The Art of Productive Laziness

A Project Management Article by Peter Taylor

What is productive laziness

Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.' Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988)

By advocating being a 'lazy' project manager I do not intend that we should all do absolutely nothing. I am not saying we should all sit around drinking coffee, reading a good book and engaging in idle gossip whilst watching the project hours go by and the non-delivered project milestones disappear over the horizon.  That would obviously be plain stupid and would result in an extremely short career in project management, in fact probably a very short career full stop!

Lazy does not mean Stupid. No I really mean that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and to exercise our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around like busy, busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or indeed that do not need addressing at all in some cases.

Science behind the laziness – being focused

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that for many phenomena 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes. The idea has rule-of-thumb application in many places, but it's also commonly misused, for example, it is a misuse to state that a solution to a problem ‘fits the 80-20 rule’ just because it fits 80% of the cases; it must be implied that this solution requires only 20% of the resources needed to solve all cases.

The principle was in fact suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran and it was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of property in Italy was owned by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.

The Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule can and should be used by every smart but lazy person in their daily life. The value of the Pareto Principle for a project manager is that it reminds you to focus on the 20 percent that matters.

Woody Allen once said ‘80% of success is showing up’, I’m not so sure about that, I have seen projects where there was a physical project manager around but you would never have believed that looking at the project progress, or lack of progress. No, better I believe to appreciate that of the things you do during your day, only 20 percent really matter. Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results.

So, you should identify and focus on those things during your working day.

Science behind the laziness – being smart

Productive Laziness is not just about being lazy, it requires something more and that is a powerful and magical combination of laziness and intelligence. Smart lazy people have a real edge over others in society and are most suited to leadership roles in organizations.

This theory has existed for many years and applied in a number of interesting ways. One of the most famous of these was in the Prussian Army.

Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800 – 1891) was a German Generalfeldmarschall. The chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years, he is widely regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter half of the 1800s, and the creator of a new, more modern method, of directing armies in the field.

Moltke had a particular insight to and approach to categorising his officer corps, something which lives on to this day within many armed forces, and something which can apply to all forms of leadership.

If you consider the two ranges of individual characteristics, those that go from diligent through to lazy, and those that go from non-smart through to smart (yes I am being politically correct here) then you end up with the four character types in the diagram above.

Type ‘A’ officers, who were mentally dull and physically lazy, were given simple, repetitive, and unchallenging tasks to perform. They had reached their career peak in the army. That said, if you left them alone then they might just come up with a good idea one day, if not then they won’t cause you any problems either.

Lazy Leadership Analysis Grid

 Type ‘B’ officers who were mentally bright and physically energetic were considered to be obsessed with micromanagement and would, as a result, be poor leaders. Promotion was possible over a period of time but not to the status of commanding officer of the German General Staff. These officers were best at making sure orders were carried out and thoughtfully addressing all the detail.

Type ‘C’ officers who were mentally dull but physically energetic were considered to be somewhat dangerous. To Moltke, they were officers who would require constant supervision, which was an unacceptable overhead and distraction, and because they would potentially create problems faster than could be managed, these officers were considered too much trouble and were dismissed. No career there then!

Which brings us to type ‘D’ officers; these were the mentally bright and yet physically lazy officers who Moltke felt could and should take the highest levels of command. This type of officer was both smart enough to see what needed to be done but was also motivated by inherent laziness to find the easiest, simplest way to achieve what  was required. Put in a more positive way they would know how to be successful through the most efficient deployment of effort.

So, smart lazy people have a real edge over others and are most suited to leadership roles in organizations. The Lazy Project Manager is all about applying these principles in the delivery and management of projects. It is assumed that you are not stupid so you are already on the right-hand side of the diagram, what you now need to do is hone your lazy skills in order to rise to the top right hand side of the diagram. Do this and not only will your projects be more successful, you will also be seen as successful and a safe pair of hands for future leadership roles.

‘Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.’ - Walter Chrysler

About the Author

Peter Taylor

Despite his title of 'The Lazy Project Manager’, Peter Taylor is in fact a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in project management, program management and the professional development of project managers: currently as Director of a PMO at Siemens PLM Software, a global supplier of product lifecycle management solutions. He is an accomplished communicator and leader; always adopting a proactive and business-focused approach and is a professional speaker through City Speakers International.

Peter Taylor

He is also the author of The Lazy Project Manager book 

To learn more, visit www.thelazyprojectmanager.com or subscribe to his series of free podcasts.

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