In this article, I will cover
- The reason why we are lazy
- The factors which influence laziness
- How to overcome laziness
You thought you were lazy? Let’s see if you can beat this story. The whole incident is narrated by a bystander on a ship.
One morning, our narrator was having breakfast when a man showed up zombie-eyed. He grabbed a bagel and sat on a table next to him. He did not seem to be in a mood to do anything.
After sitting down for a few minutes, he picked up the phone and said, “this is Mike from Operations. Can you move the ship 15 degrees to the west?” He disconnected the phone and waited for a bit. The ship started deviating from its course little by little.
It took a while for the narrator to realize what had just happened. As the ship moving towards the west, the sun stopped shining on the face of the operations officer.
The lazy man had ordered a huge freaking ship to move just to avoid the sunlight in his eyes. He had no plans to budge his ass on to a different table.
As he bit on his bagel, the narrator and the officer made eye contact. The officer smiled with a sense of pride for what he had just pulled off.
Well, before you mock the officer, we all have our stories of laziness too. No matter how successful and active you are, you will procrastinate in some area or the other. After all, all human beings have laziness ingrained in them.
- Why are we lazy?
- How to overcome laziness in 8 ways
- 1. The 5 second rule:
- 2. The 2 minute rule
- 3. Stop waiting for the 30 min or the hour
- 4. Make the first step easy
- 5. Use visual cues
- 6. Design a reward system for yourself
- 7. Introduce friction for distractions
- 8. Convert bigger goals into a simple task
- 9. Don’t let the fear of failure bother you
Why are we lazy?
Before I get to how to overcome laziness, let us find out possible reasons why we are lazy. The reason why we are lazy has various theories. Out of the many, three of them stand out.
The evolutionary reason:
Consider any living thing, a human being on the street, a lion in the jungle, or a shark in the ocean. All of them require energy to perform an action. The more activities you complete, the more energy you spend.
For the same reason, Michael Phelps, the Olympic Swimmer, consumed four times the calories an average person would.
Back in time, food was not as abundant as it is today. You could not walk into a supermarket with a cart and return with all the food you needed.
Human beings and other living things had to find food for themselves. The primary source of food was hunting. If a person managed to kill a deer today, he could consume the meat for a day or two. Due to the lack of refrigerators, the excess food would decompose.
Though time has changed since then, evolution works over centuries or more. Your body still believes that expending the least energy aids your survival.
The principle of least effort:
This principle was first suggested in 1894 by Guillaume Ferrero, a French philosopher. The principle applies in various fields such as biology, physics, web design, and real life.
Take for example, walking from point A to point B. You will, by instinct, choose the path which requires the least effort to complete the task.
Sure, if you’re planning to work out and burn calories, you will choose a longer route. But when you have no other reason to complete a simple task, your brain looks for the easiest way to achieve it.
Any task which comes with a reward also comes with a baggage of effort.
- Need a clean cupboard? You have to put effort into cleaning it.
- Want to reduce the flab around your waist? You need to exercise and start eating healthy.
- Looking for a large bank balance? You must spend time improving your skills and find ways to generate more income.
Unfortunately, the benefits of current comfort can cause long term rewards to take a backseat. You prefer enjoying the present pleasure over the better reward which comes in the future.
How to overcome laziness in 8 ways
Here are techniques presented by different people to help you overcome laziness. Using these, you can stop waiting and start doing.
1. The 5 second rule:
Mel Robbins suggested this technique in her book, which goes by the same name, the 5 second rule. The idea is to use a countdown when you feel like postponing the action. Counting down 5-4-3-2-1 helps you take the necessary action.
Human beings have an instinct to act after a countdown. Therefore, the rule produces excellent results. Have you noticed how you scream Happy New Year and hug people around as soon as the countdown is over? The same effect helps you begin the action on any tasks you feel like procrastinating.
- Feel like hitting the snooze button? Countdown 5-4-3-2-1 and sit up.
- Want to watch another episode on Netflix? Countdown 5-4-3-2-1 and finish your unfinished work.
- Planning to postpone replying to an email? Countdown 5-4-3-2-1 and send a reply
2. The 2 minute rule
David Allen suggested the technique in his book Getting Things Done. The rule suggests – if a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, finish it right away.
The reasoning behind the method is, recalling the task, gathering the information in your head, and then performing it takes longer than 2 minutes. Besides, you might also forget about the job altogether.
- Planning to go on a break and remembered you had a quick call to make? Pick the phone up and call.
- Want to leave the soda can on the couch? Walk to the kitchen and dump it in the dustbin.
- Noticed a task on your to-do list that you can knock off right away? Do it now.
You must complete the task irrespective of the priority of the task because you only need 2 minutes anyway.
If you believe you have more important things to do than complete an easy task quickly, you are only convincing yourself to procrastinate. Barring emergencies, you always have 2 minutes to complete the job even if it isn’t the most important to do right now.
3. Stop waiting for the 30 min or the hour
I used to start a task only when the clock hits a 30 minute or hourly mark like 9:30 AM or 2 PM.
There were days when I was all set at my desk at 9:20 AM. But I would not start a task because I convinced myself that 9:30 AM was ideal. Why? I have no clue.
Because I had 10 minutes to spare, I would watch a Youtube video. At 9:30 AM, I would not have finished the video yet. By the time I completed watching the entire video, 6 extra minutes would have elapsed.
I would then wait for 9:45 to get started. The cycle repeated again and again, leading to a ton of wasted time.
Do not wait for a specific time to start a task. When you are ready to begin, just begin.
4. Make the first step easy
The hardest part of any task is taking the first step. The difficulty steams from 2 reasons:
The effort required for the first step:
For example, if you are planning to start hitting the gym, the toughest part is getting into the right outfit and reaching the gym. Once you reach the location, working out isn’t too hard. The barrier created by the first step becomes the task harder.
When the first step seems hard, try making the first step as easy as possible. If you feel lazy to find your clothes for the gym in the morning, keep them ready before going to bed. The smoother the first step is, the higher the chances of completing the task.
Lack of clarity of the first step:
Sometimes, you look at the goal as a whole and do not know how to begin. For example, you want to start your venture, but you do not know the right first step. The confusion of what action to take can create a barrier of postponing the first step itself.
In such cases, break the larger goal into smaller pieces. If you still find it hard to identify the first step, pick one small task, and get started. For bigger goals, getting started and building momentum is more beneficial than finding the perfect first step. Once you begin, correcting mistakes, if any, isn’t too hard.
5. Use visual cues
As human beings, we are visual creatures. You can process images faster than words. Let us say you’re driving down the road, and you notice a large board that reads, “This is a table.” A little further down the road, you see another board that has a picture of the table.
Which one among the two can you analyze faster? The answer is obvious. The picture of the table conveys the message more quickly than words.
You can use your visual senses to motivate you to get work done, especially the long term projects.
If you want to start a blog, stick a chart paper on your wall, and use a marker to draw a circle for every task you complete. It does not matter if the task is as small as spending 10 minutes talking to a friend who has a blog. Write it down and circle it.
Use any visual cue you like. I use a calendar layout on the wall and put a tick mark if I achieve my daily target of writing.
Invent your own cues and use them. The joy of completing a task and marking it as finished is unparalleled.
6. Design a reward system for yourself
As a kid, what did your parents do to motivate you to complete a task or earn good grades? They promised a reward. You got an ice-cream for cleaning the yard or a bicycle for doing well in studies.
Did the method work? Of course, it did. You have done things as a kid to bag that reward. Sometimes, the joy was not the reward itself but the pleasure of earning it.
Even as an adult, rewards are still in use to motivate people. Organizations pay bonuses to the person who did the best and promote outstanding performers to a higher role. All these are nothing but rewards.
Unfortunately, you may not always have an external person handing out rewards to complete your personal goals. To bridge the gap, reward yourself for completing a task.
When the goal is more significant, treat yourself when you make progress and reach a milestone. Do not wait until the whole project is complete.
7. Introduce friction for distractions
James Clear suggested the method of introducing friction for bad habits in his book Atomic Habits. Your mind loves reacting to distractions. The practice of turning on the TV and checking the refrigerator is a sneaky way your brain uses to avoid work.
The technique suggests adding an extra step between you and the distraction. By making the distraction harder, your decrease your chances of wasting time.
Let me explain with an example. When you sit on the couch, you pick up the remote and turn on the TV. Your brain has wired such actions into your behavior. You act without applying any thought.
To break such unconscious action, you must introduce an additional step. If you unplug the TV or leave the remote in the kitchen, the next time, you cannot turn on the TV. You must get your ass off the couch to turn the TV on or walk to the kitchen to fetch the remote. Your brain isn’t prepared for such friction.
You will avoid such distractions by breaking the loop of your habits. Since your brain loves any act of laziness, one way to tackle the problem is to make laziness itself harder to achieve.
8. Convert bigger goals into a simple task
When you look at a bigger goal, the effort required will seem overwhelming. Also, the goal might require effort in so many different areas that you give up before even starting.
Let us take an example where you want to make a billion dollars within the next 10 years. When you look at the goal itself, it seems so enormous that you dream about it, feel good about yourself, and do nothing.
In no time, 10 years would have passed, and the dream will remain only a dream. To make bigger goals easier to achieve, break them down into manageable tasks.
To make a billion dollars, what should you have accomplished in 5 years? Should you have a business of your own? Do you have to reach an executive position in a massive firm?
Whatever you believe is necessary, break it down further. What should you do within the next 2 years? Keep going until you find a task to do today.
The task can be something as simple as thinking of possible business ideas for 1 hour. Unless you break a huge goal down to smaller tasks to work on daily, you will have a hard time accomplishing it.
A smaller task helps you overcome laziness because it seems easy to do.
9. Don’t let the fear of failure bother you
Do you fear to attempt a task because you do not want to fail? If so, start looking at the task from a different light.
Look at the rewards that you will receive if you succeed. If you still fear the act, narrow down the exact reason behind the fear. Chances are, you can find a solution. Many a time, your fear does not cause the disastrous consequences you think.
Are you afraid to start working out in the gym because you do not know the right technique or because you’re not fit? Pay for personal training for a month. If you’re worried people will judge you, your fear is invalid because people don’t bother much.
If you’re worried about starting a venture and failing, ask yourself, what is your fear? Are you afraid of the impression you will create after a failed business? Or are you scared about losing the comfortable job you have?
I had the fear that people will make fun of me if my business fails. I went ahead anyway and the business failed. But no one said or did anything. People were too busy with their own lives. The fear was only in my mind.
If you’re scared about losing the job you have, ask yourself how difficult is it to find another job? If you’re confident enough to start your venture, you will have enough organizations waiting to hire you even if your business fails.
I admit that fear of failure isn’t easy to overcome. But you know what is worse than the fear of failure? Regret.
It is better to have tried and failed than not have tried at all.
To understand how to overcome laziness, you have to battle your natural human instincts and the influence of the surroundings. But finally, the sole person capable of making the change happen is you.
Overcoming laziness starts and ends within your mind. The day you make up your mind to punch laziness in the face, you have won half the battle already.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.