How to Get More Done…By Being Lazy

June 23, 2007  

Back in 1985, I worked for Unisys (then Burroughs) as part of an engineering co-op program while in college. This gave me hands-on experience working in the production control department for this large computer manufacturer. As I was leaving the company, the department head called me the laziest person he ever met. He meant it as a compliment. Let me explain.

When I started this job I worked 50 hours a week. My direct supervisor worked 60 hours a week. Life was good, until my supervisor was laid off and I inherited all of her work. Faced with having to work 110 hours a week, I decided to take a hard look at what we were doing.

Over the course of a weekend, I analyzed all of the activities I now needed to perform. I hoped to get my work from 110 hours to 50 hours (or less). Here’s what I found:

  • Only 20% of my work was high value add “knowledge work.” These were the items I still needed to perform.
  • Many activities we performed were non-value add. We had done them in the past, but they were no longer necessary, so I stopped doing them altogether.
  • Several activities were really the responsibility of another department or individual. Therefore, I worked to get these activities assigned to the correct parties. Not only did this reduce my workload, but it also reduced the overall time required by the company as a whole.
  • A large number of “transactional” activities were done manually and were candidates for automation (we used punch cards back then). None of these activities were very complicated, so I was able to write some simple programs in a matter of hours.

After only two days of analysis and work, I managed to get my workload from 110 hours to 20 hours. Given that I had free time on my hands, I looked for other activities in the company that could be made more productive.

I discovered a large computer program that was run once a week. It helped balance workloads across the entire company (don’t worry about the details). The software was exceptionally intricate and the data requirements were massive. It often took days to input the data. Due to the complexity of the program, it had to be run overnight. I analyzed the overall process and quickly developed a “rough cut” version of the software that took only minutes to input data and seconds to run. After using my program for a year, they found that its results were within 5% accuracy of the larger program that took over 100 times the effort to run.

Most people do whatever it takes to get the job done. I was “too lazy” to do it the traditional way. I don’t mind working hard, but I don’t want to work any harder than I need to. If I can get everything done in 20 hours rather than 110 hours, I can then choose how I spend my free time. I can spend my time being creative and develop new ideas, I can perform high value work, or I can take a break and relax. It’s my choice. And it is your choice too.

  • What work do you do that is non-value add? Stop doing it!
  • What work do you do that others can/should do? Delegate or outsource these activities. Get a “virtual assistant” to do your routine activities. Partner with someone who might be better skilled to do this activity.
  • What work can be automated? Buy off the shelf software to help speed things up. Or use to find someone who can build you a custom computer program.

Focus your energies on the items that are truly value add AND differentiate you from the competition. Eliminate, automate, or delegate the rest.

What other strategies have you used to get more done with less effort?

P.S. If the concept of getting more done with less effort appeals to you, be sure to read my article on “compass-driven strategic planning

P.P.S. The picture to the right is the image on the cover of the Russian translation of Goal-Free Living. Looks more like “goal-less living” to me.

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2 Responses to “How to Get More Done…By Being Lazy”

  1. Crystal Linnen on June 24th, 2007 10:02 am

    Great post, Stephen! The routine activities that are a waste of your productivity are what I do best – the more business owners/entrepreneurs that subscribe to this mindset, the better off we’ll all be…

  2. Maria Gajewski on June 25th, 2007 8:24 am

    Stephen, I love this type of analysis! Why do we feel that we have to work 40-50 hours per week when we can be as productive and generate as much value for our employer (or our own company) with careful management and proper delegation. As Tim Ferris says in the 4 Hour Workweek, fuzzy thinking and non-value added work are the real signs of laziness!