. posted by Jessiejack on

    @chacha1 Your am rituals sound like a great way to start the day with visiting the kitties and the hummingbirds and getting yourself off to a good start. Is it that you feel rushed in the am and so don’t enjoy the process? It’s one thing to dislike the mail or grocery shopping (like I do) and rush to get it done and do as little as possible (be lazy?) and another to think you need to cross off items that could really be a relaxing part of the day and could be enjoyable. I also brush my cats in the am and I like to spend the time so I don’t look for the most efficient way to do that. I guess tho there may be some people that would actually enjoy grocery shopping and want to linger over it.

  17. posted by Sharon Anderson on

    One of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit, once said that she spends much of her time doing what others think of as nothing. I think many creative workers experience a similar lack of understanding. Thinking is really hard and important work. And it doesn’t always look busy or add up to something that can be called productive. Maybe the real issue is seeing and valuing creative work, not being productive or lazy.

  18. posted by Rob Lewis on

    To be devil’s advocate for just a minute…

    It was Blaise Pascal who famously said something like “Sorry to write a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

    Economy of space doesn’t necessarily translate to economy of time.

  19. posted by chacha1 on

    @ Jessiejack: LOL I love grocery shopping. 🙂 There is nothing that makes me feel richer than going through a good market and seeing the abundance of delicious things that I have to choose from. And since it’s consumable, it’s not clutter!

    After this article and discussion I have shifted some of my morning rituals to p.m. The hummingbirds will be mad today since the feeders won’t get topped up till tonight, but they’ll be happy again first thing in the morning. And I get to “do less” in the morning.

  20. posted by mibsphil on

    I love this, and couldn’t agree more. My husband just died in July, and one of the things we did every evening as soon as we got home from work was to go through the mail together–a little ritual I miss. Junk/unwanted mail got thrown immediately into the recycling bag; bills went to the proper bin on the desk; magazines went to whoever was going to read them. Done. No clutter, no mail lying around. I get my lunch prepared the night before, so it’s ready when I walk out the door in the morning. Anything I need to take with me to work gets put into my bag the night before. Like the other poster, I feed the hummingbirds in the evening, so they have full feeders when they arrive early in the morning. With all the little tasks out of the way the night before, my morning isn’t rushed or frenetic and I have time to eat something, read part of the newspaper, and get to the train on time.

    I’m also a fan of making goals less daunting by carving them up into smaller tasks. After my husband’s death I needed to go through a lot of papers and clutter that had accumulated on our desk. The first time I tackled it I told myself all I had to do was go through what was on TOP of the desk. I threw lots of stuff away, rearranged some things, and the desk looked neat and organzied. Goal #1 accomplished. The next time, I told myself I’d only attempt the wall organizer, which had become stuffed. Goal #2 accomplished, and the office looks better already.

  21. posted by Dawn on

    I’d love to hear more real-life tips… like the mail one, but for cleaning, etc.

  22. posted by Emma on

    The mail tip is brilliant but makes the grand assumption that one has a ready supply of cash with which to pay them. For those of us living slightly closer to the edge that isn’t an option.

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