Work Smart by Thinking Like a Lazy Person

In The Importance of Being Smart, I wrote how smart people can achieve much more – with much less effort – than those who just work hard. There’s a comment there by Frode that I’d like to discuss:

… lazy people seem to be smarter, as they use a lot of brain energy on finding an easier way to do stuff.

Interesting, isn’t it? Lazy people seem to be smarter. But I agree that thinking like lazy people is a good way to work smart. Here are two reasons:

  1. Lazy people find ways to accomplish something with the least amount of effort. If you are lazy, you will diligently find ways not to work. Applied to finishing tasks, it means that you try to accomplish it with the least amount of work possible.
  2. Lazy people ensure that when they work, they do things that have impact. Why? Because it allows them to gain more with less. They don’t bother doing something that won’t give them results.

Of course, what I mean here is thinking like lazy people, not actually being lazy. You still need to have strong work ethic. But you also need to do things the smart way.

Here are four things you will do if you think like a lazy person:

1. Question whether or not something is worth doing. Don’t do something just because everyone else does it. Ask yourself: is it really necessary? Is it really worth doing? If the answer is no then there is no reason to do it.

2. Do only things with the most impact. Your resources are limited so invest them only on things that give you the most return. Think ROI.

3. Take the shortest path. Don’t waste your time on unnecessary bells and whistles. Do only the things that are necessary to get the job done. Cut everything else.

4. Use as much leverage as possible. Before doing something, find the things you can leverage. Do you know someone in your network who can do it better or faster than you? Can you market it to your existing customers? Can you achieve more than one thing at once? Whatever you do, always use the power of leverage to your advantage.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg


  1. Thanks for this Donald. I don’t necessarily agree with the ethics of lazy people, but I do think that some lazy people find ways to work smarter than people who spend all their time working hard.

    I like your tips that state to question if something is worth doing and do only the things with the most impact, as I think both of these things will help one get work done in the most efficient way possible.

  2. Having worked with a crew at the firehouse for so many years your right in that some one is always working to get the job done faster. Some of the best tools used in firefighting came about that way. great article Thanks

  3. Interesting article and approach. It is true that sometimes people who are a little to driven tend to over do and over think things. The key is to finding that flow and being able to do things well and effortlessly. Who would have thought some of the tips to achieving that would be demonstrated by lazy people.

  4. A good post)) A mixture of Anthony Robbins and Robert Kiyosaki

  5. Tristan,
    Yes, many people just work hard without ever trying to find smarter ways to do things. That’s something we should avoid.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. In the case of firefighting, I think sense of urgency also plays an important role.

    Overthinking is a big problem. Many people (including me) tend to find complicated solutions to a problem.

    Is it? I never thought of it that way 🙂

  6. I enjpy reading your articles, which usually give clear and straightforward advises. However, I do not afree with this text. It implies that a mediocre approach to life will have the same result as a hard-working person. Furthermore, in such a competitive world where people strive to do their best, seems unreasonable to imply this. It is only the case of exceptions or luck, where people do well with little effort. I think your article will be improved if you consider that this philosophy only should be taken from a time-management perspective. I hope this is helpful.

  7. While one should somewhat think like a lazy person, that isn’t always the case and one should definitely not “work” like a lazy person most of the time.

    Faster and more efficient is not always the answer and you have to be conscious about the aspects of quality that you employ. You can “fix” the leaky pipe cheaply and quickly with duct tape, but that isn’t a good long term solution. Sometimes you need to spend the extra time and money to get the job done right.

    Most of the people that I know who I would consider lazy are not typically lazy mentally, but are lazy physically. They are not basking in the glory of a job done better, but simply not doing the work.

    I have been very careful in preparing our 15 yr old son for the world of work. Don’t just work very very hard, but work smart too. Once a good solution has been found, work very hard at making it happen. Thankfully he has actually learned the lessons and got great reviews from people that he has worked for. Each of them, at some point, has told him to slow down or take a break. They know that they are get well more than their moneys worth and will come looking for him when they need something else done. He also uses the mindless hard work time to figure out a better way and moves to that.

  8. Along a smiler line is a great short story “the man who was to lazy to fail” by Robert a Hineline. It is hidden in his book time enough for love (which is really a book of philosophy hidden in a novel) and tells the story of a smart kid who gains great things by finding the lowest effort solution to his problems.

  9. Cool post… I don’t know if I’m “lazy”, but I sue get my best ideas and inspirations when I’m in a relaxed mode… When I try to force things, nothing usually happens…

    Claus 😀

  10. Ismael,
    Thanks for the suggestion. Just to clarify, I’m not against working hard. You do need to have strong work ethic.What I disagree is if you just work hard without first thinking about the most efficient way to do things. This article encourages the readers to do the thinking before doing the work.

    I like your points. Thinking like a lazy person can easily be misunderstood as trying to find a quick fix while sacrificing quality. That’s not the case, of course. I wrote this post with the story in The Importance of Being Smart in mind. In the story, Zhuge Liang thought like a lazy person (because he looked for a way not to make the 100,000 arrows), but he didn’t sacrifice quality in the process.

    I’ve never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing it with us.


    When I try to force things, nothing usually happens…

    Same here 🙂

  11. […] Thinking is a discipline. Sure. But here’s a Life Optimizer’s take on thinking like a lazy person in order to work smart. […]

  12. Hi Donald, long time no speak 🙂

    I think this is great advice. I immediately thought of my son who tries to get away with everything like leaving jackets, schoolbag, clothes, cups, everything lying about all over the house. He knows he has to pick them up and put them away but he walks away in the hope no one will shout him back to pick everything up. When I asked why he does this all the time when he knows he won’t get away with it, he replied ‘because there’s always a chance you won’t shout me back’ – How do you argue with logic like that 🙂

  13. Interesting to hear about how firefighters came with ideas for tools that way.

    Does remind me about how a friend of mine was somewhat amazed about my organising skills when I had to improvise some things to create an instant lunch for a rather large group with hardly any time left before the visitors came, by simply making it easy on myself without making it seem like I didn’t take any care for it, I did take good care of it I only did it in
    an easy ‘Lazy Way’ with ‘Rocked speed’ 🙂

    I became to ambrace ‘The Lazy Way’ because of a Telesemenar with that title. First I thought, this probably is all highly questionable and probably some kind of scam. But it actually all made a lot of sense!

    (At my Travel Blogspot you can find a link to this Book highly recommended book by scrolling all the way down till – in Big Blue Letters you see the title ‘Digital Photography’ than below in the left corner you will see it under the title ‘Higly Recommended’)

    You can find my Travel Blogspot at:

    All the Best,
    To your Happy – Lazy Way – Inspiration,

  14. […] Optimizer: Sounds counterintuitive, but this post suggests you can get more done by adopting the mindset of a couch potato. (”Work Smart by Thinking Like a Lazy […]

  15. Hi Steven, yes, long time no speak 🙂 I’m glad to see you’ve written many popular articles recently.

    What an interesting story. That’s a smart way of thinking. It’s often surprising to see how people are “applying” this principle 🙂

  16. HP,
    Thanks for the information.

  17. I think the point here isn’t to be lazy in the sense of “not working hard”, but to choose what you work hard on wisely and not to waste your time unnecessarily.

    For example, the other day I was getting together a database of Holidays for an iPhone app I was working on. Being a perfectionist in nature, my first inclination was to gather the list of holidays for EVERY country across the world, which was very time intensive, and would have taken over a week.

    My wife took a look at me and said “Why are you doing that? No-one has ever downloaded your app from those countries. Why not focus on the top 40 countries? If the app does well, you can go back and put in the other countries as well if you want.”

    I followed her advice and spent the week I would have spent on a task mainly to satisfy my perfectionist nature instead on adding new features to my app that will make more of a difference to the typical user.

  18. @Ray, capturing Amish holidays wouldn’t gain you much. 😉

  19. Ray,
    Yes, it can be seen that way. You still need to have strong work ethic, but you should be smart about what to work on and how.

  20. LOVE IT! and sooo true!

  21. Lazy people can be very smart, but lazy people can also be stupid.

    Being lazy and finding ways to be more efficient makes sense and all of us want more free time and reduced stress.

    What’s the point of doing a task that requires an entire day when a smart person finds a way of getting the same job done in just half the time.

    I would now like to focus on what I dislike about lazy people.

    I don’t like lazy individuals who use other people in a disingenuous and manipulative way.
    It’s even worse when lazy people trick others and those who are being deceived gain nothing for their efforts.

    I also believe some people can be excessively lazy and this isn’t smart, but actually counterproductive.
    I live in the same house as my landlady and she’s clever enough to find ways to make everything more effortless, but as a result she is over weight and terrible unfit.

    Lets imagine you live in a shared accommodation with other people and one of your fellow tenants is driving one mile to your local shop and you always take advantage of this opportunity to avoid walking, I think this is a breeding ground for ill health.
    People become too comfortable with their effortless way of life and struggle to pull themselves out of their laziness.

    Furthermore, lazy people might be gifted at finding ways of getting jobs done sooner, but they’re not always skilled at mitigation and sometimes taking the easy route leads to injury or even death.

    But then again if you’re smart you’ll use over people and they take on all the danger.
    You could say that same lazy people lack basic Morality.

    Anyway, I hope that some smart lazy person will strike a healthy balance and that’s good for you and others, but don’t be a shit head and take liberties.

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