Hard Work vs. Laziness

March 16th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Brendon Connelly of Slacker Manager has challenged Fred Gratzon and me to a blog showdown. Fred is a long-time entrepreneur and the author of The Lazy Way to Success. I’d never heard of Fred until Brendon issued this challenge, but I’m looking forward to a fun debate. It looks like Brendon will be hosting the challenge in a Q&A format, starting on Monday, March 21.

I think the nature of this debate invitation stems from my posts regarding hard work and self-discipline vs. Fred’s advocacy of laziness as the means to success. I suspect much of our perceived philosophical differences will be nothing more than semantics. Having just read a few of Fred’s blog entries, it seems the way he defines laziness is essentially what I’d define as efficiency. I think Fred and I would both agree that laboring inefficiently when there’s a better way to get things done is pointless. Neither of us would recommend lifting a heavy boulder by hand when you can use a lever instead, or get someone else to move the boulder for you, or redefine the problem so the boulder needn’t be moved at all. So I wonder if what Fred defines as being lazy is equivalent to what I’d define as just being smart.

I’m hoping that we can plunge past these semantic differences and see what lies at the core. Are there fundamental differences in our attitudes towards productivity, or are we basically saying the same things using different words? I suspect there is some fundamental difference, but it may not be that big. My current perspective is that being lazy will only allow you to accomplish a subset of the interesting goals that efficient hard work can produce. Thinking with a mindset of laziness could be beneficial in driving you to find a less labor-intensive method of getting things done. But on the downside it could also limit the experiences you’re capable of having. For example, if you wanted to run a marathon, how would the lazy mindset enable you to accomplish that? Having run one myself, it’s a lot of hard work, and I don’t see how it could be done with a lazy mindset (unless you’re just genetically gifted with monstrous stamina). Would the lazy mindset preclude you from ever setting and achieving such a goal? What other goals would you have to give up because they couldn’t be accomplished the lazy way?

I don’t see that “the lazy way to success” is a complete productivity philosophy on it’s own, but it’s certainly Borg-able (i.e. worthy of assimilation as one of many effective strategies). Hard work is also an incomplete philosophy. Laziness and hard work are like two tools in your productivity toolbox. There are many other tools as well, like communication skills, passion, and planning.

The key is to avoid becoming overly attached to any one tool or philosophy, whether it be laziness or hard work or something else. As I wrote last year, you want to cultivate a complete toolbox of multiple techniques. By embracing both hard work and laziness, you get the best of both worlds (ooh, another Borg pun). You can be lazy (or efficient) when that’s the most effective strategy, and you can work your butt off when that’s likely to produce the best results.

Sometimes an elegant (lazy) solution is best, which might include redefining the problem to eliminate a lot of hard work. Other times brute force hard work is the most viable solution. I can think of many times where I made the mistake of being too clever when a brute force solution would have been better, and I can also recall stupid brute force implementations where a bit more thought would have eliminated the problem entirely.

The challenge is to develop the wisdom to know when to be elegant and when to be brutal.

The closest thing to a panacea I’ve discovered thus far is the concept of defining a purpose for your life. This is equivalent to deciding what the toolbox is for. This decision guides what tools you put in the box, which ones you keep sharp, and which ones you hardly ever use. Laziness may be a more important tool in Fred’s toolbox given the way he defines his life purpose, whereas my purpose may rely on hard work more often. Which of these tools will be most useful in fulfilling your own purpose?

Perhaps the nature of the debate then will be to explore the use of laziness and hard work as different productivity tools and to expose the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. Certainly there are people who could benefit by further developing one or both of these tools.

If you’d like to submit a question for the productivity blog showdown, you may do so by submitting a comment on the blog showdown post at Slacker Manager.

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