06 March 2007

Work hard to be lazy

I've always been a big fan of smart lazy people not because I admired their ability to do nothing but I admired their ability to do nothing but still get things done.

Over time, I developed a mentality that I wanted to work hard to be as lazy (read free) as I could without having to sacrifice my work and its quality. Basically, I wanted to accomplish 48 hours worth of work in 24 hours time!

In the book Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, one of the creativity techniques the author suggested was to use a paradox to stimulate new ideas and this immediately reminded me of the joke I used to tell co-workers that I wanted to work hard to be lazy. Perhaps you should give it a shot. Let me explain.

Working hard to be lazy basically means investing the extra effort (working hard) at first so that it will pay off in the long run (be lazy). I've broken down the process I took to achieve the lazy state I can be in guilty-free.

Re-evaluate your work processes
The lazy man will try to accomplish 2 hours worth of work in 1 hour's time but sometimes at the expense of the work's quality.
Think of it as efficiency = quality/time taken (referencing speed = distance/over). If the time taken is reduced, either the job's quality has to be lowered or the efficiency must be increased. Efficiency really relates to the work process. So in order to keep the quality the same and reduce the time taken, the work process must be changed. To do so requires a re-evaluation of your work processes.
Just because you
want to do more doesn't mean you can do more. The saying when there's a will, there's a way only goes so far as to motivate you to start moving, you need to grease your wheels to let that momentum flow smoothly. Many people fall into the trap of getting comfortable with their process and never want to change. That's like a baby realizing he can travel by not crawling and so never sees the necessity of walking.
Take an hour and think of it as investment, to really analyze how you work. For designers like myself it may be how you approach design, do you just dive in and create some visuals? Or do you think about the objective you want to achieve first (eg. create a design that appeals to the young crowd)?
In Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits is to
begin with the end in mind. I am a firm believer of the value of pre-production as it gives me a clear goal of what I aim to achieve and so instead of just doing for the sake of getting it done, I'm doing for the sake of achieving a clear objective.

Don't repeat yourself
After evaluating what you do, you may have some ideas of what you want to improve or modify. Break it down to its core. For example, when I was re-evaluating myself, I realized I was doing a lot of repetitive tasks in my work. I'm a designer slash programmer, so very often jobs may overlap each other in functionality and so I'd find myself sometimes recreating the same function I did before simply because I couldn't be bothered to try to understand my code from a previos project. I'd waste good amounts of time doing this when all I really needed was perhaps a code library so whenever I needed a certain function, I'd have it ready-made in my library.
David Allen mentions in his book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
that you shouldn't have to think about a thought more than once because then you're wasting your efforts. I agree, which is why after you evaluate your work processes, eliminate duplications in whatever you do or automate it after you do it once. For example, instead of checking your mail by having to click on the Check mail button, find a way to automate it.

Try a new process
Be open to completely changing the way you work. You can't expect to become more productive unless you pay a price at first. So bear with me and give this a shot. In my pursuit for ultimate productivity, I've changed from analog tools to digital tools. I tried different online tools such as Remember the Milk and 30 Boxes (both are free) and they worked for me as a beginning GTD follower, but over time my demands grew and currently, I'm giving My Life Organized a whirl and so far I'm loving it because it is much, much faster than the online tools I used to use so I don't end up wasting more time waiting for a page to load and tell me what I need to do (which kind of used to discourage me from relying on the tool in the first place).

Refine yourself
By refining yourself I mean going through this work hard to be lazy process in iterations. Try a new process, if that doesn't help as much as you hoped, try another process. The worst thing that could happen is that you don't find any improvement in your work process and go back to your original process and just work hard. Did you lose anything? You may say the time you spent searching, but think about it, how much have you gained? Right now in theory it may not seem much, but give this a shot and come back to this 1 week later and ask yourself what you gained. If not a new process, I guarantee you'll have become more open-minded to trying new things or at least created the desire to improve :).

So what benefits did I personally get from this?
Basically, it isn't so much that I want to achieve more with less effort, but I now hunger to improve the way I work because I know I can work less and get more. Now that I have a full-time job, I only have at most 5 hours a day where I can do what I want before I have to hit the sack. In that time, I want to achieve nothing less than 8 hours worth of stuff and so I keep trying to get myself to figure out ways to either automate or streamline. For example, for all you firefox users, you may be familiar with its ability to bookmark a set of tabs into one category. Using that, you can come home from work, fire-up that set of bookmarks and go to the toilet or fill that glass of water. Instead of sitting at my computer waiting for the web pages to load, use that time to do a quick job, a minimum of 1 minute saved. Later I may start to burn a DVD and since it takes around 10 minutes, I go for a shower during that time.
In thinking that way, I found that my work towards achieving laziness gives me energy that doesn't feel like forced effort but more like freely chosen effort.
It's been a while since I began my journey to achieving ultimate laziness and I find myself working harder and harder at it but loving it even more as things fall into place.

Work hard to be lazy, yes, it sounds stupid but doesn't it spark a few weird ideas and thoughts when you think that way? Instead of trying to work hard because you need to achieve me, twist the mentality and tell yourself you're working hard so you don't have to (eventually :P).

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