On laziness as a motivator

How about laziness as a motivator?


“I’m a huge procrastinator and a fairly lazy person. Being lazy makes me more efficient, because I try to find ways that I can do the best work in the most minimal amount of time. I also know that I need pressure to perform, and procrastination is one of the levers for creating that pressure.”

That’s from an interview with Julie Larson-Green, who is the Chief Experience Officer at Microsoft. She used to be the EVP of Devices and Services, and some people viewed her going to Experience as a demotion — but it’s not. The whole idea was to flatten an organization that has tens of thousands of people working for it, which is really hard (one person can’t achieve that, honestly), but also very noble. In a place like Microsoft, I’m sure the silos are absolutely insane. (I interviewed there in October of 2012. I did not get that job.)

There are a couple of different narratives at play here. Let’s dissect.

The Work Is Virtue and Temple Of Busy People and Arguments: These will never go away. There are people who love to worship at The Temple of Busy — “I have no time for anything!” — and people who believe working hard, and putting in long hours at the office, are the keys to a good, virtuous life. People are free to believe whatever they want — that’s one of the true joys of humanity in a free nation — so listen, even though I don’t feel that way (on either front), I’m totally on board with those that do.

What Science and Research Says: Overwork is actually really bad for you, and bad for your company’s bottom line. Most medical and academic research has indicated that about 55 hours/week is pretty much a hard ceiling for most human beings, and for most people, it’s way less than that.

The Contradiction Therein: You shouldn’t be working that much, and you’re not even that productive when you do — but you need to put forward the idea that you’re doing that to showcase your own value to others.

How Laziness Comes In: We’re all inherently lazy, even if you think of yourself — or have been branded by others — as Type-A. You’re basically just a skin-and-bones functionality of your brain, right? (Think about the first thing that comes to mind when I say “brain dead,” and then try to determine how close to a human being that image is.) Your brain is inherently lazy. Its evolutionary function is to predict threats and remove you from those situations. That’s tough work, but on top of that, it doesn’t want to do much. That’s why real human growth (and change) is so hard, in a nutshell.

If your brain is lazy, you’re basically lazy. (Sorry to break this to you.) In that paradigm, you have two choices regarding work:

  • Fake it until you make it and run around telling everyone how slammed and busy you are (most of the populace)
  • Embrace your laziness and use it as a motivating factor

How can laziness be a motivator? Try to take work down to the most granular level possible. What is it? No, it’s not your self-worth. This is what it is: someone assigns you a series of tasks, projects, or deliverables … and then, in return, they pay you. If you’re a fry cook, an Uber driver, or a corporate executive of a Fortune 10 firm — that description applies in each case. In reality, the only things that should actually matter are the results of what you do.

Of course, that’s not the case — and it’s not the case because workplaces are populated by humans, and humans are creatures of emotion and not creatures of logic. If you want to explore that more, think about the dumbest thing that happened to you at work this week. Try to explain it logically to a six year-old child. You essentially cannot. That’s work in a nutshell.

If the base idea is that the results are what matter, though, and you come to grips with this idea that you’re basically a lazy person, then embrace that laziness. Sit around and read News articles and troll social media and text with your friends. Do that as a mind break and connection avenue, right?

And then, bam … pockets of real, focused, on-task work. 1 hour or so. Maybe 2.

And then go back to being lazy.

This is basically how I work: Written a little about ‘eating your frogs in the morning,’ which means tackling big tasks first. I try to do that. But honestly, I mix up my day with a bunch of stuff: YouTube, music, texting, blogging, reading, taking a walk, etc. You could argue all of that is “lazy.” It’s not heads-down, seat-time, deliverables-focused, no. But when I work, I work. I’ll knock out 5-10 things in an hour (provided they are not deeper-dive projects that require more time, which sometimes they are). IMHO, the only reason I can hit deliverables and targets (such as I have any) is because I balance out my time with the lazy stuff.

The laziness gives more focus to the work time. 

It’s not rocket science, is it?

What do you think — can you use laziness as a motivator, or do you think lazy people are the scourge of the working world? 


Ted Bauer


  1. Those people who are really, genuinely lazy don’t even bother to look for a more effcient way to work. They just don’t do the work, or they do it poorly.
    Those who look for efficiency, shortcuts & the like are not lazy, they just don’t want t get bored with stupid and/or repetitive work that is mind-numbing. They are interested in the real work instead.

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