Hard Work vs. Laziness

This material was originally part of a productivity debate about the merits of hard work vs. laziness. The website that hosted the debate in 2005 has long since gone offline, so I’m resharing my contributions to the debate here.

Being lazy

Being lazy will only allow you to accomplish a subset of the interesting goals that efficient hard work can produce. Thinking with a mindset of laziness could be beneficial in driving you to find a less labor-intensive method of getting things done. But on the downside it could also limit the experiences you’re capable of having. For example, if you wanted to run a marathon, how would the lazy mindset enable you to accomplish that? Having run one myself, it’s a lot of hard work, and I don’t see how it could be done with a lazy mindset (unless you’re just genetically gifted with monstrous stamina). Would the lazy mindset preclude you from ever setting and achieving such a goal? What other goals would you have to give up because they couldn’t be accomplished the lazy way?

Laziness and hard work are like two tools in your productivity toolbox. The key is to avoid becoming overly attached to any one tool or philosophy, whether it be laziness or hard work or something else. As I wrote last year, you want to cultivate a complete toolbox of multiple techniques. By embracing both hard work and laziness, you get the best of both worlds. You can be lazy (or efficient) when that’s the most effective strategy, and you can work your butt off when that’s likely to produce the best results.

Sometimes an elegant (lazy) solution is best, which might include redefining the problem to eliminate a lot of hard work. Other times brute force hard work is the most viable solution. I can think of many times where I made the mistake of being too clever when a brute force solution would have been better, and I can also recall stupid brute force implementations where a bit more thought would have eliminated the problem entirely.

The challenge is to develop the wisdom to know when to be elegant and when to be brutal.

The closest thing to a panacea I’ve discovered thus far is the concept of defining a purpose for your life. This is equivalent to deciding what the toolbox is for. This decision guides what tools you put in the box, which ones you keep sharp, and which ones you hardly ever use.