Lazy Days

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    Welcome to the 31st Edition of the Humanity Working Newsletter! This time – why laziness has its merits and how not to suck as a leader (really).

    Way Too Busy

    When I first started our Humanity Working podcast and newsletter, I had a different name for it: Way Too Busy. It stemmed from the fact that almost any time I asked someone how they were – I’d get a variant of the same answer: “I’m so busy!”

    Busyness feels inevitable for so many of us. After all, we all have more things to do than time to do them, and to-do lists just get longer and longer over time.

    But is this feeling really inevitable? The interviews we’ve done at my company, BillionMinds, suggest not. Meet The UnBusy.

    Disclaimer alert: I often get into the weeds in this newsletter, but this one is particularly, well, weedy. But among those weeds is, I hope, some pretty interesting stuff that you may not have seen elsewhere. So, at least give it a go and see what you think.

    The UnBusy

    Most of us know at least one person who seems to have everything together so much better than us. They are successful at work and often get promoted, yet still have time for family, friends, and the pickleball get-together with their buddies every Thursday. While we struggle to keep our heads above water, they seem to swim effortlessly. Kind of annoying, isn’t it?

    At BillionMinds, we’ve interviewed thousands of people about their approach to work. As we’ve done so, we’ve found a tiny percentage (we estimate around 2%) that fit into this effortlessly productive category. We choose to call this group “the UnBusy,” and we’ve studied them relentlessly to figure out what they might teach the rest of us.

    What we’ve found is quite surprising. Almost all of the UnBusy have three attributes in common:

    • They describe themselves as “lazy.”
    • They have external desires outside work
    • They are quality-driven

    This all might sound quite contradictory, so let me explain by going through each in turn.


    I’ve put “Laziness” in quotes because the UnBusy clearly get a lot done, often more than the rest of us seem to manage. While we cannot see exactly how they do it, there is obviously stuff happening.

    Yet lazy IS the exact term that a good number of the UnBusy reach for to describe themselves. Initially, when we were researching this, we suspected it was a form of false modesty or that it centered around a belief that they could always do more. But it turned out to be something different to that. Many of these people not only insisted that they were lazy but actually attributed their success TO their laziness. Some even thought of it as a form of superpower.

    To lots of people, the concept of laziness being even a potentially positive attribute will seem almost completely alien. If, like me, you were brought up to believe that hard work is a sign of strong character, that it brings its own rewards, and that it’s the only way to get ahead – it’s very likely that your go-to solution to any problem will be working harder. Oh, and while you are at it, you will probably look down at least a little bit on people you might describe as lazy, something I’m afraid I did earlier in my career.

    However, this UnBusy group appears to have a fundamentally different attitude towards paid work – one that is highly freeing if you are lucky enough to have a job that is measured by results rather than effort. The UnBusy do not consider hard work to be particularly virtuous, and in most cases, they consider life way too short to spend a lot of it doing busy work, particularly if they don’t enjoy it.

    Despite describing themselves as lazy, there is one type of work the UnBusy will ALWAYS put extra effort into: work that has something we call ROTI (return on time invested). Spend 5 hours on building a set of automations that will save them an hour a week? No problem at all—they will find the time.

    Now, laziness on its own doesn’t get most people very far, which is where the other two attributes come in. But it’s a vital part of the overall picture because it allows UnBusy people to be ok with NOT putting in 50-60 hours into paid work every week and pursue the rest of their life without guilt about an ever-expanding to-do list.

    External Desire

    Initially, we referred to this as motivation, but the UnBusy people we have spoken to have convinced us that external desire is actually a better term. External desire can be thought of as simply what you REALLY want to do outside of work. And it doesn’t have to be important to anyone other than you. In fact, in some cases, your external desires can seem quite trivial to others.

    You’ve probably experienced this on occasion. For example, you might have bought tickets to see your favorite band, and so you must get your work done quickly to make the start of the gig. All of a sudden, you will be WAY more efficient.

    But this also works on a day-to-day basis. You will work more efficiently if you REALLY want to catch a specific train each day because it gets you home for dinner with your family. And it doesn’t even have to be strictly timed to a schedule. If you REALLY want to write a book, you will need time to do it, which will force you to be more efficient in approaching your day job.

    Quality Driven

    This is the last and vital piece of the puzzle. While our UnBusy people are perfectly happy to work fewer hours at their day jobs and would prefer to do so, they are NOT perfectly happy to deliver sub-standard results.

    For many people, being quality-driven can be at odds with pressure at work to know when work is “good enough” so they can move on to the next thing. But for our UnBusy people, being quality driven is an important value that helps them ensure their work is not sub-standard. As one of them put it to me in an early interview – “it’s not about pride in doing work for work’s sake; it’s about taking pride in my work product.”

    How the Traits Come Together

    The truly UnBusy are a rare breed. As I mentioned above, only a tiny percentage of all the interviews we’ve ever conducted have resulted in us identifying people as UnBusy. That shouldn’t be surprising – it’s hard to care deeply about what you produce at work while not caring how much time you spend doing it and while being motivated strongly by things outside of work. But if you can pull it off, it kind of DOES give you a kind of superpower.

    There are two reasons why:

    The first is that these three traits, taken together, create what is sometimes called a design constraint. Basically, the only way the UnBusy can be lazy, fulfill external desires, and be quality-driven all at the same time is by doing work really effectively. These traits act as a forcing function, ensuring that the UnBusy pay close attention to effective work. That translates into them making sure they are really efficient and finding creative ways to sustain quality without sacrificing their valuable time. The UnBusy make extensive use of productivity techniques like time blocking and the Pomordoro technique. They get ruthless at delegating and using external services like virtual assistants. Right now, they are actively exploring AI and automation to become more effective.

    The second reason this works is that it is inherently sustainable. After all, this lifestyle provides more fulfillment (because you are satisfying your external desires), you deliver quality work, and you design your work so that it doesn’t tire you out.

    So Can Anyone Become UnBusy?

    I wish I had a clear answer for you on this. Let’s put it this way – I’ve been studying this for some time now and trying to put it into practice in my own life, and while I have UnBusy periods, I would definitely not describe myself as UnBusy.

    The problem is that a good part of this is wrapped up in our values, which can take a long time to change. As I mentioned in the section on laziness, I was brought up with what is sometimes referred to as a Protestant Work Ethic – which emphasizes the virtues of hard work in its own right. That means that working harder is always my natural go-to, no matter how much I know that following UnBusy practices makes more sense. If you read The Four Hour Work Week and it feels like cheating, that may well be you.

    But, this set of attributes can help us identify how we are struggling with work and why. To see what I mean, take a look at this diagram and pay close attention to the intersections between each circle:

    These intersections show what happens when you are exhibiting just two of the three traits of the UnBusy. As you can see, if you feel inefficient at work, it might be because you don’t have an external desire pushing you to get work done more efficiently. If you feel overwhelmed, it may be the work itself, of course, but it may also be because of an inability to cut yourself some slack. That’s how I use this knowledge – not to be truly UnBusy but to modify my behaviors when things don’t feel right at work.

    Are you UnBusy?

    Of course, there is always a chance that as you read this, you believe yourself to be UnBusy. If you are, we would like to hear from you, as we are considering doing some more detailed research alongside an academic partner. There are many reasons to believe that this type of work approach will be more successful as AI, robotics, and automation become more mainstream, so the more we know about the topic, the better.

    If you do think this describes you and you would be willing to discuss it more, please e-mail us at


    It’s (A)Live!

    Over at podcast HQ, we’ve been talking about doing a live recording for some time now. I’ve been nervous to do it, but when I interviewed Dr. Allessandria Polizzi a few weeks ago, I knew immediately that I wanted to give it a go.

    Thankfully, Dr. Al was up for the challenge, so we put together a Live Event a couple of weeks ago, filled almost entirely with your questions on leadership, and giving it the rather tongue in cheek title “How Not to Suck as a Leader”.

    We actually had way more questions than we could handle in one hour, so we may come back at some point and do a part two.

    We both thoroughly enjoyed it, so I hope you will, too. As always, you can find it on your favorite podcasting platform, or watch it below.

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