The Art of Positive Laziness – Part 4: Practical Applications

This part is all about the practical applications of positive laziness. It is written to quickly skim through from time to time to get some ideas when time seems to be scarcer than it should. We will look at the 80/20 principle, go through some ways to keep a clear mind, see how you can improve your reading speed, discuss some ways to implement the art of laziness at school and end with some other practical applications.

The 80/20 principle

There is quite some literature to be found that discusses the 80/20 principle, some books are even entirely dedicated to it like “The 80/20 principle” by Richard Koch. Even though this is not one of those books dedicated to the principle, a short explanation of this principle can’t be left out in a book about effectiveness, efficiency, and time saving.

In short the 80/20 principle comes down to this: 80% of the results come forth from 20% of the input. For example:

– 20% of the customers are responsible for 80% of a company’s revenues

– 80% of all the wealth is owned by just 20% of the population

– 80% of the time you hang out with friends you spend with 20% of your friends

– 20% of your clothes you wear 80% of the time

– 80% of the time you only use 20% of your stuff

The list can easily continue for a while but you probably get the idea. Find out which 20% of your efforts are responsible for 80% of the desired results and focus your time and energy on those activities. Find out what you do different in this 20% of the time and learn from that. Now we know about the 80/20 principle we can continue with the practical applications of positive laziness, starting with how you can realize a calmer and clearer mind.

Peace of mind

A clear mind enables you to go through life more focused. Keeping your emotions under control helps you to let rationality prevail so that you can make the right decisions at the moments it matters the most. Worrying too much clogs up your mind, at the expense of your ability to think clearly and of your effectiveness. It makes you more likely to make the wrong decisions. A neat tidy mind is a clear mind. To find out which thoughts get in the way of a clear mind we will take a look at what we are unnecessarily worrying about.

Things you shouldn’t worry about

The following list consists of things which can drive us crazy from time to time while not helping us one bit. The following you can safely neglect worrying about:

Things you can’t influence

Worrying about things you can’t influence only drains your energy. If you can’t change something because it’s outside your realm of influence, you should forget about it and direct your focus to something else. No matter whether you worry about it or not, nothing will change as a result. You might as well save your mental bandwidth and attention for things you can influence.

Things you’re not planning to do anything about

If you are not going to do something about the thing that is bothering you, you should let it rest. If you’re not going to change it anyway, why pay attention to it anymore? Either do something about it or let it go.

Stuff that’s none of your business

There is nothing wrong with some empathy, but keep out of matters that are none of your business. Focus your energy on yourself before getting into other people’s business, especially when you can’t influence it anyhow.

Events that have already past or are still to come

When things have past, you can’t change it anymore so let it rest. When you are stressed and nervous about having to give a presentation or visiting the dentist, realize that you can’t do much about it now anyway. Besides, it still lies in the future while you live in the now. When you are anxious about having to speak in public in front of 300 people, realize you are not giving the presentation right now.

Why worry about stuff that still has to happen? Just focus your attention to the present moment. If you get all queasy about the idea of having to take place in the dentist chair, remind yourself you are not there at this moment. Relax, experience the now. You don’t have to worry about any of it at the moment since it is not happening now. Besides, a lot of time the things we look up to end up not being as bad as we thought they would be.

Things that have nothing to do with your personal goals

Know which things really matter. Focus on the things that are relevant for achieving your goals and realizing your dreams. Don’t let yourself get distracted by the things that only keep you from achieving them. Never lose sight of your goals and dreams. Keep in mind which things really matter the most for you and just focus that.

What others think about you

Finally, don’t worry too much about what other people think about you. Too many people waste their energy and time because they do that which they think other people expect them to do, instead of setting and chasing their own goals. Most people don’t think that much about you anyway. Often they are far too busy with their own daily worries. Don’t too pay much attention to negative criticism either. Don’t let yourself be talked out of ideas by just one person. Keep in mind that there are around 7 billion people in the world. Who is this one person to tell you that something is impossible? There’s a big chance that millions of people have a different opinion about the matter. Just believe in yourself.

Try to put things into perspective and don’t pay too much attention to the negative comments of others. Sadly, there are people in this world that like to talk other people down so they can feel better about themselves. Don’t let these people mess with your head, who do these people think they are? This might sound a little egocentric but you got to remember that you are the most important person in your life. After all, it is your life, and it’s your responsibility to get the most out of it. Other people have their own lives to influence. Just ignore the people who only express negative criticism.


How to become a more effective person

What follows is an overview of some tips on how to become a more effective person that are quite obvious. However, that these tips are quite obvious doesn’t necessarily mean that they are already being followed. It’s not knowledge, but applied knowledge that is power.

Do something with your ideas

Everybody has great ideas from time to time; few of these ideas are actually being implemented. Most of the ideas you come up with will never come back, so make sure you write them down. Make sure you always carry some kind of notebook with you to write down your ideas as you come up with them. These can pop up in the most unexpected moments, so be prepared. As soon as you come up with a great idea, do something with it. Having a great idea which is not implemented is just as good as having no idea at all.

Action speaks louder than words

This advice is an extension of the previous one. There is a big chance you know someone who has been walking around for years with the idea to start his own company, go on a trip around the world or write a book. This person usually tells everyone about it. However, at the same time nothing ever really happens, and the person keeps walking around with the idea.

Don’t waste your time by telling everyone about the things you still want to undertake someday, just start realizing those plans instead. Don’t talk about doing stuff, but actually do it. There is nothing wrong with telling people about what you are working on, but make sure you actually get started in the meanwhile.

Focus on just one task at a time

Even though multi-tasking is being praised at a large scale as the solution to becoming more effective and efficient it is still a better idea to keep your focus on just one task at a time. By this you can concentrate more easily at the task at hand and you won’t be distracted so easily. By concentrating more you’ll be less prone to making mistakes. This prevents you from having to do things twice. Just focus on the task at hand and finish it as fast and good as possible before moving on to the next. By this I don’t suggest that if you still have to return a book to the library, want to see how late the movie in the cinema starts and have to get some bread from the baker, you shouldn’t do this in one trip to the city. Whatever you can combine you shouldn’t shy away from, as long as you still can focus on each task separately.

Effective communication

We spend a lot of time communicating; being able to communicate effectively saves you a lot of time and frustration. We will take a look at some guidelines on getting your message across efficiently and go through some tips to either avoid or get you out of pointless conversations and arguments.


Keeping an eye on the goal

To communicate more effective it’s crucial to keep your eye on the goal of the interaction. By doing this you’ll be able to keep control of the subject and it helps you steer the conversations back on the right track when it wanders off.

Get to the point

Avoid small talk. Don’t ask empty questions which you don’t expect an answer to. When you call someone to find out how late a meeting is, don’t ask questions like ‘how are you?’ and talk about the weather unless the weather might have any influence on the timing of the meeting you are calling about. Keep it short and just ask how late the meeting starts. By this you’ll prevent wasting your time and that of the person you are calling.

Speak clearly

Pay attention to your articulation. If people are struggling to understand what you are trying to say, chances are they won’t get much of the message you’re trying to get across.

Be alert

Pay attention and remember what has been said. Avoid having to ask things twice because you weren’t paying attention for a second. Keep your full attention at the conversation at hand. This means really being present. Put your phone away for a moment when talking to someone face to face.


Ask to clarify

To avoid any misunderstandings it is important to clear away any potential misinterpretations. You could do this by formulating the point of view of the other in your own words and ask if this is indeed what he/she was trying to say. This practice is also called active listening and can be used for resolving conflicts as well by forcing the opposing parties to put themselves in the shoes of the opponent. In this case the next person may only bring forth his or her next point after formulating the other party’s point of view in such a way that he or she agrees with it.

Arguments and other pointless conversations

Sometimes we just can’t seem to escape it and we get stuck in pointless discussions and arguments. This is usually just a huge waste of time and energy and gets us nowhere. Fortunately there are some simple methods to avoid these stressful time wasting discussions, starting by recognizing them in an early stage.

What’s the point?

Before engaging in any argument or discussion, ask yourself what the point of it is. If taking part in the discussion doesn’t get you any closer towards achieving your goals, it’s often better to let it slip even if the other party is clearly wrong. Just walk away from it. The best way to get the most out of an argument is to avoid it altogether.

There’s no use in winning every time

Don’t try to out-argue the other every time, even when you are right. Some people are just less sensitive to rationality and well founded arguments. Don’t waste your time trying to get others to see you are right to people who aren’t listening anyway. In some cases it might be best to end the conversation by saying: ‘I get your point.’ Or in the worst case scenario even by saying ‘you’re probably right’. Excuse yourself and get on with more useful things, or at least things that are less stressful.

It’s better to acknowledge that the other person is right (even if he/she isn’t) than to get stuck in a pointless and endless discussion. When the outcome of the discussion doesn’t affect you it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose the argument anyway.

Learn how to distinguish meaningful information from pointless data. When a discussion is going nowhere and the other side is only bombarding you with unfounded shaky arguments you know that it’s time to end the discussion.

Take a deep breath

Things that unconsciously slip off the tongue at the wrong time while not paying much attention can get you into a lot of trouble. In some cases it might even lead to endless further discussions you’ll need in order to talk yourself out of it and apologize. This happens more often than we realize because we spend a lot of time operating in autopilot-mode. When we aren’t alert we just react to stimulus in the way our brain has programmed itself. Sometimes this leads us to say stupid things without realizing it, things that could trigger some angry reactions.

To avoid getting yourself into discussions in which you have to talk yourself out of things you said while not paying attention, the only thing you have to do is to be more conscious about your own answers. From now on, take a deep breath and think about what you are about to say before you speak. When someone asks you a question, don’t respond right away. Take a breath, let the question get through properly, and answer afterwards. In this few seconds you can right away determine if the conversation is going anywhere. This enables you to steer it in into a meaningful direction if not, or end the conversation altogether.

Don’t worry that people might think that you are being slow when you pause for a moment before you answer a question. It only shows that you take the question seriously and you’re not just sprouting random answers. This helps you to leave a more intelligent impression and enables you to make a more meaningful contribution to the conversation. By answering more focused and thoughtfully you’ll be able to get to the point faster.

Vague questions

A vague question leads to a vague answer. Only ask clear and focused questions even if this requires you to put a bit more thought into it. When someone is asking you a vague question ask this person to clarify the question. Never answer a vague question. Without knowing what you want to know you’ll never get the right answer. When you don’t know what someone is trying to ask, you can be as creative as you want in answering, but it’s just guessing.

How to talk yourself out of useless tasks

As soon as you realize that you’re wasting a lot of precious time and energy because of tasks you’ve been ordered to do (by your boss or teacher for example) it is crucial to be able to talk yourself out of those tasks. Note that this only works if those tasks really are pointless. You can use the following method to talk yourself out of these pointless tasks:

Step 1: Reason

Appeal to the common sense of your boss/teacher. Show him with clear and founded arguments why a certain task only distracts you from more important matters.

Step 2: Suggest an alternative

When you try to get out of having to do a task that you think isn’t the most effective way to achieve the underlying goal, suggest a better alternative. Show that you are not just trying to get away with doing nothing at all, but in fact are being highly efficient with your time. Show that you know what you are doing.

Step 3: Propose a trial

When proposing a new way of doing things to achieve the underlying goals a lot faster you shouldn’t be too surprised if your teacher/ boss is skeptical at first. Propose a trial so you can prove that it works. Present it as something that can be turned back if it doesn’t work as promised. This way, your teacher/ boss keeps the impression that he or she is still in full control, and you save yourself a lot of work. It’s a win-win situation.

Positive laziness for students

Since positive laziness is indispensable at school, we will now take look at some tips on how to go through school in a more effective way. This helps you to get through school more easily. When I started applying positive laziness I noticed that school got a lot easier over time. On top of that, eventually I had more time left then I could fill. Talk about a luxury problem.

Pay attention in class

By just participating actively in class you’ll save yourself a lot of time. Since you have to spend those hours at school anyway, you might as well try to make the most of it. Paying a little bit of attention in class can make the difference between pulling an all-nighter and getting some decent sleep the day before a big test. Don’t hesitate to ask questions when you don’t quite get things or if the lessons are going too fast for you. Everything you absorb during the lessons you don’t have to learn at home anymore. All the homework you finish at school can’t rob you of your free time once you get home.

Increase your neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the ability to make new connections between your brain cells. It’s about how fast you can absorb new information and how well it sticks. The bigger your neuroplasticity the less time and effort it takes to learn new stuff. Humor has a positive effect on this. Watch some funny video’s for about half an hour on Youtube before starting to go through the teaching materials. Not only helps this to relax, it makes you absorb the material faster as well.

The essence of the materials

Make sure you have an overview of all the teaching material which will be asked about in the next test as quick as possible. Knowing the study goal helps you to judge which homework assignments are essential and which can be skipped. Only do the assignments which bring you closer to achieving that learning target.


Specific questions

Information is better retained if it is an answer to a question you really want an answer to. By converting the learning target into specific questions you’ll be able to get to the core of the teaching material faster and remember it better. Start with the question: What do I want (or in the case of school, what do I have to) know? Think of questions that help you achieve the goal of getting to know it.

For example, imagine you have a history test on the 16th century of Holland. You need to be able to tell something about how the trade of goods was done in that time, the politics, and some major events that took place in that century. For this you could formulate the following questions:

– What where the most important elements of trading in the 16th century?

– How was the country governed?

– What were the most important events of that time?

Once you formulated the questions it’s all about finding the answers to them and you will have covered the essence of the materials. I know this might seem too simple to work, but it really does. Make sure you know what you want to know, find the answer and you’re done. Follow the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle. Don’t complicate the matter.


We will now look at some ways to increase your reading speed. There are two ways to do so. The first is to physically increase your reading speed, as in more words per minute. The second one is all about reading efficiently by skimming through the text. We will start by looking at this method first.

Efficient reading

Efficient reading is about only picking up the most important parts instead of reading the full text. This method is perfect for getting the essence out of textbooks while studying.

Tip 1: Determine you reading purpose

Before you start reading, determine your reading goal, there are two main types of reading goals:

– Finding the answer to a specific question

– Picking up the core of the text

Tip 2: Don’t read the words out loud in your head

Just let your eyes sweep across the page instead of reading every word out loud in your head.

Tip 3: Start by reading the question before looking at the text

Exercise: Finding the answer to a specific question

Read the following italic text from Wikipedia ( and answer the following question: How high is the reflectance of deep and dense clouds?


A cloud is a visible mass of droplets of water or frozen crystals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of the Earth or another planetary body. A cloud is also a visible mass attracted by gravity, such as masses of material in space called interstellar clouds and nebulae. Clouds are studied in the nephology or cloud physics branch of meteorology. On Earth the condensing substance is typically water vapor, which forms small droplets or ice crystals, typically 0.01 mm (0.00039 in) in diameter. When surrounded by billions of other droplets or crystals they become visible as clouds. Dense deep clouds exhibit a high reflectance (70% to 95%) throughout the visible range of wavelengths. They thus appear white, at least from the top. Cloud droplets tend to scatter light efficiently, so that the intensity of the solar radiation decreases with depth into the gases, hence the gray or even sometimes dark appearance at the cloud base. Thin clouds may appear to have acquired the color of their environment or background and clouds illuminated by non-white light, such as during sunrise or sunset, may appear colored accordingly. Clouds look darker in the near-infrared because water absorbs solar radiation at those wavelengths.

If you did it correctly you didn’t start reading it immediately. You would have skimmed through the text until you spotted the words ‘dense deep clouds’, and read the part until ‘70% to 95%’. After that you would have stopped reading it altogether and went on reading the normal text.


Getting to the core of the text

To be able to quickly make proper summaries it’s crucial to be able to get to the core of the text. To do this quickly you should follow the following guidelines:

  1. Take a look at the whole

Read the headings, look at the pictures and read the first and last sentence of each paragraph.

  1. Ask questions

Wonder who, what, where, when and why.

  1. Pay attention to bold, italic and other words that stand out from the text

Increasing your physical reading speed

Increasing your physical reading speed is all about practice. It helps to keep in mind that reading is nothing more than capturing and processing images. While reading, our eyes tend to skip back and forth between sentences and words. Using a pen or your finger to guide your eyes through the text helps you to avoid this. This saves time you otherwise would spend on reading things twice.

Another exercise you can use while trying to increase your reading speed is to read 5 pages really fast. Continue (or go back 5 pages) by reading in a more relaxed pace. When you read the 5 pages 8 times faster than normal and after that cut back to reading at a speed 3 times faster than normal, reading 3 times faster doesn’t feel that fast anymore.


Other positive laziness stuff

We will end this chapter with some short summaries/ overviews concerning positive laziness.

Questions for practitioners of the art of positive laziness

Here’s a short list of questions which should cross your mind on a daily basis as a practitioner of the art of positive laziness.

* What’s the purpose of this task?

* Is the underlying goal worth the effort?

* Does completing this task bring me closer to achieving my goals?

* Can’t I just skip the task?

* How would I normally do this?

* Is there another, more efficient way to achieve the same goal?


Pointless tasks and actions

Refrain yourself from the following:

* Tasks you do because you assume that other people feel like you should do them.

* Starting at things you deep down know you won’t finish.

* Continue with things of which you realized by now that they are pointless, just because you’ve already started.

* Starting at tasks where the underlying goal is unclear. Not knowing what you are doing.

* Trying to win a discussion when the end result doesn’t matter anyway.

* Trying to answer vague questions.

Keep in mind

* First eliminate before looking for efficient ways.

* Think before you act.

* Just because something takes a lot of time and effort doesn’t make it meaningful or important.

* ‘I’m not lazy; I’m just a highly effective person’ (an excuse to use when you are dealing with people who don’t get the point of positive laziness.)

* An impossible task is nothing more than one that’s insufficiently defined.

* It doesn’t matter how hard you work, what counts is how much you achieve.

The art of laziness’ main principle:

Only  that do which is absolutely necessary, but do this as quick and good as possible.

Previous: Part3: Action, getting things doneNext: Part 5: Positive laziness and life goals

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