Project Journal55

“Progress Isn’t Made by Early Risers. It’s Made by Lazy Men Trying to Find Easier Ways to Do Something. ― Robert A. Heinlein”

Are you “Lazy Intelligent”?

That sounds like something an unsuccessful, lazy slacker would say, isn’t it? Actually, it’s the opposite. One of America’s most influential and controversial science fiction authors Robert Heinlein uttered these words during his time. Despite his nod to laziness, Heinlein went on to pen hit titles such as Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land.

Project Managers Might Take Note!

Productive laziness is not about doing absolutely nothing at all. It’s not about just sitting around and drinking coffee or engaging in idle gossip while watching the non-delivered project milestones disappear into the horizon. In fact, this behavior would lead to a very short-lived project management career.

Laziness Is Not Synonymous with Stupidity

Instead, productive laziness should be viewed as a more focused approach to project management. Adopting this mindset means concentrating efforts where it really matters, rather than spreading yourself thing over unimportant, non-critical activities that in some cases don’t need to be addressed at all.

According to the Pareto Principle — Also Known as the “80/20 Rule” — 80 Percent of the Consequences Stem from 20 Percent of the Causes.

While the idea has a rule-of-thumb application, it’s also commonly misused. For example, just because one solution fits 80 percent of cases, that doesn’t mean it only requires 20 percent of the resources needed to solve all cases.

The principle, suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran, was named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80 percent of property in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. As a result, it was assumed that most of the result in any situation was determined by a small number of causes.

Every smart but lazy person should consider the 80/20 Rule each day. For project managers, the principle is a reminder to concentrate on the 20 percent of work that really matters.

Contrary to belief, 80 percent of success is not just showing up. In fact, only 20 percent of what you do during the day will produce 80 percent of your results. Therefore, it is important to identify and focus on that 20 percent during the working day.

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When genius and laziness meet, the results can be magical. Being just the right combination of smart and lazy can bring you to have a real edge over others. Interestingly enough, smart lazy people are generally better suited for leadership roles in organizations. These people make great strategic thinkers and leaders. They do things in a smart way in order to expend the least effort. They don’t rush into things, taking that little bit of extra time to think and find the shortest, best path.

They question, contradict, and show dissent against inefficient methods or unnecessary tasks.

“Whenever There Is a Hard Job to Be Done, I Assign It to a Lazy Man; He Is Sure to Find an Easy Way of Doing It. — Bill Gates”

Bill’s not the only guy, who believes that laziness doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. German Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke was the chief of staff for the Prussian Army for 30 years. He is regarded as one of the greatest strategists of the latter 1800s among historical scholars and is the creator of the more modern method of directing armies in the field.

Moltke observed his troops and categorized them based on their intelligence, diligence and laziness. If soldiers proved to be both lazy and smart, they were promoted to leadership because they knew how to be successful with efficiency. If soldiers were smart and diligent, they were deployed into a staff function, focusing on the details. Soldiers who were not smart and lazy were left alone in hopes they would come up with a great idea someday. Finally, soldiers who were not smart but diligent were removed from ranks.

Like Moltke’s army, the lazy project manager is all about applying these principles in the delivery and management of projects. You’re likely not stupid since you’ve landed the management position, but how are your lazy skills? Applying smart-lazy tactics will not only allow your projects to be more successful, but you will also be seen as a successful individual and a top candidate for future leadership roles.

Think return on investment (time spent versus money earned ratio) rather than busy work and don’t restrict yourself to a certain way of doing things just for the sake of the status quo.

These people make great strategic thinkers and leaders. They do things in a smart way in order to expend the least effort. They don’t rush into things, taking that little bit of extra time to think and find the shortest, best path.

In the wise words of Bill Gate’s and American automotive industrialist Walter Chrysler, “Whenever there is a hard job to be done, assign it to a lazy man or woman for that matter; as he or she is sure to find an easy way of doing it.”

Co-Author Peter Taylor

Described as “perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today”, Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

Peter also acts as an independent consultant for companies all over the world, advising and coaching executive sponsors, PMO leaders and project managers.


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  1. God's Hot Spot

    Seeing is believing mindset causes eye service often seen as busyness create an environment of waste of time and valuable resources. Take two people given an identical task in the office. The restless ‘busy body’ taught that constantly moving shovling and things about looks like hard work. Meanwhile the time focussed person seats still exploring options quietly and making notes. Eventually the calm reflective deep thinker gets Eureka aha moment breakthrough to complete the task. The busy body loud announcing every second what they are thinking and planning to do outwardly seem busier. Although busy body more engaging with colleagues updating them of all stages of their intentions, it is the lazy smart that really works hard to deliver better results. Yet in contrast the busy body’s charm and small talk gains attention to please the boss for rapid promotion. The busy body is pleasant, good communicator, has latest gossip while the productive lazy deep thinker comes across as boring. A lazy smart focused person zooms in on specifics without wasting too much on one task for perfection. There is miconception also time wasted reviewing so many times brings out the best result. The truth is after going round in circles for days indecisive, in the end goes back to drawing board to recover original work abandoned in the first place. So lazy smart goes straight to the point. But ‘busy body’ goes the long winding road only to go back to restart again from the beginning after wasting time tired and stressed over nothing. This is a major factor causing unnecessary delay of bureaucracy. So reconstructs the same thing over and over again in search of perfection yet costs more. Finally, the product or service is worse than before, more complicated costs too much to maintain the business at a good profit margin.

  2. thejourneyofanagileidiot

    Agility and Scrum take the laziness aspect to breaking down work into small pieces where intelligence can be applied to solve it. The approach is to build by design a method where we are cognizant of the fact the people struggle with system 2 thinking and the brain always wants to get away with doing less

  3. Dr. Pam Young

    I spend a lot of time “spacing out”, and if you read my last blog post (“The Last Word”) you know how productive I was–even during the four black-cloud years of challenges which included no use of my dominant arm from autumn 2012 through summer of 2013, As a project manager when I was still doing that kind of thing, I hired the ones with creative tendencies and relevant skills–then let them go for it.