Like many of us, I grew up with the virtue of hard work extolled endlessly in a never-ending refrain. I come from an immigrant family so the classic narrative of starting from nothing and toiling away in order to claw one’s way up the ladder of success is practically ingrained into my DNA. It’s an upbringing I’m proud of, and indeed conscientiousness has taken me far in life. But ever since I became a business owner, I’ve been trying my darnedest to unlearn this as my default work mode.

It was a turning point to ask myself: is there actual good that comes from laziness? The surprising answer is yes.

Finishing everything on your to-do list is a short-lived triumph

The transition from employee to entrepreneur had me taking a hard look for the first time at how I approach work. I started noticing that for all the bullheaded determination and long hours I put into my work, I wasn’t harnessing a proportional amount of results for my efforts. Further self-evaluation revealed that two habits, in particular, were causing a disturbing amount of energy and time waste:

1) An addiction to finishing whatever task is put in front of me

I noticed I had the habit of rampaging through my to-do list indiscriminately and finally saw it for what it really was: an addiction to busy work, to the instant gratification of crossing something off my list. This habit kept me constantly in a reactive state, jumping to respond to whatever flew my way and forgetting what my priorities were in the first place. To use an analogy I heard from Anastacia, I was approaching tasks as a sheep in the field mindlessly grazing on the grass in front of her instead of being the eagle soaring in the sky, strategically assessing the lay of the land. These days instead of doing something just for the sake of feeling productive, I remember that thinking must precede the doing: I assess whether the task is necessary and hold the *why* of what I’m doing at the forefront of my mind.

2) Putting too much focus on how a task is done rather than on the result itself

I’m very meticulous and particular about the way I do things: everything has to be done just so, things must be put in their proper place. Left unchecked, I can get overly hung-up over minutiae and end up prioritizing details over the result of the task. But the bottom line is that results matter more than the method used to obtain them. Crafting the perfect response to a client inquiry is less important than sending a response in a timely manner for instance. Setting up the most studied and ambitious workout program doesn’t mean anything if I don’t actually go through and stick to it.

Laziness is underrated and gets more of a bad rep than it deserves. To clarify, I’m not advocating that laziness replaces hard work. Rather, I’m proposing that laziness ought to be incorporated as a lens into our daily operating systems. I now see laziness as having a profound respect for one’s own time and energy. As working smart, not hard, to achieve your objectives. As finding the most effective path to the maximum result while expending the least amount of energy and time possible. The smart, lazy person is more likely to live with more ease, to prioritize what gives them the most pleasure and happiness, and consequently, more likely to enjoy their life.

Nowadays, instead of mindlessly putting my nose to the grindstone on an endless list of tasks, I question first whether I need to do it and if it’s the best path to my desired result. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to apply this concept to your own workflow:

Do you really have to answer those emails?

Instead of automatically answering all the emails that land in your inbox, ask yourself: How could you receive less emails in the first place? Could you put up a FAQs page on your website that serves as a catch-all for your most common inquiries? Could you divert certain categories of emails to your virtual assistant? Could you implement a scheduling program so that you could remove all the email back-and-forth associated with making appointments?

Do you really have to go to that event or workshop or speaking gig?

In the first six months of starting my business, I eagerly signed myself up for networking events and business development trainings galore. Everything seemed to be brimming with potential opportunities to learn or meet valuable contacts. Now I look back and see how ineffective it was to spread my energy and time so thin. And it turns out that two hours of sending personalized emails to potential clients from the comfort of my own home created more results than eight hours of event attendance ever did. Next time a shiny event opportunity catches your attention, ask yourself: what *exactly* do you hope to get out of it? Beware of any nebulous answers like “meeting more people” or “learning new skills” – make sure instead that it has a specific takeaway that directly furthers one of your business goals.

Do you really have to run everything manually in your business? Are you reinventing the wheel every day?

Have you created formalized business processes? What can you delegate or automate? Take for instance your client intake process: if you’re doing something new and different every time you get a new client, you’re throwing away time and energy. Instead, define the steps of your process, create the necessary email templates and supporting documents, incorporate any automated systems and pass it off to your VA! Applying this to all your business operations from invoicing and financial record-keeping to hiring team members and launching new products will shave hours off your workload.

Do you really have to do everything on your to-do list?

Finishing everything on your to-do list is a short-lived triumph; tomorrow brings with it a whole new round of tasks and errands. Your daily focus shouldn’t be on finishing all your tasks, it should be on getting through 1-3 of the most important items. Take the time to assess what “important” means. Two rules of thumb I use: first, urgent is not the same as important. And second, the truly important task(s) are usually the ones we’re the most resistant to tackling: once accomplished they should have you ending your day feeling satisfied with the day’s work. Finally, with these important tasks finished, give yourself permission to skip off into the sunshine. Let your primal laziness remind you of a truth that we often forget in today’s productivity-obsessed world: that you don’t live to work – you work to live the life you love!

Portrait of Jess VanAbout our guest blogger: Jess Van is a virtual assistant & biz support pro. Word lover & comms nerd. Internet tinkerer. Travel culture junkie.

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