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Fight Downhill Battles: Let Laziness and Inertia Make You More Productive

Fight Downhill Battles: Let Laziness and Inertia Make You More Productive

Magazines

    Did you know that you can cancel a magazine subscription at any time? Return unwanted Book-of-the-Month Club selections? Cancel unused credit cards? Put an end to unwanted junk mail?

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    You probably did know that, and yet you still receive magazines you don’t read anymore, have a stack of books or CDs from membership clubs that you’ve never even opened, pay yearly fees on credit cards you neither use nor want, and open your mailbox several times a week to a flood of flyers, catalogs, and local papers — all of which go straight to the trash.

    Why is that? There’s almost no work involved in doing any of these things — a phone call, a “return to sender” scrawled across the package, maybe a letter, and you’re free! The time, money, and hassle you would save would be more than the cost of a few minutes on the phone.

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    The sticking point, though, is the “almost” in “almost no work involved”. We humans have a tremendous capacity for keeping on doing whatever we’re already doing — even when it doesn’t make sense anymore. Remember your physics? An object in motion will tend to stay in motion — unless acted on by an outside force.

    That’s inertia. In behavioral terms, it means that once we settle into a course of action, it becomes harder and harder to change it. All that little stuff, especially, is so easily procrastinated, so easily forgotten, so unlikely to be subject to the kind of outside forces that might lead us to make a change, that lots of companies have created successful business models out of it.

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    Don’t believe me? Take a look around your neighborhood and see how many yards have more than one newspaper sitting in them. Maybe your own yard has a few days’ worth of newspaper buildup. Every day you or your neighbors think “I really need to cancel that newspaper subscription” — and then they move on. Three months later, the bill comes. And is paid! And the cycle repeats itself…

    I’m not going to tell you how to break the cycle. You know how — sit down, make a list of all the little annoyances in your life that could easily be stopped, and spend an hour or two stopping them. No big deal.

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    What interests me more, though, is the basic behavior itself — and how we can turn it to our benefit. An easy example comes to mind: automatic bill payment. Once you set up automatic payments, it becomes more of a hassle to stop them than to adapt to them — which is the whole point. Your bills get paid by inertia.

    What are some other ways that your innate laziness can work for you?

    • Automatic savings: 10% of your paycheck goes into a high-yield account with withdrawal penalties. Get used to it.
    • Set your alarm clock 20 minutes earlier: Yeah, like you’ll remember to change it. Too bad, you have to wake up now.
    • Subscribe to groceries: Amazon has a Subscribe and Save program that allows you to set up a subscription to common household goods (diapers, toilet paper, toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc.). You set up how many you want and how often, and they bill you when each new order is shipped. Plus, subscribed items are 15% off. Not everything is a great deal — your local grocery store might still be cheaper for a lot of things — but for things you need on a regular basis, a subscription can save you some last-minute dashes to the store (and shorten your regular shopping trips, since you won’t need to buy as much). And canceling a subscription is just enough work that you probably won’t.
    • Accountability partners: This is a good one for people working towards long-term goals — find someone to ask you regularly how you’re doing. Someone you won’t be able to lie to easily. It will eventually be more stress to not do something than to just do it. And won’t that be awful?
    • Habits, of course: Building any positive behavior into a habit — whether it’s writing first thing in the morning or going to the gym after work or always leaving your keys by the front door — is a great use of inertia. Once established, it becomes harder to break your habit than to just do it.

    It seems to me there is a great deal of power in inertia, if we could figure out how to take advantage of it. All too often we get stuck in negative inertia, those ruts that prevent us from fulfilling our potential. Why not turn that to our benefit and make our own laziness an asset?

    Do you take advantage of inertia in your life? What does laziness help you accomplish? Let us know in the comments!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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