People suffer from many delusions. One of the most common is that everything worthwhile takes effort. It’s part of that pernicious way of thinking called The Puritan Work Ethic. According to this doctrine, work and effort are valuable and praiseworthy in themselves and lack of either leads to laziness, idleness and vice. Ergo, the more work or effort something takes, the more valuable it becomes. If you want to increase the amount of worthwhile elements in your life, you always need to work harder (longer hours, more effort). Q.E.D.

This is, of course, irrational drivel. The value attached to work comes from what’s produced as a result, nothing else. Relaxation and ease don’t produce vice—unless you cling to the belief that anything enjoyable must be sinful too. Most criminals, terrorists and evil dictators work very hard at what they do. Does that, miraculously, make it good?

Much of what people spend their time and effort on is trivial, unproductive and contributes little or nothing to their well-being, enjoyment or prosperity. Hours are spent watching TV programs everyone agrees are rubbish. People do jobs they despise for wages they claim are way below what they’re worth. They buy goods they don’t use and clothes they rarely wear. They look forward to the weekend, then spend it wandering around the mall or watching still more TV.

Making your life more productive, more enjoyable and more fitted to your sense of life’s purpose needs more (and less) than slogging away at some activity only duty forces you to do. It needs you to let go of all the footling, pointless, unsatisfying and merely conventional activities you do currently. Then focus whatever time and effort you’ve freed up on those parts of your life you enjoy or desire most.

Life doesn’t need to be a grim process of hours and days of activities you’re forced to do, in return for a few minutes of (probably guilty) pleasure. If you truly enjoy watching TV, go ahead—enjoy it wholeheartedly. If you don’t, stop doing it right now. If thinking about your work makes you feel mildly sick, focus your time on moving to another job you’ll enjoy more. If you love training hard for a marathon, that’s fine. If you’d prefer to sit in a chair with a book, that’s fine too. If spending time with friends makes your heart glad, go to it. If what thrills you most is the feeling of satisfaction you get from the job you do, spend as much time at work as you want.

There are no absolute, established rules for life. Many people try to tell you otherwise, but that’s because they want you to do only what they feel is right. It’s your life. So far as we know, you only get one. You ought to be able to live it pretty much as you wish, provided you don’t hurt others in the process. That’s what freedom means.

Here are some articles to help you stop wasting effort and start achieving more with less:

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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