Thursday, March 15, 2012

Efficient vs Lazy

I've come to the belief that there are three variables relating to success: talent, luck, and effort. It's hard to get by with just one. Getting by with two is pretty common. Really succeeding requires all three. Talent I'm using to describe traits you are born with and that aren't that alterable. Think of the physical attributes necessary for some sports (height, large hands, etc.) or how some people innately get things like math or music. Luck is self explanatory, and is by definition uncontrollable. Effort is the one variable you can control.

I'm horrible with effort.

This relates a good bit to the last post, and this post itself is a symptom, but at the heart of it, I'm lazy. I've been called lazy for most of my life and I've always defended it, or at times wore it like a badge of honor. Not my finest moment. I've procrastinated for most of my life. In high school I spent more time figuring out my needed grade on the final to get an A in the class than actually studying. In college I decided most classes it was easy to get a B in but an A would require a lot more work and so went for just the B. Sure I've had success at times. Variables one and two worked out well. And sometimes I've put in just enough effort to do really well. The open question is why?

Why do I usually only put in just the needed amount of effort to get by?

On my better days I tell myself it's the engineer in me, always calculating the efficient use of effort. Is the A really worth it? What does it matter? Why not take the B and do something else for the rest of the day? The phrase "Perfect is the enemy of the good enough" comes to mind. And certainly sometimes that is probably true. On my worst days however, another reason comes to mind.

I'm just scared.

I read something recently, I think it was in Nutureshock, that one of the downsides of praising a child for being smart is that they start to only do the things they think they will succeed in. They won't even attempt something where they think they might fail. While this may have not been the cause for me, who can say really, I do relate to the symptom. Doing things with a minimum amount of effort is a defense mechanism. It's the safe play. If whatever you do turns out really well, you can smugly tell yourself "I spent no time on that and it was awesome. I'm awesome!" And if whatever you do turns out not so good you can comfort yourself by saying "Well, I mean, I didn't spend much time on that anyway." It's an out, a way of always protecting yourself from failure.

It's a balancing act for sure. There is still an engineer's brain inside this skull and I have to keep myself from falling down the rabbit hole on one thing or another. But I think it's time to swing the pendulum of effort in the other direction for a while and see what happens.


At 8:51 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

Yay for Chad's thoughts on Stuff! I'm excited about this series.

I actually think this is s deeply philosophical problem (as you may know). My question is about what you do for the rest of the day. I can see the argument for efficiency when it's something you don't want to do: then go for convenience and do what you want to do. But what are you avoiding or rushing through or working minimally on? And to get on to what? That seems important, to figure out if there are big differences in those categories.

I'm reading a parenting book (it has the horribly embarrassing title Everyday Blessings) about mindfulness, a sort of Buddhist way of being attentive to every present moment, which is, of course, super difficult. According to this philosophy, for example, you do the dishes to do the dishes, not to have clean dishes. Process, not product. Kind of the opposite of your current approach, but perhaps it's worth weighing, as you're thinking about this already. I find that when I'm trying to be mindful, I'm generally more peaceful and calm, happier. I guess that's another facet of the issues you raise: happiness.

At 1:20 AM, Blogger Chad said...

I was thinking about this a little more near the end of the post when I looked up a quote from Office Space that said "It's not that I'm lazy, it's just that I don't care." What I'm thinking now is that when you are being efficient about something you really don't care about, say washing dishes, that's not actually being lazy. Why spend more time doing that than you have to? But when you start applying efficiency to the things you like to do, the fun things, that's when I think things tend toward lazy.

I certainly appreciate the sort of Buddhist way that you describe, but it feels a little too monastic for my tastes. I can see the value in enjoying and appreciating the things you have to do anyway, but to start to value them in and of themselves, would seem to imply life can be fulfilling with only that, which I don't believe is true for me.

As for happiness, that's a whole nother can of worms.


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