It has reached the time of year where your new year resolutions and motivation have gone out the window. You recognise your work ethic slump, and that’s why you’re reading this article. You’re looking for a lazy way to be efficient. You’re in the right place… sort of. The first half discusses how I came to be lazy and efficient - I highly suggest you read it, but if you’re too lazy, feel free to jump to the second half which includes practical tips for you to be lazy and efficient.
About me (a humble brag), skip if you don’t care. I am (co-)founder of 2 companies and a non-profit organisation, Deputy Chair of the Engagement Board at Cheshire & Warrington LEP, and a full-time PhD student. More importantly, I don’t work before 11am and watch around 2 episodes on Netflix during the day.
Initially, my ‘laziness’ arose from an illness called CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) – it is what I can only describe as the worst hangover ever… but continuously and without the fun night before.
I was diagnosed with this condition aged 15, just before my final year of GCSEs. The persistent headaches, nausea, dizziness, and exhaustion suddenly rendered me completely incapable of getting out of bed, never mind making it to school. But I refused to pause my studies. At 15, taking one year out seemed like a life-time.
During my bed-bound days, I would build my energy throughout the week until I had 1 hour where my brain would be able to function, and I would do a week’s worth of school work in that hour. ‘Impossible!’ you say. Yes… and no. Yes, it would be impossible to do it all. But I did end up with 9 A* and 3 As, so not completely. The trick was to prioritise and learn the rules of the ‘game’ which in this case was to understand exactly how marking worked and how to think like the examiner. After that hour, I would crash, feeling worse than ever, needing to build up my energy again. It was a vicious cycle and unsustainable. Though it had worked for just over 3 years, up to first year of university when I had to pause my studies for six months.
The illness is incurable, and as one doctor said to me ‘you just learn to deal with it’. I very slowly learned to put my health first, to take a step back, and to rest… which some people came to view as laziness, or even, as one guy put it, ‘princess syndrome’👑 . But combining princess syndrome with my 1-hour focus sessions, I was set to be the Queen of Lazy Efficiency.
Today, I still suffer from the same symptoms, which are either not as vicious as before or maybe I am used to the pain. Regardless, the fact is that I can do more these days but still run the risk of relapses. Given these circumstances, you might be wondering why I bother doing so much. Weirdly, the truth is that when I’m spending my days recovering in bed, I have a lot of time to dream up ideas, and when I am well enough, I just want to see if these ideas would actually work. And here we are today!
(I won’t go into detail about my startup journey here because that’s not what you’re here for. But if you are interested, leave a comment and I might write a followup piece.)
So how can YOU be lazy and efficient?
First, remember that I learnt through practice/having no choice. So you need to understand that lazy efficiency isn’t something that can suddenly be switched on. It’s a working progress. You can become lazier by the week, but there’s no magic formula. Here are some steps to help you get started:
1. Lay down your laziness principles. For me, this is: I don’t work before 11am, and don’t contact me before 10am. Now you know why I’m an entrepreneur rather than working for someone else. This in part is due to poor health, but it’s mostly just a bad habit. Whatever your laziness principles are, be it being regimental about your lunch break or insisting on a power yoga session in the afternoon, make them known to others. Legitimise your schedule/preference, but obviously you still need to hit the deadlines.
2. What would you rather do instead of work? These are things that make you happy, see if you can do one of them before you start work. Starting off your work session in a good mood will help you be more focussed, refreshed, and efficient. I often start the day by watching an episode of a new show I started or phoning my boyfriend (yay pandemic!) which sounds counterintuitive but afterwards, I can work efficiently because I’m no longer thinking about what fun things I could be doing… because I’ve already done it. Start small. Like cat videos? Before work, watch a 5-minute cat video to get your happy hormones flowing.
3. Ignore people. Emails are just other people setting your day’s agenda for you. Ignore them for as long as you can. This may be the first hour in your working day, or if you have the luxury, ignore people until after lunch. If you want to be SUPER HARDCORE about this, try not touching your phone for the first hour of the day – it really does help you focus! I only do this when I have big tasks to complete, because I have no discipline most of the time.
4. Prioritise. I set my whole week’s schedule by the hour every Sunday. It’s not as daunting as it sounds as I only have 2 things listed per day. These are the most important things that need to be done. On the day, I look at my schedule and have the option to add another task. I never add more than 3 tasks per day. Prioritising in this way makes sure all the big tasks are completed on time, getting you one step closer to lazy efficiency.
5. Schedule your happy tasks. I also add self-care into my schedule, be it yoga, face masks, or taking the Head of HR of Girls in Charge, Plato, out for a walk (he’s a cat, and yes, it’s ironic he’s a boy). Happy hormones lead to higher efficiency.
6. Delegate. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Ask for help from your team/family, depending on what you’re delegating obviously. Don’t ask your team to do the dishes.
I’ve talked quite a lot about laziness here, but remember that efficiency is qualified by quality and timely completion, so it’s only once you can reach efficiency that you can begin your journey into lazy efficiency. Lazy efficiency is all about balancing your health, happiness, and work. Like I said, it takes practice! Stick at it and dream of the days having lie-ins whenever you want, getting everything done, and starting crazy projects on the side!