November 12, 2018

I consider myself lazy. People are usually astonished by this, especially when I mention that I make money by writing books on how to become more productive. At weekends, for instance, I prefer spending time lying on the sofa being literally glued to Netflix documentaries or reading a book. The same is true about holidays. While some people travel the world, I am a homebody and usually stay at home and eat pizza. Fortunately, my laziness is exactly what makes me so productive and resourceful. And that is widely recognized by scientists.


Laziness Is One of the Forms of Art that Has Lost Its Value with Time

However, I do not imply laziness, which presupposes spending time on various distractions. What I mean is idleness when we opt for doing nothing whatsoever. Being constantly distracted by various things, we rarely rest mentally. What's more, we waste our time trying to keep up with brand-new distractions – checking our email, flicking through the news, skimming Facebook – activities that only add fuel to our tiredness.

At any particular time, our attention can be focused or unfocused. Focus retains all the attention – it is what helps us get work done, have profound conversations and get our lives going. Strange as it may seem, but according to the research, being unfocused is not less beneficial, but in a different way. While being focused boosts our productivity, being unfocused improves our creativity.

Recall your last creative insight – the odds are high that it did not happen when you set your focus on one thing. Basically, you may have not been focused much at all. You may have been showering for a long time, walking, visiting an exhibition, sitting on a book or lying on the beach. Perhaps you were drinking your morning coffee. Then, all of a sudden, you had a brainwave.

There is an explanation why your brain connected these flashing ideas at that particular time. When our attention is unfocused – just as we idle about – our mind wanders to marvelous places. One study, which from time to time tested people’s thoughts while their minds were wandering, figured this out. The places our mind travels to encompass the future (48% of the time), the present (28%) and the past (12% of the time). For the rest of the time, our mind is predominantly dull or blank. The precise percentages are not that important; however, we should stress that this wandering is not as fruitless as it may seem. An idle mind enables us to do three crucial things:

  • Rest. When we let our mind wander, we do not need to control our attention. It restores our energy, which enables us to focus better later. To some degree, we can avail ourselves of this energy, as it helps to do something enjoyable, easy and usual, while you rest your attention, for example, developing your creative hobby, jogging without music or walking to take a coffee without your cell phone to distract you.
  • Plan. According to the research, we reflect on the future 14 times more often when our attention is unfocused. We also reflect on our long-standing aims seven times as often when our attention is at rest. Acting according to these aims is a different thing, but strategic laziness enables us to set intentions and resort to our aims in the first place.
  • Unearth ideas. Our mind wandering has three mental destinations: the past, the present, and the future. This enables us to have more creative insights than when we are focused. For instance, you may hit upon an idea you came across a few weeks ago and it can be instrumental in solving your current work situation. Our most unexpectedly brilliant and insightful ideas strike us when we are unfocused.

The most efficient ways of boosting your productivity are the ones, to which we contribute more and more time after time – they enable us to achieve much more and work much more effectively. I think that laziness relates to this category.

At any rate, you should laze about more often. Whether it is to rest mentally, come up with splendid ideas or hatch future plans. Remember that sometimes the best way to make something happen is to do nothing whatsoever.

November 12, 2018