Laziness as a Professional Skill

Legs with tennis shoes on feet in a hammock and a dog -- Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

Anyone firmly planted in a “work hard” mindset might gasp and clutch their pearls – pens? – if they heard me proudly describe myself as a “lazy person.” Sure, the grind might get you to the top, but the lazy way will get you to your next interesting project before you’ve burnt yourself out on monotonous, repetitive tasks. Even Bill Gates would agree, as he’s often cited as the source of the quote, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” As a lifelong lazy person, with experience creating and implementing automation, documentation, and various systems to speed up and simplify various work processes, allow me to explain how you can leverage notetaking spaces, templates, and automation to make your job easier.

Notetaking Spaces & Organizing Your Thoughts

When I was in high school, I once complained to a teacher that I was having a hard time remembering ALL the things we were learning. My teacher calmly responded, “You don’t have to know everything. In life, it’s more important to know where to learn everything.” And even though this was said to me in 2006, that statement was far ahead of its time. Especially when you think about how much we all have come to rely on Google as something of a collective, external brain. But what about the things you already know or the things you’re actively learning? Where do you keep all that information? How do you organize it? How can you quickly and easily access your personal thoughts and opinions about various topics so that it’s out of your brain but easy to find? – The simple answer is: You Build Out a Second Brain.

The benefit of having a second brain is that you have a space to dump information about your interests, random ideas, etc. At any time, you can return to this space for reference or inspiration which makes it a powerful tool not just for keeping yourself organized but also for creativity and deep thinking.

Abnormal Brain in a Jar gif scene from Young Frankenstein (1974)

Your second brain should operate as a mini-internet or mind map of the information you have on your mind. In the past, this might’ve looked like the notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci or the index card collection (or Zettelkasten) of Niklas Luhmann. Pages upon pages of notes and ideas, ““thematically unlimited” — that could be infinitely extended in any direction.” (quite via Fortelabs.com).  You might also consider things like mind-maps which connect various concepts to a single, originating idea. However, we’re fortunate to now live in a time when Jorge Luis Borges concept of “The Garden of Forking Paths” has come to exist in the form of hypertext.

Hypertext is essentially the use of hyper (referring to extension and generality) links to connect various pieces of information in an infinite number of ways. Much like how neurons firing in your brain can connect various pieces of information that exist in your mind – thus why this knowledge management method is referred to as building a “second brain.”

So how can one build such a brain? How can you cultivate your very own garden of forking paths? – There are a variety of free and inexpensive tools to allow you to do this.

  • Obsidian
  • Notion
  • Evernote
  • Nimbus Note
  • Craft
  • Mentalist
  • And many more…

Once you’ve selected a notes application to utilize, it’s also important to set up an organizational paradigm. You will get far more from your knowledge base if you’re leveraging some kind of system to keep track of everything, than if you just throw all your notes and thoughts into it.

bulletin board, laptop, computer-3233653.jpg

Here’s an important note to keep in mind when it comes to selecting a notes app as well as your organizational paradigm: Find what works best for you. You can’t get the benefit of having a second brain unless it’s something that you’ll consistently utilize. Know that this might take a few tries. Personally, I’ve tried just about every app on the list above as well as a plethora of organizational systems before I found one that worked for me and that I now consistently use.

For now, I’m utilizing Notion.so and the PARA Method. But I’m a member of a Discord community called Tools for Thought where members have shared a wealth of information about how they’ve setup their own note-taking systems for work, for their personal lives, to manage projects, and even to manage their lives while dealing with neurodivergence like ADHD.

Templating

Templating isn’t just something you do if you’re a crafter cutting out shapes – templating can be used for a variety of activities! Templates not only increase flexibility and consistency, they can also save you SO much time, and help you avoid the temptation to procrastinate when it comes to certain tasks.

For example, answering email messages can be a common annoyance, especially for anyone who struggles with email communications. How often do you find yourself putting off sending an email because you just don’t know what to say? How often do you avoid responding to incoming messages because they all seem to ask the same questions that you’re tired of answering?

And no matter which email client you use, whether it’s Gmail or Outlook, there are ways that you can create and save templates so that they’re easy to find and use.

Cartoon hand and blank sheet of paper.

Consider other areas where templating might be helpful. Do you regularly write memos or other documents that tend to be similarly formatted? Do you produce any content for your role at work? What about documentation? Are there elements of your job that aren’t consistently produced but could be? Maybe it’s time to consider templating!

Once you’ve developed a series of templates to use for a variety of tasks, you can make them even more powerful through automation.

Automation

At this point, you’re probably already familiar with automation as a concept. We see it all the time in TV and movies, and with the ever-increasing use of virtual assistants at home and on our phones, you may already be utilizing automation and not even realize it.

When you ask, “Alexa, play my workout mix.” You’re using an automation. A program has been setup to automatically respond to that command by selecting that specific playlist and hitting play. It’s a very simple automation, but it’s an automation nevertheless.

Most people don’t realize that besides using virtual assistants to switch on smart lights in their home, add an event to their phone calendar, and play music; you can also create and utilize a vast number of automations in your daily work.

Gif of Bender (robot character) from Futurama taking a photo and saying

There’s something of an “internet legend” about a software testing engineer who once managed to automate all their work tasks to the point where they got away with doing nothing for 6 years! Now THAT’S working smarter; not harder! [Okay, so there is a moral to that story and apparently, after spending 6 years of not actually doing his job, he’d completely forgotten the programming skills that helped him automate his whole job in the first place… and he got fired]. Now, while I certainly wouldn’t recommend automating yourself out of the job, I do recommend using automation to save some time during your workday!

And, you don’t even have to know how to code to do it. With tools like Zapier and IFTTT, you can connect a variety of applications to one another to complete a variety of tasks without lifting a finger. Send automated emails, save or transfer data from one application to another, automatically clock yourself in and out of work when you open a specific program, pre-schedule ALL your social media posts, and SO MANY MORE tasks of varying degrees of complexity can all be done through automations

As a side note, Zapier and IFTTT are paid services (they do have free versions but you’ll be limited by the number or complexity of automations that you can create) so depending on how you want to use them, you’ll want to take that into consideration (but you might save yourself so much time it could be worth the cost). However, more and more apps are including automation features within them.

Here’s a good one for those of you with kiddos who are working from home offices:

Over the summer, a friend of mine who was working from home found she needed a way to let her family know when she was on a phone call and shouldn’t be disturbed. She had calls coming in at various times so simply noting meetings on a calendar wouldn’t work (and since when do kids refer to calendars anyway?). I helped her setup a solution that essentially connected her work phone to a lamp in the hallway outside of her home office. Any time she was on a call using her work phone, that lamp’s smart bulb would automatically turn on in a red color. The red light was used as an indicator to let her family know that they shouldn’t knock on the door or come into her office because she was on the phone.

The automation was a simple setup using Zapier and a Smart Bulb.

So If You’re “Working Smarter; Not Harder”, Does that Make You a “Lazy Person”?

Gif of woman in red suit saying,

When you combine the three tactics above: note-taking, templating, and automation; you can save yourself an incredible amount of time and energy in your day-to-day life that would otherwise have spent trying to remember something useful or important, thinking up what and how to say something in an email or a memo, or jumping from app to app trying to copy over information. And these are all just the very tip of the iceberg because when it comes to these things, the power truly lies in how you use it for your advantage.

Are you in HR? Do you manage a community? Need to keep track of the people in your network? Use your note-taking system as a personal CRM; create a handful of templates for various holidays, birthdays, etc. (leaving room for personal notes and details, of course); and create automations to send regular notes, birthday cards, etc.

Are you in marketing? Manage a blog? Need to regularly share content? Use your note-taking system to keep track of ideas and references; create a handful of templates for blog articles and social media posts; and use automations to schedule out your entire editorial calendar.

Maybe you have your own side hustle? Running an Etsy shop? Or you’ve always wanted to teach an online course, but you’re worried about it taking too much extra time? Use your note-taking system to plan and organize everything; create templates for product listings or class lessons; and then setup “Welcome,” “Thank You for Your Purchase,” “Just a Reminder,” etc. emails that send automatically when you get a sale or when you give your online students an assignment with a “due date.”

In this day and age, I think it’s absolutely time to embrace being a lazy person. Make it your superpower. After all, that’s who Bill Gates is looking to hire!

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