The Paradox of Lazy Work

Is it possible to be lazy and accomplish what you want to do or do you need to work hard in order to succeed? 

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since I stumbled upon the Productivity Showdown at Slackermanager where Steve Pavlina and Fred Gratzon (author of The Lazy Way to Success) engaged in a three-day debate about whether it’s laziness or hard work that leads to success.  After having eagerly consumed both Fred’s book and Steve’s posts, I still felt empty, having gotten no closer to an answer.  They both seemed right but if that were true, that would be paradoxical.

This paradox naturally intrigued me so I was compelled to resolve it.  In order to resolve it, let’s go back to the very definition of work.  But not to the kind of work that people do at their jobs (though we will get to that soon), but rather Work, as is used in physics.  Simply, Work is the transfer of energy from one system to another.  The simplest formula is W=Fd (where Work is Force multiplied by distance).  Any combination of force and distance can achieve some amount of Work.  You can have a small force going for a long distance or a large force going a short distance to accomplish the same amount of Work.  Work always involves motion of some sort.  For example, if you have to move a boulder, you have several options to accomplish this.  You could push it (using the force of your muscles), you could set it on an incline so that it rolls down by itself (using the force of gravity), you could pull it with a tractor (using technology), or you could use any number of other methods to get the boulder to move some distance.

Most options for getting Work done fall into the following categories:

  • Your own labor
  • Someone else’s labor
  • Technology (e.g. tractor, computer, ox)
  • Time, growth, or natural change
  • Natural laws or resources (e.g. gravity, a waterfall, sun’s energy)

Now let’s see if we can apply the physics law to the world of work as we think of it.  Suppose you have some work you want to do.  Before you roll up your sleeves and get to work, consider the following: 

Work is a noun before it is a verb.

In other words, a Work is an accomplishment, an end result of force applied over distance.  But what does that mean?  It means that if you view work as an end result and not an activity (at least not yet), you open up the possibility of multiple paths to get to that result.  Let me give an example.

Let’s say that you have to add 1,000 numbers together.  How many different ways are there to accomplish this task?  You have options from among the categories I listed above.  You could add the numbers yourself using a pencil and paper, you could use a calculator, you could write a computer program that will do this for you, you could delegate it to someone else to do or find some other solution I didn’t list.  In this example, you have multiple options for adding the numbers and you can choose one or more to complete the task.  But is this true for all tasks?  No, and this is where the interesting paradox comes in.

Some tasks have a single option: Your own labor.  For example, if you want to build muscle, I know of no way to delegate it, to use technology to do it for you (though you can certainly use weights or machines to assist you), to use natural resources, or time.  There is only you and if this is something you wish to accomplish, then you have to do the work.

You can only be lazy when you have options.  I believe this is what Fred Gratzon means in his book when he encourages one to find the lever.  In other words, finding the lever means finding the easy, clever solution that doesn’t require you to do any work.  But this is where Fred Gratzon’s book stops short for he doesn’t delve into tasks that have no options other than one’s own labor.  And there are many such tasks.  In fact, a lot of worthwhile tasks fall into this category.  For those tasks, you have no choice but to do them yourself. 

So, what I conclude is not that laziness and work are opposites that are in conflict but rather, that they are labels for two different situations: one in which you have a choice, and one in which you don’t have a choice.  Work begins where options end.  But, as Fred Gratzon indicates in his book, it need not be work if you follow your bliss.

Now that I look at it that way, it’s no longer a paradox. 


~ by truthcurve on February 16, 2007.

3 Responses to “The Paradox of Lazy Work”

  1. I’ve often wondered if I could get a job that didn’t involve work. If I could be a sound technician, for example, then playing with cords and knobs would not be considered work, it would be play. And sure there would be some lifting and manual labour involved, but the majority of it would be twisting knobs and tweaking the work that the amplifiers do to make the sound come out of the speakers. It falls nicely into your categories there. When nothing’s pluggeed in we have no options but to do the work (in the physical sense), but once everything is plugged in, we just push the buttons and twist the knobs, and actually get more done.

  2. Thank you, Taylor for your comments. It is wonderful when you’ve figured out how to push the buttons and let the rest do its work.

  3. […] many things do we view through the lens of “direct action?”  What we think is work that we are doing is really work that we have (almost) nothing to do with.  It is work […]

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