The 80/20 Take on Laziness


“There are only four types of officer. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm … Second, there are the hard-working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

GENERAL VON MANSTEIN on the German Officer Corps

In a previous post, I introduced Richard Koch, the author of The 80/20 Principle; The Secret to Achieving More with Less. Be prepared if you decide to read this book; it will make you uncomfortable about the way you spend your time, and perhaps even about the way you live your life.  The premise of the book comes from the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80–20 rule and the law of the vital few) which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Then I introduced his take on time management, which he says is a lost cause. He suggests that to be more effective, we must abandon our work ethic (at least in its current form), and embrace “economical use of our energy.” In other words, find the way to accomplish the most with the least amount of effort. In one word, be more lazy. Yikes.

Koch says you must shed some baggage before you can embrace laziness. First, the guilt. We’re wired backwards. We feel guilty when we’re not working, and we feel guilty when we indulge in something that brings us joy. What’s wrong with this picture? 80/20 thinking can help us get more accomplished with less time, and give us more time to spend on things we enjoy. In order to do this, we must disconnect the effort with outcomes.  More on that later.

Next, we have to free ourselves from other people’s expectations.  Chances are, he writes, the 80 percent of work that’s not critical is about other people.  The happiest and most efficient people, he writes, are self-employed, or work as though they were. (emphasis mine.) Of course, as long as you have a job, you’ll have a boss with expectations.  But in the rest of your life, you have discretion on how you send your time. Koch says: “80/ 20 Thinking is most valuable in encouraging people to pursue high-value/ satisfaction activities in both work and play periods, rather than in stimulating an exchange of work for play.”

Back to you: do you have the courage to rearrange your life around what gives you pleasure and satisfaction, rather than what other people say matters?

Meanwhile, here’s a great story about the meaning of life, courtesy of the Be More with Less blog.

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