Our country, like few in the world, is imbued with a culture of respect for hard work. We applaud the folks who slave through the summer and put in long hours “at the grind.” That mindset was shaped early in our history, when physical labor built the U.S. into the world’s engine. Whether it was farming, mining or industrial production, for most of our country’s development, the harder you worked the more productive you were. It’s a pretty straightforward linear relationship with physical labor: the more hours you work the more productive you are in a day.
Working in the “Brain Economy”
The challenge is that most of our workforce today has shifted from physical labor to mental labor. We live in the “Brain Economy” and that work does not translate in the same linear way that physical labor does. That means that rest, and some laziness, is imperative to being really effective with your time. Let’s discuss three ways in which being a little more lazy than you are today could actually help you to be more successful:
1. Productivity increases with some rest. While many of us approach our day as a marathon, in reality it is a series of sprints with moments of high intensity and lulls interspersed throughout. Just like every elite athlete takes moments out of a game to rest and recharge during a break, we should approach our workday the same way. I found this idea to be a life-changer for me (with credit to Tony Schwartz). When I got sick and tired of being completely spent at the end of each day and having nothing left to give my family, I changed my workday habits and found ways to manage my energy over the course of the day. I’ll explain what worked for me. Try leaving your office for at least 10 to 15 minutes once at mid-morning and once at mid-afternoon. Talk with your folks about non-work items, take a short stroll outside, go get a cup of coffee or a smoothie. I then moved my workout from early morning, when I hated getting up and felt exhausted, to mid-day or in the afternoon at 4 p.m. I hated early morning because it would shorten my sleep, and I disliked late afternoon even more because I was spent, I wanted to see my family and I felt guilty being gone from them. There is no doubt that I am twice as productive throughout the day as I used to be, and I am still energetic when I get home.
2. Big ideas come to a mind at rest. Truth is that most of the busy work we do might be very important in a tactical sense, but will not allow for the strategic thinking that takes your business to a higher level. While you are accessible during your workday you will naturally spend most of your day reacting rather than creating. That means little likelihood for real change. You need a quiet, uninterrupted mind to be creative and to think about the big questions. It’s also true that being a little lazy will help you look for the easiest way to do something rather than just the best way to do something – they are not usually the same thing. Creating uninterrupted thinking time helps to create space for big ideas. Every major idea for evolving our business has come from dedicated think time with the team or while we were out of the office. Around here that happens every Friday afternoon for two hours, and every six weeks for the entire day for our management team. Non-work time even creates space for small ideas; this entire article, like most of them, was crafted while sweating through a hot yoga class (perhaps that’s why I get told my posts sometimes have a slightly “West Coasy Zen” thing to them).
3. Your rest gives others permission to rest. We too seldom confuse activity with productivity. Most people comment on the large daily schedule scrawled on the white board behind my desk. Perhaps it’s because it includes gym (or yoga) time and several short breaks throughout my day displayed for all to see. Whether its fellow advisers or entrepreneurs, they usually think it’s very odd that I am so open about my rest time. I see the occasional disapproving glance, however, I know that our team appreciates the example that you should manage your day for output not for input (hours worked is not the right measure in the “Brain Economy”). No one here boasts about working over weekends or staying at work late at night – we don’t think that’s a badge of merit. It means you are overworked or don’t manage your day the right way. The management team takes time to recharge – they are forced to take two weeks off in one block. Of course there is never a good two-week time slot to be gone, but what we see is that it helps the team to manage the intensity of the work when they are here. If you have really productive and intense people who care deeply for what they do, you need to let them know it’s OK to be lazy so that they can be awesome when they are working.
There are few things harder to cope with in a company than a valuable partner who is burnt out, especially if that partner is you. Be a little lazy this Labor Day, and try bringing some of that with you into the office. You might be happier and more successful if you do.