written by
Iain Smith

The Unexpected Benefits Of Being Lazy

Energy 4 min read

I’m not so sure that being lazy is such a terrible trait. In certain areas of life I think that laziness can be hugely beneficial. Let me explain why but first we'll take a quick trip to Asia Minor.

We took our summer family holiday in beautiful Dalyan in Turkey and my wife and I enjoyed early morning strolls by the river before the heat kicked in.

It wasn't difficult getting up early when the view is as good as this.

Lazy River In Dalyan

Stunning mountain backdrop and ancient royal tombs carved into the hillside. We were rewarded with sightings of kingfishers, sea snakes and wild tortoises meandering in and out of the bushes on the bank.

Best of all was spotting graceful loggerhead turtles gently breaking the green surface for a moment before drifting away again under the calm water.

I love getting up and out on a morning, starting the day before the world wakes up.

Kids These Days Eh?

My teenage daughters on the other hand are the exact opposite and, by the time my wife and I had finished our walk and taken a leisurely (and enormous!) village breakfast, they were both still firmly located in the land of nod.

People often label teenagers as lazy but innately you know this isn’t true. I can’t believe a whole block of the population just decides to down tools one day.

Research suggests that sleeping patterns are due to the biological changes that occur through the teenage years. Trying to go to bed at 9pm for teenagers is like their parents going to bed at 6pm.  

Neuroscientist Dean Burnett says “Criticising a teen for sleeping too much is like having a go at someone running a marathon for breathing too hard.

My point isn’t really about whether or not kids these days are lazy or not, it’s about challenging the idea that laziness is a bad thing. 

Lazy is bad, right?

I’m not so sure that laziness is such a terrible trait. In certain areas of life I think that laziness can be hugely beneficial.

General von Manstein thought this too, specifically about leadership. He was a senior German commander in WWII and he categorised his officers into four groups based on their behavioural habits.

There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers and he combined two characteristics at a time to come up with the four groups.

These are the different types of officer:

  • clever and diligent
  • stupid and lazy
  • clever and lazy
  • stupid and diligent

This is the matrix that the General has named after him.

The Von Manstein Matrix

And this is what he had to say about his matrix.

There are only four types of officer.  

First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone – they do no harm.  

Second, there are the hard-working intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring that every detail is properly considered.

Third, there are the hard-working, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody.  

Finally, there are the intelligent lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office.”

There’s a heck of a lot you could unpick from this - I love the concept of #3, the motivated idiot! It explains a lot. We've all met our fair share of energetic and well meaning disaster zones in our time!

Lazy And The Best

Focusing on the intelligent/lazy combination, von Manstein believed people who are clever and lazy are good at making difficult decisions.

This is because they have the cerebral ability to find solutions but also (and crucially) a strong desire to make everything easy and simple to administer. They will be the ones who find Occam’s Razor.

Good leaders are often intelligent and lazy because they instinctively cut through the nonsense. Dealing with nonsense is hard work and a waste of time and lazy people abhor having to do stuff that doesn’t generate a quick and fruitful end result.

  • They steer clear of being busy for the sake of it
  • They don’t schedule pointless meetings
  • They are effective at delegating, and allow others to get on with their work without interfering unnecessarily
  • They prioritise effectively, focusing on the things that matter

Wouldn’t you love a boss who was like this - efficient, focused, productive and who lets you get on with your work? 

Or to be that boss? Maybe try embracing your lazier side a little more.

Or perhaps we should just put the teenagers in charge. When they’ve got out of bed of course!

Iain helps organisations get more done, in less time and reduce stress. He delivers inspiring training courses across the UK and abroad. You can contact him here.

He writes a weekly top tips newsletter that you can sign up for on this very page, or by visiting his website.

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