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Work Smart

How Incredibly Lazy People Can Form Productive Habits

If you want to change your behavior but not try that hard, then pay attention to the friction involved.

[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]

Like many of us desk-bound keyboard-toilers, marketing strategist Gregory Ciotti is trying to get to the gym more. But Ciotti is also a productivity blogger, so he has a keen understanding of how to hack his morning routine . The solution: designing for laziness.

"I pack my gym clothes in a bag the night before and place them right next to my door," he says. "On cold days, I even place my jacket on the counter-top by the door. By again designing for laziness, I eliminate all possible excuses by getting things ready when my willpower is high (aka: the night before, when I don’t have to go to the gym)."

By packing his bag the night before and placing it right by the door, Ciotti has reduced the friction associated with doing something healthy for himself. If you get prepared the night before, you don't spend 15 of your precious morning minutes rifling through your drawers in search of lost socks; instead, you're on the treadmill. Conversely, you can increase the friction if you want to drop an unhealthy behavior.

How else can you apply the more-or-less friction method and thus better leverage your laziness? It might help to have an understanding of why we don't like friction.

Psychology gives us two points to think from: first, your brain isn't going to spend energy that it doesn't need to spend in order to complete a task. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, has posited that this is an evolutionary adaptation—if you're trying to survive the Stone Age by using the fewest calories possible, it makes sense that we're disinclined to effort.

Decision fatigue presents another angle: our brains are organs, not computers. They get tired. With that tiredness, the quality of our cognition goes down—one of the reasons your reasoning when you're tired is so much worse than when you're alert, as Deepak Chopra would assert.

Reducing or increasing friction, then, is a way of preventing ourselves from squandering our mental energy on less meaningful decisions. If the socks are in your gym bag, you don't need to find them in the morning; if the candy bar is on a far away shelf, you'll be less tempted to touch them.

That focus on friction is something that leaders understand. President Obama, for instance, keeps a deliberately minimalist wardrobe, as he unpacked to Vanity Fair:

"You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits," [Obama] said. "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. "You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia."

The takeaway, then: rather than spending your energy on trivia, invest it in deep work or other productive habits—which reducing friction helps us do.

Hat tip: Sparring Mind

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