Effectively Lazy: Get Things Done with the Least Effort

Tyrion Lannister

We’re lazy by nature, we can’t help it. There’s always that excuse to do something later disguised as “reasoning”, lurking on a corner inside your brain. Sometimes the voice blurted “I can definitely finish this later tonight.”, “I’m not in the zone, maybe tomorrow.”, or “I’m way too tired right now. Mom? Did you change the Netflix password again?”.

In Thinking Fast, and Slow (2011), Daniel Kahneman puts it best:

An effort of will or self-control is tiring; if you have had to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around.

Doing a forceful task will deplete energy and reducing the ability to do another task.

Thus, I think categorizing two kinds of people to “diligent” and “lazy” is just well, lazy. Some can autonomously exert better self-control, trained to plan ahead, and aware of consequences of procrastination. That’s why it looks easy for one person, but rather hard for another.

Golden One

So how can we help the latter? The key is actually on self-control and managing effort. Here’s the central rule from Kahneman:

The “Law of Least Effort” asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will gravitate to the least demanding course of action.

He later added that in the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the act of sharpening skill to get things done is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. I underlined “Laziness is built deep into our nature” with my pink highlighter.

Now let’s explore how we can do just that: train ourselves to get more things done, using laziness as our central logic and strength.

1. Plan your day

Game Face, Gentlemen

Taking into account that our mind is wired subconsciously to pick the action demanding the least effort, planning your day is both highly relevant and easy to do.

It’s relevant because the plan and schedule will dictate the workflow of the day, putting the proper amount of effort to a task item at a specific time block.

Secondly, it’s easiest because when you have a schedule, you’d already be aware of what you’re supposed to do next without having to spend mental fuel to calculate: no more fidgeting at 1pm and figuring which next task you need to do. Let’s start.

Plan 1B3S in the Morning (1 Big Task and 3 Small Task)

Morning is important due to the “Law of Least Effort” (again): after sleep, our mind and effort-level is restarted and are fresh to use. So, it’s reasonable to plan out your day after meditation, prayer, and/or breakfast. But, if you think you’re a night owl and felt more refreshed after dinner, you can also plan your day or week before bed. I usually do planning as a part of a journaling routine.

Put that Big Task first

It’s important to train yourself to tackle the one big, most important task first. Mostly because you’ll realize that later in the day you’ll be swarmed by other task items.

What constitutes a big task? Anything fits to these description (It can be work-related, or not):

  • One task you promised yourself to get done since 3 days (or more) ago. Tasks such as to compose and research how to ask for a raise from your boss, or research a new topic for your blog.
  • One task stuck in your backlog for more than 1 week, like going to the dentist or research a new headphones to buy.
  • One task with the most impact for your well-being. Big unmoveable ones like planning your new feature launch event, or booking your best friend’s wedding band.

Next, smaller tasks can be spread out throughout the day, depending on your existing schedule. Try to map out your 1 day (and if possible, 1 week schedule) with the mindset of tackling small but important tasks AS A MUST, rather than deciding to tackle task ONLY WHEN YOU’RE FREE.

Getting back to the Least Effort rule, it’s no less important to also plan out your break time or recreational activities. It’s great to reset your stress and effort level to balance. To perform better, your mind needs resting.

2. Eisenhower Matrix: Decide What Comes First

Better late than never, but never late is better

Some days can open up, and some days come charging with big tasks that just can’t afford to be done later (more urgency to be done, no matter what). In the other hand, if we put off something that is not urgent, we’d be feeding treats off to the God of Procrastination.

This is why balance is needed to manage that pile of “do-it-someday”. You need to train your mind not to only highlight task by urgency but also underline the impact and sunk cost to be paid whenever a task is put off later. Below is how to distinguish between what is important (and impactful) and what is urgent.

Eisenhower Matrix, snapped from The Decision Book (2012)

List all your pending tasks to these four boxes to decide when and how big is the effort needed and when to actually do it. The method is called the Eisenhower Matrix.

Impactful and Urgent: Do it now and do it right

This is your 1 big task. Do this one thing first. Don’t put off this later and try to tackle it today, plant it in your head: this is the one thing you shouldn’t fvck up today. This is why it’s wholly important to do 1 big task in just one day: it gives the biggest impact for you and your work.

This one aim gives your whole day meaning. Defeating this task will set your day or week better. Knowing you finally cross off that big hairy monster.

However, if you think slaying 1 big hairy monster is just way too overwhelming, easy way around that is try to do smaller tasks leading up to the big one.

Exhibit A: Rather than planning to tackle “Create t-shirt design for the first week of summer collection”, try to list small items supporting that.

  • Research best-selling t-shirt themes interest from last year
  • Research similar t-shirt design based on that interest
  • Research best font for the design wording

Exhibit B: Rather than jumping head on to “Write new post on being productive in the morning”, try meddling with:

  • Map out the bullet points of the post’s structure
  • Research similar posts on what can you provide better on this topic
  • Start mindless drafting (jotting down freely)
Geralt, the Monster Slayer

Once you get the juices flowing and the engines running, you’d feel productive and confident enough to finally tackle that monster. Go on, try it!

After trying it out for a while, you can try to plan tackling two, three, or more big tasks whenever you’re comfortable.

Read more on the 3 remaining points of Eisenhower Matrix here

  • Impactful, Not Urgent: Put it in your Schedule, but not Today
  • Not Impactful, but Urgent: Delegate
  • Not Impactful, Not Urgent: Do it Later

3. Being Lazy Together: What can be done on a team level

Lazy together = Creative together

Finally, most high performing teams has one thing in common: they all are lazy, but also crazily creative. They save big effort reserved for the really important one. They work around tasks with such grace and mindset on how they can avoid doing another less important task in the future — saving everyone’s time.

Some of the actions are:

Having less meetings

After you planned out your day, you’ll realized how important it is to focus your effort to one big task. So when a new meeting invite comes up, ask these questions:

  • Do I really have to attend the meeting? Do they just need an opinion from me?
  • Is this meeting really necessary? Can the problem be solved with proper task management without having to meet?

By freeing your teams of unnecessary meetings, you can have more breaks and alone time to refresh. Fresh to tackle your next big task.

Design SOP and/or Playbook

Bumping into recurring tasks or problems can be daunting and tiring. You know how to solve them, but time is still required to actually solve them (Yeah, what a drag). Now, what if we can reduce that time to a minimum?

  • Categorize common problems or questions to different boxes
  • Categorize common solution or answers
  • Map out these problems + solution
  • Find out if you can combine several problems to be answered by one solution
  • Whenever possible, simplify the solution
  • Prioritize using the Eisenhower Matrix (adding Cost as variable is recommended)

Most of the time, these playbooks already existed- created by someone else’s team out there. My favorites include the great minds at work at Zapier and Buffer.

Now, with all these written or practised solution or playbook, you can reduce the execution time and focus on the next big thing.

Automate, whenever possible

The engineering team at Xendit (where I work) loves this the most. Upon facing recurring problems, we built proper SOP, playbook, and the tools to automate this time-wasting problems. Here’s an example:

Build once, and relax

Before: whenever a technical fix is needed for a problem, one (or more) engineer(s) has to fix it by hand- hands off whatever their current task at hand.

After: the engineering team built a tool (dashboard, UI, etc) so that operations team can handle it themselves.

Other automations includes:

  • User Acceptance Test for new releases. Every new fixes or release will undergo multiple automated tests. Before: a team of business and engineering folks sit down for 1–2 hours to test.
  • Design changes feedback. New design item posted in a channel and feedbacks come swirling in before a specific timestamp- everyone respect the maker and process. One person stay in charge of collating and deliver changes. Before: feedback falls everywhere and anytime, throwing off deadlines.
  • Agreement signing. New clients can sign agreement remotely so that integration with our system can be done simultaneously without any delay. Before: back and forth mailing and constant contact.

Lazy != Procrastinate

There you have it, you don’t need to actually fight your impulse of being lazy (or should I say, smart in allocating effort on a particular task). Hell, our subconscius is kinda designed that way. It’s only logical to put that in mind.

By setting your mind planned and at ease, you can creatively hacking around your workflow and mind settings. Now, you can both be more productive and relaxed.

Do you happen to have ideas to add? Comments are welcomed below :)


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