How to Trick Yourself Out of Being Lazy
Being lazy is a wonderful feeling. The guilt of knowing you should probably be doing something more productive can be exhilarating. Laziness also isn’t something to fully avoid – sometimes it really is for the best to rest for a bit and recharge those batteries.
Yet, laziness does also have an ugly side. Being lazy can easily snowball – if I haven’t done the washing up in the previous three days, why shall I do it now – and your inactions can have serious consequences in your personal and work life.
What can you do when “I’ll do it tomorrow” seems like the easier option and getting started feels like climbing Mount Everest? You can trick yourself out of being lazy by implementing these clever strategies and habits to your daily routine. These tricks work whether you’re facing household chores or work problems.
UNDERSTAND YOUR LAZINESS
Before I outline some tricks and ways you can stop your laziness in its tracks, it is helpful to consider spending time thinking what is causing you to be lazy.
Why are you putting off certain tasks? If you know the reason, you’ll be better able to eliminate avoid the triggers that make you want to jump on the back of the couch.
When you notice yourself procrastinating or putting things off, stop for a minute and ask yourself:
- Am I finding this task too difficult?
- Do I feel I have too many things to do and I’m scared I don’t have the time to finish them?
- Am I scared of the consequences of failure or not being able to achieve the tasks?
- Do I have zero energy to actually do anything?
- Where is my motivation?
Answering these questions will help you find the root cause to laziness. Let’s say you actually feel like there’s no energy to do anything. Your diet or sleep routine might be off the whack and you need to fix it first. If you’re putting off things because they seem too difficult, you can start training yourself in the particular task.
Can’t finish the project? Study research techniques and become a better writer, for instance. If you feel you run the wrong way, hire a personal coach to help you. Writing the report seems too much with too little time? Prioritize your things and make space for the most urgent things – you can even ask for an extension on some deadlines by explaining your workload.
Analyzing why you are lazy and what it is specifically in those tasks that you hate can give you better tools to tackle them. You notice the real problem and you can find solutions that help.
AVOID THE ‘HAVING TO’ ATTITUDE
When a new e-mails lands on your desk at the end of the workday, your instant reaction might be “Not this again, why do I have to do this now”. I would know, as I’ve stared at the dish pile a lot of times saying “Do I have to do them?”
The problem is that when you think things in terms of ‘have to’ rather than ‘want to’ you find them depressing, time-consuming and not fun. Things we have to do are generally not something most of us enjoy – the whole verb makes it feel like we are being forced to do something.
So, start changing the attitude and things you say to yourself to something more nurturing and inspiring – find the passion and the reason behind your tasks.
For example, when I’m faced with a pile of dishes I think, “Here’s an example of the tasty dish I enjoyed with my friends just now and after I wash these I have another opportunity to have a good time.” If you don’t feel like answering the e-mail, think the opportunities of replying – perhaps it can lead to a new contract and you can finally go on vacation with the extra money!
CLEAR OUT THE DIFFICULT TASKS FIRST
I hate doing the dishes and opening envelopes. You probably have your own list of things you don’t like doing, but which need doing.
These annoying things are often the things that cause us feel lazy – once we skip then, we can easily start thinking other things are also not worth doing at that moment. Therefore, if you are able to clear out the difficult tasks early in the day, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the rest of the day.
As I started opening my letters first thing in the morning, I stopped having to dread this moment for the rest of the day. I felt accomplished about the task, especially so since I don’t like it. The same can apply to almost anything. If e-mails are your pet peeve, read and reply early in the morning and then stop worrying about them. Clearing out the annoying tasks first ensures they are done when you have the right kind of energy to power through.
START WITH AN EASY TASK
On the other hand, if you can’t find any tasks you hate that much and you have a tendency to just start being lazy in general, it can be useful to start with easier tasks.
The benefit of doing a few extremely easy tasks it the morning is the way it sets a precedent for the rest of the day. Once you get that sense of accomplishment, you create an opposite snowball to being lazy – you start doing things one after another. You often get to that flow state of “Oh I just replied to that e-mail, I might as well do all of them.”
It can be clever to leave easy tasks for the next day rather than to finish them at the end. For example, if you have a simple e-mail to write, which doesn’t require a lot of effort and it doesn’t require immediate attention, send it in the morning to kick-start your day.
Setting a timer is a great trick for a boost in productivity. You can set timers in two ways to snatch yourself out of laziness:
- Set a timer for being lazy and doing absolutely nothing.
If you are feeling super tired and low energy, it can be helpful to just stop everything for a second – it’s almost like meditating for a bit.
Set a 10-minute alarm and spend the time doing something refreshing (make sure it doesn’t relate to things you should be doing) such as watching funny cat videos on YouTube or sitting still, eyes closed.
- Set a time for doing a task you don’t enjoy doing.
In most situations, the timer works best when it’s for getting things done. If you hate the dishes, don’t approach them with the “have to do it all”-attitude. Instead, set a timer for 10-minutes after which you can stop if you want.
The idea here is that a set timeline makes the task seem less daunting; you’re not approaching it with the “I’ll stop until I’m done” mindset, but you know you can just take a break in a bit. 30-minutes of writing sounds a lot less exhausting than writing the whole report (which could take a day!).
Furthermore, simply getting started with something can actually help you finish the task. When your alarm goes off and you only have one e-mail to reply to, you probably won’t stop, but will just get it finished.
Even if you don’t finish the task or you’re not inspired to continue beyond the time you set for the task, you’ve still done something. Writing the report for 10-minutes is much better than spending 10-minutes thinking you should be writing it.
In fact, the above is all tied neatly in the 2-minute rule by David Allen. The author of Getting Things Done analyses task based on whether they take two minutes to do or not. If the act can be performed in less than 2-minutes, Allen does it immediately. So, if you notice an e-mail and you realize the reply will only take a minute, you write the reply immediately.
It’s an effective strategy of clearing those small things out of the way – you don’t see a build up of e-mails if you keep clearing them as they come along. This can work for many things, such as cleaning the house. Noticed your dusty bookshelf? If it takes just two minutes to dust it then you might as well do it now!
BREAK TASKS INTO PIECES
Another way to trick yourself out of being lazy is by creating an illusion of achieving more and, in a way, having more to do. What I mean is not to come up with mindless things to do, but to break down your existing tasks to smaller pieces.
It’s easy to feel lazy when you have a giant project staring back at you – the depth of the task can overwhelm. By breaking it down into smaller chunks, you not only feel you’ve accomplished something more often, you also make the task more manageable.
Let’s say you need to write a big research project. If your to-do list looks like this:
- BIG RESEARCH PROJECT!
It definitely feels scary and overwhelming. On the other hand, if you break it down to smaller chunks, it can look much more appetizing and approachable:
- List book sources
- Create draft outline
- Contact interviewees
- Set interview date
- Conduct interviews
- Write the draft
- Do chapter one
- Do chapter two
- Do chapter three
- Send draft to editor
- Re-write based on feedback
Yes, it has more items, but they aren’t a huge giant task anymore but manageable chunks that won’t take forever to achieve. Not to mention, you realize how much you’ve done once you start crossing things over as ‘done’.
START THE DAY WITH EXERCISE
“Go out and have a jog” might not sound like the most helpful advice when you are feeling lazy and want to snap out of it. Indeed, if you weren’t lazy in the first place, you might already be running around the block. But you can beat laziness in other areas of your life if you are just able to put on those working out clothes.
Exercise releases the so-called feel-good hormones. A brisk walk gives you better mood and helps you feel more energetic. If you manage to do a bit of exercise, the energy can help carry you through other tasks. For this reason, you should start your day with exercise! It doesn’t require a lot of thinking, it doesn’t require a lot of time and the benefits can ensure the rest of the day is super productive.
Source: Visually website
CHANGE THE SCENERY
Sometimes laziness just needs a kick in the butt. If you’re staring at the wall in your office or sitting on the couch not doing anything productive, changing the scenery can help. We’re creatures of habit and being lazy in a specific environment can simply feed our laziness.
Being in a different environment stimulates our mind in a different way and this can be helpful in getting things done. What’s more, research suggests surrounding yourself with people who are hard at work will boost your productivity as well – no wonder a busy coffee shop with people working on their laptops can help you feel more inspired to do the same (instead of just browsing social media).
If you’re able to leave your office during the day, then go to a coffee shop, the park or the nearby library and take your work with you. The new surroundings might give you an energy boost and inspire you to finish off a project that’s been causing you problems. Similarly, leaving the house for a walk outside or a trip to a different shop can help you feel more invigorated and sort out some errands in the meantime.
Don’t worry if you can’t swap the office to a swanky park. You could perhaps just try a different workstation, work from an empty conference room or sit at the company cafeteria.
CREATE THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR WORK
If changing the scenery is impossible for you, fear not! You can enjoy the benefits of a good work environment even when you can’t swap the walls around you. The key to a productive work environment requires the following ingredients:
Lights, lights, baby
Lighting can have a huge impact on productivity. Research has provided strong evidence to support natural light’s ability to boost your mood and productivity.
It’s not just that natural lighting is good for you, but the wrong kind of lights can have a negative impact on your productivity. You can probably subscribe to the feeling of fatigue when staring the computer screen for a long time.
Therefore, your work environment should have plenty of natural light – don’t cover up the views with curtains and place the desk near a light source – and you want to use apps such as F.lux that change the colour temperature of your screen based on the time of day.
Turning up the heat
A room’s temperature is another major factor in productivity. Cornell University studied the impact of temperature on productivity and found there to be an optimal temperature to guarantee good results at work.
According to the research, an optimal room temperature falls around 25 degrees Celsius. Anything below or a lot above will lead to mistakes and lack of motivation – if you’re uncomfortable, it will be hard to work.
The right soundtrack
If you can’t go to the coffee shop, you should create the coffee shop around you. Interestingly, your productivity would benefit from that ambient buzz of a coffee shop. It’s about finding the sweet spot – you want just the right kind of noise pollution to allow your mind to wonder, but not loud enough to cause a distraction.
It can be a good idea, therefore, to test having a recording of a coffee shop, the sea or other such recording playing in the background while you’re trying to get things done.
Furthermore, if you are looking to do chores or exercise, upbeat music can also help you be more productive, even with the volume turned up! Music increases the production of dopamine, which can boost your mood and make you feel better about the day and get things done.
As little distractive things as possible
If you work in a room full of fun things to do, you probably will test your willpower a bit too much.
Removing things like the TV, radio, social media, cute cat videos, nail polish and other such distraction (feel free to add your own to the list!) will limit your risk of doing something unproductive. The fewer distractions you have, the better.
Source: Psychology Today post on distractions
MAKE ACHIEVING THINGS EASY
Another related point on the importance of the environment is the ease of doing things. As I eluded above, you don’t want to have unnecessary distractions luring you away from your mission. While you can and should certainly remove distractions from sight as much as possible, there is another alternative. You can make achieving things easier.
What this means is making your tasks as easy as possible to start. Let’s say you want to exercise more. By placing clean running shoes right next to the front door or on the couch, you can ensure going for a jog is smoother.
Similarly, if you want to get more writing done at the desk, ensure the environment is inviting, the laptop is recharged and there’s a glass of water waiting. If achieving things is easier and less hassle inducing, you have fewer excuses to stop you from getting started.
The trick can apply to almost anything – want to read more books? Then place them next to the bed or the couch and keep your Kindle in your workbag. Find ways to make starting those tasks a bit easier and make being lazy a bit harder. If your TV is unplugged after you come back home, you might be more inclined to visit the gym (especially if the gym clothes are nearly packed!).
HAVE AN ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDY
You can trick yourself out of being lazy by ensuring you’re not accountable just for yourself. Teaming up will provide you with an extra incentive to finish your tasks on time and putting in extra effort – especially if your partner is motivated.
If going to the gym seems impossible, then ask a friend to go with you. You can’t just decide not to go – you also have to inform the other person you can’t (or, well, don’t want to) go to the gym. It makes being lazy just a tiny bit harder. It’s not just about you anymore; it’s about the other person.
Similarly, if you have a big research project to finish, you could ask a colleague or a friend for help and for the opportunity to go over the findings with them. Once you set a date for this review meeting, you know you must get things done. The person would have cleared his or her calendar for you and you don’t want to disappoint them.
So, pick an accountability buddy with a good track-record of achieving things, stay in regular contact over the progress and you’ll soon find you’re being much more productive.
Other people are a popular motivator and a source of inspiration. Even if you can’t find an accountability buddy, how about listening to an inspiring talk? For example, this TED talk by Isabel Allende is a great way to start your day when you’re feeling the slump:
THE BOTTOM LINE
Tricking yourself out of being lazy isn’t rocket science and it isn’t just a matter of sucking it up and doing it. Little changes to the way you think can have a big impact on your productivity.
Furthermore, by changing the way you do things – from setting timers to swapping routines – you can guarantee better results in terms of finishing things on time.
Finally, being lazy is often about the environment and if you can trick your brain into feeling more inspired and motivated by simply breaking away from your usual surroundings, you can find yourself being more productive.