The Laziness Advantage
"I always choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it."
- Bill Gates (allegedly…)
When Zeus’s very naughty son, Tantalus, decided to cook his own son and feed the poor boy to the almighty Gods of Mount Olympus and see if they’d notice, they did, and got very angry.
So angry, they punished Tantalus to an ironic & never-ending torment…
Stood in a pool of water under a tantalising grape tree, whenever Tantalus reached up for a quick snack, the branches were raised just out of his grasp.
Likewise, whenever he bent down for a cheeky swig of dihydrogen monoxide, the water receded, just escaping his yearning lips.
(Oh how I yearn for more creative punishment of criminals like the Old Greeks! Prison is so predictable.)
Always reaching, always striving, but it’s never quite enough.
A constant state of dissatisfaction. And a sad allegory for 21st century life.
This is the Productivity Paradox.
The more productive you get, the further the goalposts shift.
And the sum of it is never feeling “enough”.
Like rolling a boulder up a mountain, just reaching its peak, only to realise there’s another mountain. And another mountain. And another mountain just beyond.
And before long, you’re sick of pushing, and the boulder comes rolling back down, crushing your soul along the way!
The solution here is simple but not easy…
Just Let Go
Let go of your boulder, slide down your mountain, and go for a walk in the park.
The one-step fallacy of “Oh it’s fine to be apocalyptically miserable now because once I achieve my goal I’ll be happy” never works!
The human condition is inextricable: as soon you reach your goal, your brain will autogenerate a string of new problems to solve, and new goals to feel inadequate about.
Still set goals, just understand they are there to direct you.
If life is a sailing trip, your goal is the destination: yes, it’ll be nice to get there and it's necessary to know where you’re going, but the fun is on the boat.
Your life is right f*cking now.
And if you keep waiting to achieve goal X, it’ll quickly pass you by!
Opening The Floodgates
But back to the Productivity Paradox. It gets much worse.
As technology makes us all “more productive”, the cost of doing things decreases.
Wonderful as this sounds, it is, in fact…the worst thing ever.
Every technological “breakthrough” has also broken down the barriers to entry:
Starting a business is now (basically) free, flooding the market with drop-shipped rebranded junk from Ali Baba and crappy Instagram stores like Manly Bands.
(Please do not buy anything from them.)
There are 5 million podcasts and 50 million YouTube channels. How many of them are good?
You can answer that one^ yourself.
Education has never been cheaper. You can literally listen to free lectures on Quantum Mechanics from professors at Stanford while picking your nose.
But for all that “educational content”, how much have you actually learned? How much do you even remember? How much has your life or understanding of the world actually changed?
Central Banks have printed ~$25 trillion dollars in “new money” to reinvest into the economy following the 2008 financial crisis. Suddenly money was everywhere (except in the hands of people who actually needed it!), and swaggering Silicon Valley tech bros took full advantage: raising millions for startups with no product, no customers, no hope and a 90% failure rate.
GMail + Slack + Zoom = more emails + more notifications + more unnecessary meetings
And now with AI, the cost of creating things has flatlined to zero.
I can’t wait to see what wonderful new innovations come out of it - I’m already having the time of my life on MidJourney:
But I’ll also be cowering in disinterest as the Tsunamis of silly, wasteful AI-powered gimmicks drown the market.
The Great Irony
And this is the great irony of the Productivity Paradox.
The more productive we get, the less likely we are to produce anything that actually matters.
Hand-written letters were meaningful and thoughtful, emails are spammy and procrastinatory.
When starting a business was hard, only the most valiant founders would take the risk, and only on ideas they really thought would change the world.
Now it’s everyone with a positive IQ, and any idea to make a quick buck.
When learning was expensive, you’d only study something if you were really interested in it and you’d make triply sure it’s the right choice.
Now that universities are subsidised by student loans & the government, however, virtually everyone has a degree but almost no one knows why.
Like money? Study Business! Like TikTok? Media Studies! Vaguely interested in people? Go for Sociology!
But the worst effects are seen at the micro level.
Higher productivity creates the illusion that you can do much more than you really can.
By decreasing the “cost” of everything, higher productivity dupes us into “buying” nonsense we don’t need, filling up our lives with rubbish.
Imagine a restaurant, where everything on the menu has dropped in price to close-to-free because the new AI chefs can output grub so damn efficiently.
Whereas before you may have rigorously interrogated the menu, and chosen just a couple dishes that really tickle your tastebuds, now you will order indiscriminately, everything's so cheap after all!
The result? Overindulging on the mediocre starters, and then wishing you had more space for the Roquefort & truffle pear pasta main course.
This is no different to spending your day pinging emails back and forth, and then complaining that you didn’t get anything done.
Just because something is free or cheap to do, doesn’t means it’s worthwhile.
Your time, energy and ability to think are precious resources not to be squandered.
Don’t let crystals distract from diamonds.
The Laziness Advantage
And so at last we arrive at the Laziness Advantage.
In a world where everyone is trying to do everything all at once…
Your advantage is your laziness.
At work, when my team present 6 million ways to do something, I sit back, yawn, and choose the laziest possible thing - i.e. the lowest effort way to achieve my desired result.
In advance of my book launch next year, I’ve been pitched podcasts, writing every day, starting a YouTube channel, blablabla, to increase my “social media presence”.
But I’ve gone for the laziest possible option: one newsletter, repurposed by a virtual assistant across various platforms; sending voice notes which get posted as written content or AI-animated snippets; and anything else will be handled by the Social Media Director I'm recruiting.
(We’ll see if it works ;)
And the same for the rest of my life:
Wanna get fit? Forget the gym, go for a walk, play a bit of basketball or ping pong, fidget as much as possible, and drink one green smoothie.
(I’ve been doing this for the last few months, burning ~3000 calories a day on average! Check out Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis for more info.)
Wanna find financial freedom? Forget founding a unicorn. Learn one high-paid, in-demand freelance skill. Get really good at it. Charge £100+/hour and work 1 day per week.
Wanna get smarter? Forget force-reading books, just ask ChatGPT questions about your natural curiosities, and watch your mind expand.
And please, don’t start all these things at once. We’re just not as productive as we think, even with AI and podcasts at 3x speed.
As my Dad would often recite:
One thing at a time,
—And that done well,
Is a very good rule,
—As many can tell.
So, let go of “achieving” your goals. They’re a useful motivation tool, they give you a sense of progress, it’s hard to live without some feeling of forward momentum, but remind yourself it’s (mostly) about the journey.
Goals are more like a compass than a treasure chest.
And don’t fall for the illusion of increased productivity.
Yes, everything is cheaper and easier to do now than ever.
You can learn any language, start any business, send any email.
But if you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing at all.
PS: I’ve been quite hard on productivity improvements today. Obviously I think breaking down barriers to entry, increasing access and all of those things are wonderful on the whole, this is just exploring the rustier side of the coin!