The Laziest Solution Possible

Virtuous Laziness

Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man. He is sure to find an easy way of doing it.

-Walter Chrysler

Laziness is a fairly underrated virtue. It’s synonym made the short list of deadly sins (sloth) and it is often seen as the major culprit behind a lack of success (he’s smart but he lacks discipline). I happen to think the opposite. Laziness quite often means efficiency and when you combine laziness with a strong drive you end up with the desire to find the most efficient solution possible.

I’ve been called lazy more than a few times. Laziness allows me to ask questions that, “nose to the grindstone,” types would completely avoid. Here is a short list of important questions that lazy people ask of themselves that other people don’t:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Why am I doing it this way?
  • What am I trying to get out of this?
  • Is this the best way to get this done?
  • What would happen if I didn’t do it at all?

I’ve been called lazy a few times by hard-working people simply because I ask those questions when they refuse to. I don’t do tasks that don’t have any apparent value. I’m ruthless in seeking a more efficient method to do something. And I challenge assumptions about what has to get done.

Laziness Helps You Refocus on What is Most Important

Being slothful in my approach to goal setting allows me to cut away anything that doesn’t have to be done. In working on big goals this is a crucial skill if you want to achieve them. Hard working people can end up spending days, weeks or months on one element of a goal only to realize that there was an available solution that could have taken less than half the time.

When working on my interactive goal-setting program, I started by designing my own interface code. But a few days into writing it, laziness kicked in and I couldn’t help feeling highly inefficient. Sure enough there was a plugin I could buy for a little over twenty bucks that offered the basic functionality I needed.

Laziness + Drive = Productivity

Lazy people aren’t lazy all the time. Unless the person has extremely low energy, even the laziest people still find time to surf the web, play games or socialize with friends. A lot of lazy people aren’t really lacking willpower, just some motivation.

Without a compelling drive being disciplined just makes you look busy to outside observers when you really aren’t getting anything done. Laziness only becomes apparent because without a strong drive, slothful people stop doing just about anything not necessary for survival or enjoyment.

I’m a lazy person at heart. Even though I woke up a little after five am to write this post and finish another chapter in my book, deep down I’m a very lazy person. I need a compelling drive to keep me busy. Without a strong drive, I’d lay in bed until after noon and watch television all day.

But once you create that drive, either through explicitly setting goals or opening your imagination to new possibilities, laziness becomes a tool not a curse. Instead of using your laziness to avoid work, you use it to maximize your resources.

Laziness Beats Willpower (and Efficiency) Any Time

Willpower has it’s place, but for every drop of willpower you exert there should be a tonne of laziness that has been used before it. If you are having to use excessive willpower to reach a goal, often it is because you either haven’t created enough drive or you haven’t used enough laziness to discover a more efficient path.

I’m using laziness as more than just a synonym for efficiency. Efficiency is good, but often trying to be efficient doesn’t really ask the right questions. Simple efficiency asks, “How can I do this better.” It is true laziness that asks, “Why am I doing this in the first place?”

As a holistic learner I’ve never been big on studying. While everyone around me chastised me for laziness, I didn’t ask, “How can I study better?” I asked myself why I should bother to study at all. If I didn’t need to there wasn’t much point in spending time and exerting willpower for a similar grade.

True laziness takes a bit of courage as well. It can be very difficult for hardworking person to admit to themselves that they just wasted a bunch of time and energy on something that doesn’t matter.

Unleash the Laziness Within You

Be really lazy today. Whenever you have to do something, follow it up with the question, “Why?” If you can’t come up with a good answer, don’t do it. If it is a necessity for your job or survival, find the most efficient way to get it off your schedule. Delegate it to someone else. Find a way to get it done as soon as possible so you can move to more important things.

The Emperor Has No Clothes On Isn’t Getting Work Done

The scary part of being lazy is it leaves you naked. You no longer have your insulating cone of busyness to make you feel productive. The work you do actually has to mean something in order to get done. Instead of relying on willpower you rely on drive. Strip away your delusions of productivity by using this most underrated virtue.

Image courtesy of flickr

  • Henrik Edberg

    Excellent article and cool syncronicity. I have been thinking about the same thing lately and have been asking myself: Is this useful? many times each day for the last month or so and posted an article about it too today.

  • Yynatago

    “True laziness takes a bit of courage as well. It can be very difficult for hardworking person to admit to themselves that they just wasted a bunch of time and energy on something that doesn’t matter.”

    Truly said. I couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • Rod Fage

    Scott, you have hit upon on of my favourite sayings:

    “Be Lazy, Do It Right the First Time”

    Find the most efficient way to do the task. Not the most elegant, or the most robust (unless necessary) but just get it done. That is why I usually call myself a hacker, not a programmer.


  • The Happy Rock

    I agree with the sentiment, but most of the people that are ‘lazy’ usually are the malcontent and unproductive.

    If the person who questions tradition and finds better ways to do things eloquently and energetically defends his position it would be considered a positive thing(not laziness). The problem is that most people who are ‘lazy’ are not living lives that garner respect. I have found that if people respect you then, they will be much more inclined to listen to your laziness.

    -The Happy Rock

  • Rowan Manahan

    Great post Scott!

    I suspect you’ll enjoy ‘Hello Laziness’ by Corinne Miller – an hilarious and scarily accurate view of the advantages of not exactly driving yourself to an early grave in the corporate world …

  • Leo

    Love this post, Scott! It’s exactly how I feel. But I don’t believe you when you say you’re lazy. 🙂

  • Ted

    I love it!!!! That’s my goal in life now 🙂

  • Dror Engel

    great post scott
    I see only now your application and already download and started to read the first chapter
    thank you very much, you give me the passion every morning with your posts!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    Laziness is normally a negative word. I wanted to turn it on it’s head and focus on some of the attributes highly productive people have in common with extreme laziness. Really I think the only thing separating someone who is highly productive and someone who gets nothing done is a strong enough drive and a bit of skill.

  • Travis

    Thanks for the in-depth look at the lazy man’s way. I often take the lazy, but purposeful apporach myself. I instruct Aikido, and my tag line for teaching is, “I’m a lazy man, I always look for the path of least resistance, and the easiest way to do a technique effectively. Aikido is a lazy man’s art.”

  • residentgrey

    Hey Scott, this sounds like the mentality behind David Allen’s GTD process. He espouses all the time that he is lazy, but he has drive. Btw I found a recording of a six-or-smth week seminar on GTD. Great stuff, it’s helping me a ton! Keep it up Scott!!!


  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments Tom and Travis.

  • Matthew Weiping

    Wow, the hypocrisy is beautiful. I tolerated your articles before but being a deceitful hypocrite isn’t the way to bring in readers. Of course, I understand that laziness is relative but applying laziness to you, is foolish only an idiot would do. Your laziness would be waking up at 4:30 (instead of 3), and reading only half a book instead of the whole thing. As well, lying telling your readers that you don’t study at all and get high marks is a pathetic strategy. Just because everyone else can’t think, does not mean I cannot. I can see through you. I don’t expect nor will I look for a response to read your sad arguments against what I said, rationalizing to yourself and attempting to reassure your audience of your lies but remember when you write something, you’re doing it both for yourself and someone else, who isn’t stupid.

  • Scott Young


    All I can say is this: Lol. You made me chuckle and I don’t get to do that often when reading comments. I will now add liar to the list of names I’ve been called right next to “glib douchebag.”

    You completely missed the point of the article not to mention the article on holistic learning. Here is a hint: it’s really about efficiency/effectiveness and not laziness. Jeez, I can’t even use metaphors around here…

    Oh well. Can’t win ’em all eh?

    Thanks for making me smile,

  • Deandre

    This is so true, I’m still in college and I moved out sometime ago. I got to what others assumed to be more “efficient” and “neat”. Very untrue, upon questioning if I’m not too lazy to explain something they won’t understand…I just can answer I embraced my laziness. My true lazy nature allowed me to think of the easiest way that wouldn’t require a hassle for me.

    My life is great now.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the thoughts Deandre!

  • Travis

    Some people just don’t get it. The article is plainly about working hard to gain the capacity for an attiude of lazyness. It is not about being lazy and having things magically happen for you.

    I am lazy in Aikido because I have busted my ass at the foundations. Now I can take it easy and research the validity of what I am learning in depth. That would not have occurred without eleven years of study, seventeen years of T’ai Chi in addition, living at my dojo training 12 times a week for nearly three years, doing 600 sword cuts and 1000 squats a day for those three years, coming down from 396 pounds to 190, getting my 3rd degree black belt in close to the shortest time allowed outside of Japan, and becoming the general manager of my dojo. With all of the above I have still been called lazy on the mat, and it always makes me smile. And yeah, I am a lazy man in Aikido.

  • Scott Young


    Great points. Laziness to some is effectiveness to others.

  • Nikola


    Just yesterday I decided that I would think harder on the choices I make in my life. By that I meant that I would ask myself three questions:

    1. What am I going to do (next/about something/etc.)?
    2. Why would I want to do that (what I’ve chosen)?
    (If there’s a good enough reason, then I proceed with:)
    3. How would I want to do that?

    If you look beyond the form of my questions, you will notice that my questions are in many ways similar to yours, only mine should be asked *before* you start doing something, while yours are designed for when you already have a task and are contemplating whether you should do it at all, how and why, etc.

    I disagree that these are the questions of a lazy person. I think these are the questions that every thinking individual should ask himself. It is a virtue to think rationally – about everything. Thinking rationally means that you are seeking a way to obtain a value – therefore, seeking a way to increase your productivity. It’s not a lazy person who would do this – a lazy person would rather not; a lazy person seeks to avoid this; it is a virtuous, productive person who would think.

    What about those who were taught that work means using muscles rather than wits? They need to rethink what they were taught. But as you correctly note – it takes courage to do this.


  • KR3

    Im a very very very lazy person.

    The difference between the lazy you talk about and the bad lazy is not saying i’ll do it tommorow.

    I do this often, yes lazy people do think of the most efficient ways of living and doing thing yet what fails them is that they say they will do the thing later on or tommorow and well this tommorow never comes.

    Lazy people delay a task so long that they usually end up forgetting to do it or they will just keep stressing about it rather than actually doing it.

    If you have the answer to that then let me know.

  • Alex

    Scott, I just came across your site and you seem to be an interesting thinker. I have some issues with what you’re calling laziness, though. Believe me, I’m lazy as hell and would love any excuse to justify this trait, which I still consider more a curse than not.

    The laziness you describe is indeed more efficient and superior to the business you describe, but I don’t think your definition of laziness matches most people’s — or at least mine.

    I’m a clinical psychology grad student who is smart and talented but, per my lifelong pattern, underachieving. In some cases, this fits your theory: There’s a lot of reading I don’t do, some but not all of which would likely interest or benefit me, in part because the vast majority of it is often completely irrelevant and unnecessary when it comes to doing a satisfactory job on the one or two papers that determine most of your grade for the class.

    Yet there’s a great deal of procrastination I do on things that I know are important and valuable, and that I do even when logic and experience tell me that procrastination will almost certainly lead to a bad outcome for me. It’s stuff that is important in the long run to me, and will ultimately make me happier than whatever I’m doing while procrastinating (i.e., I have “drive”), but the aversion to exerting effort or enduring hardship of which I am perfectly capable beats out any other consideration.

    For instance, I have skipped four out of five days of obligatory grad school activities this week (class and practicum) on the pretense of a nasty flu. If my only goal were to pass grad school and get my degree with the bare minimum, with no concern for how I accomplish this goal or for being able to feel proud of my work, your theory might fit — but that is not in fact my only goal.

    I missed therapy sessions with two kids as a result of my absences, and I feel really bad about it knowing that, due to certain life circumstances, it’s very important to them. I in no way consider these sessions “inefficient” or a waste of time, nor do I believe my time could have been spent better (perhaps by catching up on homework, but I’ve frittered away the day thus far).

    What’s your take on this sort of laziness? I’m talking about laziness that has nothing to do with searching for better solutions, or asking or disputing whether something is worth doing. Where does procrastination fit into your picture of laziness? Also, how do you account for intrinsic goals in comparison to extrinsic ones (e.g., to feel you are making a valuable contribution or to learn something new vs. to get a certain job title or make a certain amount of money)?