The Art of Positive Laziness – Part 2: The foundations of positive laziness

In this part we will take a look at the three main elements of the art of positive laziness. They are: Elimination, searching for more effective and efficient ways to achieve certain tasks, and relaxation. These elements are essential for a life full of positive laziness. Applying these elements ensures that you won‘t do more than really necessary, helps you to get those essential tasks done faster, and enables you to go through life more relaxed. However, before we start looking at these elements one by one, I would like to take the time to give The Art of Positive Laziness a worthy introduction.

The essence of positive laziness

Positive laziness is a way of life. It’s a way of thinking and acting that focuses on the things that really matter the most, the essentials in life. It’s about continuously looking for more effective ways to achieve your goals. This lifestyle enables you to see through the illusion of seemingly important tasks and helps you to recognize and eliminate pointless tasks more easily. Positive laziness can also be referred to as intelligent or smart laziness because it is mainly a way of thinking. Instead of blindly rushing into tasks, you first take the time to ask yourself if those tasks are really that necessary. With the tasks you have to do anyway, you look for alternative ways to get them done with less effort and in less time.

At the first glance Positive laziness can look like quite a lot of work for something that’s called positive laziness. However, the better you get at applying the principles of the art of positive laziness, the easier it gets. Once you’ve mastered the art it will become a natural way of going through life.


The Art of Positive Laziness is mainly a way of thinking. Since every conscious action flows out of a thought it’s not that surprising. To counter pointless actions you will have to tackle the problem at the core.

It is not only about banning out pointless tasks, it also aims at removing distress from your life to help you to get a clear mind and be more focused.

3 Elements of Positive Laziness

There are three elements at the heart of positive laziness. By using these elements as guidelines you can easily determine if laziness is indeed positive. Laziness is positive if:

  1. It makes you avoid pointless work
  2. It gets you to search for more effective and efficient ways to achieve a goal
  3. It makes you avoid or reduce distress and fatigue

Eliminating (tasks, not people)

Elimination is the element of Positive Laziness that has the biggest time and energy saving potential. It is the art of setting priorities. Even though we’re not always aware of it, we usually spend a lot of time doing things that don‘t really matter at all. These seemingly important tasks keep us from achieving our real goals and are big time and energy wasters. To make sure we don’t waste anymore of our valuable time and energy, it is crucial to teach ourselves how to systematically recognize and eliminate these pointless activities. To find out if the task you are about to start at is useful you can ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. What are the consequences of not doing this task?

When neglecting the task at hand has no serious consequences for you or others (meaning it is not negative laziness), it is safe to skip the task altogether.

  1. Does completing this task bring me closer to my goals?

If not, the task is a waste of time, you could have spent the time better at tasks that do get you closer to your goals.

  1. If this was the only thing I would get done today, would I be satisfied?

This question helps you to figure out how high on your priority list the task should be.

These are the three questions that are the base of the art of elimination. Even though these questions seem simple, in practice a lot of people seem to have difficulties with answering the second one. Does completing this task bring me closer to my goals? This question however is the question which prevents us from being overworked and too busy.


The main reason why so many people find it difficult to answer the second question (does this task bring me closer to my goals) is because most people don’t have a clear vision of what they really want to achieve. When you don’t know where you would like to arrive, it is hard to figure out the shortest route to that destination. Without knowing what your goals are, it is impossible to figure out if the task at hand brings you closer towards them or leads you away from them.

Probably no one likes to spend his or her time and energy on meaningless tasks, but what is the definition of a meaningless task? A meaningless task is nothing more than a task that does not serve a desirable goal. This is exactly why it is so important to set clear goals. Goals help you to give meaning to your actions.

Big vs. Small goals

Having clear goals helps you to see which things really matter and helps you to determine which tasks are crucial and which are not. Sadly, most people don’t have a clear picture of what they really want.

Even though having clear life goals helps enormously with putting positive laziness into practice, you won’t have to worry about those just yet. If you haven’t determined which big life goals you want to chase you can start practicing the art of elimination on smaller goals. By smaller goals I mean things like meeting deadlines at work, short term company targets, and getting through school, as well as other things that you come across on a daily basis. With big goals I mean the life goals, your biggest dreams. For more about these dreams, see part 5.

Aim vs. goal

While determining if doing a task serves a clear purpose, it is important to be able to tell the difference between the aim and the goal of the task. For example: When you are writing a job application letter, the aim is to provide a clear overview of your skills and qualities so you give your future employer a good impression of you. The real goal of writing the letter however, is to get accepted for the function you are applying for. When doing homework for school, you are supposed to follow the assignment so you will master the teaching material. However, following the assignments (the aim) is not always necessary to master the material (the goal).

It is important to see the difference to make sure you won’t attach to much value to certain tasks. Make sure the tasks don’t overshadow the goal. Focusing too much on the way can make you lose sight of the destination. Whatever you do, make sure you know what you are doing it for or don’t do it at all.

Orders from above

When you can’t seem to find out the goal behind a task that you have to do at work or at school, you can always ask your boss/teacher about the reason for letting you do it. Don’t be satisfied with an answer that shows any resemblance with ‘because I say so’. Keep asking until you have a clear answer. Answering ‘because I say so’ is the same as saying that they don’t know the answer either. If your boss/ teacher can’t answer the question of what’s the goal behind a task, tactically ask if you could skip the task altogether since it’s clearly distracting you from the work that really is important. The funny thing about this situation is that you are reversing the roles. Instead of you having to justify why you didn’t do a certain task, now your boss/ teacher has to justify why he or she is bothering you with pointless work and distracting you from the more important stuff.

Elimination exercise

We will now take a look at a short exercise in removing the non-essentials. Take for this exercise an empty piece of paper and a pen, and follow the following four steps:

Step 1: Take the empty paper before you and write down all the things you still have to do. As soon as you have done this, ask yourself for every item the three crucial questions: What are the consequences of not doing this task? Does completing this task bring me closer to my goals? And, if this was the only thing I would get done today, would I be satisfied? Use these questions to determine which tasks are really important and cross off the rest of the tasks.

Step 2: For the remaining tasks, try to find the underlying goals of those tasks and write them down. Cross off all the tasks for which you can’t find a clear goal. The only exception is when not doing the task would be negative laziness.

Step 3: Take a good look at your remaining list and pay attention to the underlying goals of the tasks. Just because a task has an underlying goal, doesn’t always mean that that goal is worth the effort. Finally cross of all the tasks for which the goal is just not really worth the trouble of doing the tasks.

Step 4: Take another clean piece of paper (or use the back of the first) and rewrite your final to-do list. Again, write down the underlying goal of the tasks. This helps you to motivate yourself to actually do those tasks. It also helps you with finding more effective ways to achieve your goals. How this works will be discussed in the next section on finding more effective and efficient ways to complete tasks and achieve your goals.

Looking for more efficient ways to complete your tasks and achieve your goals

In this section we will take a look at effectiveness and efficiency, especially the difference between the two concepts. It is not just about completing tasks in a more efficient way, it is about becoming a more effective person as well. In the previous section you already made a list of things to do and then trimmed it down to the essentials. Now we will figure out how we can complete the remaining tasks on that list as fast as possible, as good as possible and with the minimal amount of effort.

Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

Effectiveness and efficiency are two terms you often hear in one sentence, this is because they are more or less connected. At the same time this is exactly the reason why these two terms are often being mixed up. A lot of people still find it difficult to separate the two. To make sure that at least you won’t ever mix those two concepts up we will look at both of them separately and then compare the two.


Efficiency is purely about the way you perform a certain act. Completing a task in the most efficient way is nothing more than performing the task as economical as possible. In other words, it means completing a task with minimal effort, time and costs. How efficient a task is performed has nothing to do with the underlying purpose or goal of the task. Efficiency is all about the task itself.


Effectiveness is all about the goal that you are trying to achieve by completing a certain task. It’s about the effect that is caused by the performing of the task. How effective a task is entirely depends on the goal you are trying to achieve. If the task gets you closer to achieving that goal it is effective. If not, it is a waste of time and the task is ineffective. It’s no rocket science. It’s as simple as that.

It is almost impossible to work effectively without being efficient. On the other hand, it is amazingly easy to work super-efficient without being even a bit effective. You can spend your whole day doing tasks in a highly efficient way without getting a single step closer to your goals, or even getting your daily tasks done.

A few examples of these tasks that you can easily do very efficiently without being effective are:

  • Carrying an empty suitcase up and down the stairs a million times.
  • Counting the average number of drops of coffee that fall from the coffee machine after you’ve filled your cup.
  • Customizing your toothbrush by painting miniature flames on it.
  • Walking the dog leash (without the dog).
  • Flossing your pet otter.
  • Counting the pieces of toilet paper.
  • Checking if the length of a roll of tape is indeed as long as the package says it is by measuring it yourself.
  • Braiding the fur of your bunny.

You can do the previously mentioned tasks as efficient as possible. However if they don’t get you closer towards your goals they are not very effective. This is why it is important to start with making sure a task is effective before looking for a way to complete it as efficient as possible.

The underlying goal

In the previous exercise you’ve been asked to write down the underlying goals of each task. The reason for this is that it helps you become more effective. What you should want to do is to strive to achieve those goals as fast and properly as possible. With this underlying goal in the back of your mind it also becomes easier to see if a task really is important.

Multiple layered goals

Before you can find the most effective way to achieve something you first need to clearly define what it is you are really after. Without doing this, focusing your effort to find more efficient ways to do your tasks might even work counterproductive.

The first thing you should ask yourself before starting at a task is if it’s the most effective way to achieve the underlying goal. This might require you to look a little deeper into that goal than you’d normally do.

For example: If you are doing some cleaning at work, finding a more efficient way to clean the place so you can go home earlier might work counterproductive if you get paid by the hour. Especially if you clean for a living and the real underlying purpose is to make the money so you can pay the rent. Once you realize this you can either decide to look for a higher paid job or start offering cleaning services as a freelancer where you get paid per cleaning session instead of per hour. In this case you employing more efficient cleaning methods will enable you to get to your desirable endpoint more effectively (making the money to pay the rent in less time).

Another example; imagine that calling your colleague to make an appointment that he picks you up to go to a company meeting is on your to-do list. The underlying goal of calling your colleague is of course getting him to pick you up to get to the meeting. However, the underlying goal of the meeting itself could be deciding on a new marketing plan. Even though calling your colleague may be the best way to get him to pick you up and arrive at the meeting, the deeper underlying goal, the deciding on a new marketing plan, might be better achieved by holding a digital meeting. This would be a lot more effective and efficient because now, no one has to drive all the way to the central meeting point so a lot of time is saved. Fuel costs and CO2 emissions are avoided as well. So with this deeper underlying goal in mind it might be a better to, instead of calling your colleague, send one e-mail to the whole team in which you suggest an e-meeting.

In the previous examples you could see that there can be different levels of underlying goals. So, underlying goals can have underlying goals. Like getting picked up to be at the meeting is the underlying goal of calling your colleague, the deciding on the new marketing plan is the underlying goal of being at that meeting. Always keep your eye on the deeper underlying goal. Try to look further than just the superficial one.

Finding other roads

Now you know the deeper goal of the tasks at hand it is time to find the most effective and efficient way to achieve that goal. Keep in mind that there are multiple ways to get where you want to be, and not every way is the shortest one. You already have the advantage of knowing the deeper underling goal which reduces the chance of you getting distracted by nonsensical tasks. The thing you really need to do is achieve the goal, not necessarily take the steps you would normally take.

Keep it simple

When finding out the fastest way to achieve the underlying goal it’s important to keep the following two guidelines in mind:

Guideline 1: The less steps, the better. Minimize the amount of steps you have to take to achieve the goal to the absolute necessary amount.

Guideline 2: Keep it simple. Keep your plan of action as clear and simple as possible. Know what you are doing. The simpler the plan, the less detours it has. Look for the shortest and easiest way to achieve the goal.


Learn from others

Yes, it is self-evident that you should always learn from your own mistakes and successes. However, often it is even more effective to learn from how others have achieved comparable goals. By this you are levering the experience of other people who got it by putting their time and energy into it, without having to do the same. You are saving yourself time and energy by tapping into the experience of others. The good thing about this is that you are not hurting others by doing this. They have already put in the time and effort in collecting the knowledge and experience on how to achieve those goals. That time won’t come back anyway. It is only logical to take advantage of it.

How much time and energy you can save by doing this can clearly be seen by what you can learn from books. In a single book which you can read in just a few hours, you can sometimes find the results of years of searching for the right solution. The lessons the writer has learned from years of trial and error you can take in by just reading it. Without having to make all the same mistakes yourself.

Learning from mistakes vs. learning from successes

Of course it is ideal to learn from the mistakes of others so you won’t have to make the same ones. It can be a good move to look for people who made a lot of mistakes while trying to achieve the same goals as you. However, it is far more interesting and effective to look for people who found the solution for the problem you’re facing (finding the most effective way to achieve your goal).

A short illustration: Thomas Edison invented a proper working light bulb after more than 10.000 attempts (the details of the exact number vary depending on the source; the point is that it took a lot of tries). When you would like to make a light bulb yourself, you could study the 9.999 failed experiments so you know what doesn’t work. However, it would be a lot smarter to just look at the one experiment that did work. Do not just search for mistakes you can learn from, focus your search on the successful solutions found by others. Learn from success.

The same applies to your own experience of course. It is self-evident that you should learn from your mistakes to assure that you won’t repeat the same ones, but try to focus more on your successes. Sadly, we are not always as conscious of our own successes. This is for a large part because we tend to only mark big achievements as success. To put that straight I will share a short definition of success.

Success is nothing else than achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself. No matter how big or small that goal is. This means you are successful every single day in a way. We tend not to notice this because we put too much emphasis on our mistakes.

Count your successes

Did you plan on getting out of bed today and did this? Congratulations! That’s a success. Did you plan on reading this book? Again, congratulations! Did you plan on taking a walk and did it, hooray another success. Realize when you succeed at things and learn from it. Make mental notes on what went right. This focus on success has the benefit of boosting your confidence by helping you to place failure into perspective. Instead of dwelling on it endlessly when you make a mistake in whatever you’re doing, realize that there are countless more successes to counter that one little error.


The art of relaxation comes forth from the third guideline of positive laziness: Laziness is good when it makes you avoid distress and fatigue. It is especially the ‘hard work leads to success’ myth that causes us to pointlessly deplete our energy reserves. It’s the thought that we have so much to do, and not enough time to do it all that drives us to rush into tasks blindly. In effect, the list of things to do seems never ending.

By applying the art of elimination, you put an end to this by cutting your to-do list down to the absolute essentials. By doing so you will achieve more in less time which in turn gives you more time to chase your higher life goals. However, be careful that you don’t fill up all your newfound free time with other tasks, even if they are useful. Your body and mind need their rest.

By making sure you get enough rest you will give your body and mind the chance to recover energy and strength which enables you to work more effectively. A well-rested healthy body and mind are a lot more productive than those on the verge of a burn-out. Burn-outs and fatigue are phenomena which are often caused by our obsession with hard work. Positive laziness helps you to avoid these pitfalls.


When you are constantly pushing yourself, stressing yourself to the max, your body eventually can’t stand up to the pressure anymore. Long-term exposure to an overload of distress impairs your immune system, which makes you more susceptive to diseases. Worrying too much makes you irritable and moody, which impairs your ability to think rationally and clearly. Not only is hard work not the key to success, it’s unhealthy as well when it’s not balanced by enough rest.

Take it easy

To keep your body and mind healthy it’s important to get enough rest. The first tip on how to go through life more relaxed is to stop hurrying. When you think you are running late, missing a deadline or are too busy, it only makes you more stressed. This leads to a clouded mind, which makes you more likely to not pay enough attention, resulting in making mistakes. Time seems to speed up as well as soon as we get into a mental hurrying state.

Stop hurrying altogether. Leave a few minutes earlier from home if you need to be somewhere in time. Get up a little earlier to take your time and enjoy a relaxed breakfast. Take the time for the things you need to do. You can’t be too busy anyhow, so just focus on the task at hand. Just take one step at a time. Think about how you are going to perform a task before you start, and more importantly, ask yourself if you should be doing that task at all. Think before you act. And don’t forget to take a good breather once in a while.

We will now look briefly at a few tips on physical and mental rest.

Physical rest

– Make sure you get enough sleep at night. Find out which amount of sleep works best for you since the optimal amount of hours varies from person to person. Sleeping too long is tiring as well, so get up in time.

– Take powernaps to refresh yourself. Take one cup of coffee and then lie down and shut your eyes for about 15 minutes. After these 15 minutes the caffeine kicks in as well. Make sure you don’t get into a too deep sleep (get up after the 15 minutes). When you shut off completely it will take at least 30 minutes before you are fully awake again.

– Get enough exercise. Exercising helps you to feel fitter and more energized.

Mental rest

– Stop hurrying, take your time.

– Meditate once in a while.

– Take a relaxed walk in the fresh air from time to time.

– Try staring at the stars at a clear night sky for half an hour.

– Don’t worry about matters that you can’t influence, you’re not planning on changing, are none of your business or have nothing to do with your goals.

In part four we will look deeper into the subject of a peace of mind.

Previous: Part 1: Setting the record straight – Next: Part 3: Action, getting things done

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