The New Year is viewed by many as an opportunity for a fresh start, and a fresh start seems synonymous with a new challenge: finally, we will join that gym class, learn that language, start that enterprise. Sadly, we also know that most resolutions falter before the end of January. Should we abandon this annual ceremony of self-disappointment? I would argue that no, we shouldn't – but rather we can be more intelligent in our choice of resolution.
The resolutions that fall hardest are those where we take on more– either adding more tasks to an already crowded day or putting in more time on existing projects. That time has to come from somewhere – either other commitments, sleep or the space we need to reflect, evaluate and learn from what we experience. Even if our new endeavour starts out well, its indirect effect on the rest of our lives begins to tell.
Therefore, my advice is to build your resolutions around doing less, and here are some reasons why:
1. “Not doing” is faster than doing
It might take you only a minute to run 400 metres, but you can not run 800 in no time at all. Targets to stop doing something – smoking, snacking, scrolling endlessly through instagram 5 minutes after you last did it – literally cannot fail from lack of time. Even better, any improvement delivers more time for other things that you have always wanted to do.
2. Being too busy is a barrier to growth
Have you ever heard the phrase “if you want something done, ask a busy person”? Some people attract tasks to themselves because they cannot bear to see something unstarted. The urge to make lists of work in order to harvest the satisfaction of ticking items off can be very real. Completed lists do not in themselves constitute progress, however; they can distract us from planning towards meaningful goals.
3. The right sort of laziness is powerful
Faced with a task, we have a few basic options:
Roll up our sleeves and just do it, the same way we did before
Ignore it and hope it goes away (the wrong sort of laziness)
Think of a way to make it unnecessary (the right sort of laziness)
Being lazy – in the sense of wanting to get the most done with the least effort – is a stimulus to creative thinking and problem-solving. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux and one of the most famous computer programmers on the planet, described himself as a “lazy person” in that he was quite prepared to build on others' ideas where they worked. In other words, he didn't allow the human instinct to want all the glory to stop him finding the best solution. The esteemed German general Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, meanwhile, wrote
“Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.”
Make being intelligently lazy your goal for 2019. I think I've got off to a good start, because using New Year resolutions as the theme for a first blog post in January is as lazy as it gets – but if you'd like to know more, including our “three circle” approach to continuous productivity, ask about our performance coaching services.
Vince Negri is process consultant at Beyond the Board Training.