Smart slackers

by Grace aka costofcollege

“I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!” — General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord



Do you agree? Which quadrant do you occupy?

As a kid, I got lectured for only doing the bare minimum to complete a task. As an engineer, I get paid to do just that.

Does this work in real life?  How do you apply this idea when parenting?  And, is there a gender component to this way of thinking?


108 thoughts on “Smart slackers

  1. I’m intelligent but lazy. My DH is intelligent and hardworking.

    This has worked out for us in that I keep a part time job that requires very little actual work time to complete everything (DH jokes on a per hour basis I’m probably the highest paid employee at my work). This is hard for me in that I have to actually drive and come into the office and sit here while doing mind numbing tasks every day. I can be fully engaged if something is new or challenging but that is rare. The reason I keep the part time job (it’s easy) is the very reason I hate my job.

    I’m a lazy/free range parent in a lot of ways (kids you can only do one activity at a time for your sake, but really mine, arranging play dates and overseeing homework) but I’m not lazy about cooking nutritious meals every night. I think everyone has things they’re lazy about and other things they’re not so lazy about.

  2. I recently had a similar conversation with my kids. They were complaining that the science teacher requires them to write a minimum amount to answer some of the questions, and they think it’s dumb when they can provide a shorter answer that is sufficient. I remember having the exact same complaint when I was in school. Why do you need to write five sentences when you can provide a complete answer in two? I still don’t understand it.

  3. Interesting analysis. My high-achieving friends who have been despairing over their bright slacker daughter should be relieved by this. (She is in her freshman year at the local flagship state university, so I suspect they’ve been exaggerating how little work she’s been doing these past few years.)

    I think this chart is oversimplified, though. Like Atlanta, I have worked my ass off sometimes if I’m engaged and challenged, and then again I’ve phoned it in for years at work because I could do so and still get raises and promotions. I’m hard-working when I’m interested. Otherwise not. And also like Atlanta, I’ve loathed the years where I’m doing about 3 hours of work and 5 hours of dicking around on the Internet, but when your husband has the high-powered job, someone has to have the job where they pay you reasonably well but still give you lots of time off to wait for the plumber or whatever.

  4. DD,

    I think it comes down to teachers tending to be very process oriented vs. results oriented. In the real world, you have a range of jobs: some very process oriented, some very results oriented and some in between. But for kids, they only have the option of one very process oriented “job.”

  5. I’m not sure this is true in BigLaw, where hours billed are so important.

    But maybe that is why I was a bad fit :)

  6. My least favorite combination is stupid and arrogant. Definitely the most annoying to work with by far.

  7. I am definitely Intelligent Lazy, and I’ve come to embrace it more in the last year. I used to feel guilty about all the time I waste on the internet when I should be working. Not any more. I realize that I get more done in the few hours I’m engaged than others do in a full work week. I hate being bored at work, but I can’t complain too much at the work/life balance I’ve achieved and the salary I’m being paid. I asked to work from home a few days a week and that has helped a lot. I get a lot of the little tasks done around the house during the week.

  8. In light of yesterday’s post, I will note that “stupid and arrogant” had a definite gender association during my undergrad. :)

    I love this post, because I’m working on a spreadsheet that shows why we need to make a change now rather than three years from now. If we do it now, it will be like taking candy from a baby. In three years, it will be a pain in the neck. I was going to explain it to my manager as “lazy and strategic.”

  9. I realized I could be intelligent and lazy – and yet meet work expectations. I was bored so I took a position that was a little more demanding. It has worked out fine. I have realized that more senior positions require constant availability not because you are actually doing the work but because there is a constant stream of things that require your approval. Right now, I cannot commit to that sort of availability but if I don’t feel like retiring early, I will.

  10. Hehe. I Like to think I am intelligent and I am certainly lazy. But laziness made me a very bad fit for my very big-law job. If only someone reads that quadrant and makes me a high officer, I should be good.

  11. When I hear about the hours that top CEOs and government officials put in, I really cannot classify them as lazy. Look at all the discussion about Paul Ryan not wanting to put in the fundraising hours expected of the Speaker. Maybe the term “hardworking” as used by the good General really meant “sweats over unnecessary details”. But to me, time=work, so any person who is in a job that requires long hours of travel, gladhanding, and hobnobbing is definitely not lazy.

  12. Ha!

    Love this post. DH always tells me about the time he got an hour-long lecture from his dad about “being a minimalist”, when he was about 10. Then he would skip classes in HS because he made a deal with the teacher that if he got 100 on the tests, he didn’t have to go to class or do homework. Then same thing in college, without the homework (but I think the homework counted 5% or something) – he just read the textbook, didn’t go to class, and aced every final.

    I always did all my homework and sometimes did the extra credit, and always went to class. (But I have a suspicion that the homework didn’t take me very long compared to others!)

    I also have a really hard time with billable hours and have to tell myself to slow down while working, ALL THE TIME. Not a good way to be IMO, but management would rather layer all other requirements on top of the billable hour requirement, rather than let our work be measured by other metrics.

    So DH is smart and lazy, and I am smart and hard-working, BUT he works harder on the things that he cares about than I do. So he will stay up all night coding, whereas I would never do that for work or anything else. (OK, maybe for a million bucks.)

  13. “I’m hard-working when I’m interested. Otherwise not. And also like Atlanta, I’ve loathed the years where I’m doing about 3 hours of work and 5 hours of dicking around on the Internet…”


    I’m the high(er) earner, but nonetheless I have plenty of time to do the behind the scenes work keeping track of personal financial and household operational stuff, etc.

    The ‘interest level’ of whatever I’m working on definitely impacts the effort I put forth.

    I am intelligent and lazy. Perhaps to the detriment of my final career achievement both in title and compensation, but I am happier than if I had to be intelligent and ~85% hardworking.

  14. “I am intelligent and lazy. Perhaps to the detriment of my final career achievement both in title and compensation, but I am happier than if I had to be intelligent and ~85% hardworking.”

    Ditto to this. That’s also the attraction of investment income. 60% more work could get me 30% more pay, which would be 18% more after taxes. It would also eventually require a much more expensive living situation, which would have an opportunity cost to investment income. But investment income requires no work at all, and you can push the 15% taxes out indefinitely. In after-tax considerations, it’s a no-brainer.

  15. 60% more work could get me 30% more pay, which would be 18% more after taxes.

    That would be true if how hard you work was directly related to how much you make. Which it isn’t.

  16. “That’s also the attraction of investment income”

    I happened to mention to a colleague who is in generally the same life situation and as DW and I are earned-income-wise recently that one year (2012) we made more in the market than we did working. She said that never happened to them.

    Being a member of the ownership class really does make a difference, even if we do still keep working for income for any of a myriad of reasons.

    For me, the direct visible payback of more income-producing investments is much more tangible, certain, and satisfying than becoming a workaholic would be.

  17. I was intelligent and hard working until I had a child. I became intelligent and lazy when I was working full time with a young child. I know lots of people say they’re more priductive( ellieand the boys), but I had to start taking care of more personal stuff at work. I was tired too. I found TOS because I was surfing on conference calls.

    I definitely saw my career take off when I was lazy. I delegated more stuff to the right people so I could do less work. The only time it failed was when they offered me a big promotion to manage people in three countries. I couldn’t pull that off, and it definitely hurt my career.

    I just left a meeting at large global bank in midtown. One of my former colleagues asked to have coffee after the meeting. She wanted to discuss how to do less because she has two young kids. She keeps getting asked to take on more visible positions. She was actually looking for advice on how to fly under the radar and still stay relevant.

    I think these boxes are partially accurate based on my experience in financial services. The part that doesn’t work is for the folks that work on deals. It’s similar to big law. I think the people are usually very smart, but they have to work very hard too. If you’re lazy, you have to be “connected” to survive until you get to the upper ranks.

  18. I fall in the intelligent and depends on lazy vs. hardworking. I learned a long time ago I can usually produce 25% to 50% more than my peers in the same time frame without losing quality (hardworking approach). I am also good at taking a new compliance requirement and figuring out how to implement it as painlessly as possible (the lazy approach). I am rarely rewarded for producing more, but I am regularly rewarded for the painless as possible implementation.

    I find switching between the two when it is strategically to my advantage is the best of both worlds.

  19. I think being intelligent and hardworking is probably important in big law to an extent. DH is a pretty responsible guy, and he agonizes over whether he should take vacations if he may be busy at work. I see his colleagues just take them and other people pick up the slack and they’re no worse for the wear at work. I think /hope having a lot of investments/money in the bank will make him ease up a little bit on the “always have to be in hardworking mode” but it may just be his personality. Even when he’s home he is always doing projects around the house.

  20. You have the terms unproductive and productive and then the terms lazy and hardworking – how is lazy different from unproductive and productive different from hardworking?

  21. Productive different than hardworking. If I’m particularly clever and figure out how to do something in an hour that takes the average person 3 hours, I’m much more productive. I need to “work hard” for 1 hour, the others may be very hard working but they take 3 hours. All else equal, I should be much more in demand than the others because I can produce more in the same amount of time. (Now if I just screw around on the internet for the other 2 hours, rather than produce more output, we’re equally productive.) Maximum output per unit of time/energy, etc is the objective, not just effort.

    Lazy, I think is simply a lack of effort put forth. If I worked for an hour I’d be able to do 3x what you do, but I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.
    Unproductive is (lots of) effort put forth with little/minimal/no output produced.

    They are different concepts.

  22. Rhett – There are people who are hardworking and not very productive. Example – my job has a compliance requirement that has to be done every two years, documented, and submitted to another organization. Person who did this before I did, took two weeks to complete the task or roughly 60 hours given the other tasks that can’t be deferred while working on this. The first time I did the task it took me 25 hours – the longest part was going through the prior documentation to make sure I was reporting in a consistent way – under half the time. The second time it took 20 hours or about a third of the time. We produced the same output.

  23. This topic is perfect for me today! My son was in full-on panic attack mode last night over the volume of work he had to do. It is mostly driven by a handful of essays due tomorrow, as writing is the thing that slays him. So my role some how became talking him into lower expectations. It doesn’t have to be perfect, blah blah blah. You don’t actually have to believe what you’re writing, just get something on paper. After he went to bed I couldn’t stop laughing about far from Tiger Mom I am. But more than academic perfection, I’m trying to teach him to manage life and his response to it in healthy ways. There are a lot of tasks out there for which good enough is truly sufficient. i was always a slacker, but I never thought I’d be preaching it to my kids.

  24. I just saw this. It relates to comments already made about knowing when to work hard and when not to.

    “There’s no reason not to make people grittier, but it’s important to know when to quit and reevaluate rather than blindly push through.”

    I think many of the hardworking types can have perfectionist tendencies. The lazy types can live with “good enough”.

  25. Ooh ooh! – Now I can justify my entire professional checkered work history by saying I was intelligent and lazy (true) but just didn’t figure out how to be promoted high enough. It reminds me of grades in elementary school – and A – results U(nsatisfactory) – effort was the brass ring, except in Penmanship where a D/U was the goal.

    Rhett – the General explained that. Stupid and hardworking does not equal productive, and can have disastrous results. Staff officers or the few remaining modern career middle managers/low level directors (including the intelligent moms who are grateful for their flex time jobs so they work double hard in their limited hours) are productive and reliable. The disconnect exhibited by the current multinational executive model from the days of the executive with his golf game and hunting cabin is that delegation of detail work and large thinking (the kind of laziness envisioned by the General) does not translate any more to time for leisure and reflection, but merely for 24-7 work availability.

  26. So far, most of the people on this list have rated themselves as intelligent but lazy. I guess none of us wants to be seen as either stupid or a grind

  27. I will take on the troll hat today and call bullsh*t on all of you. A Totebagger’s definition of lazy is not really lazy–it’s just not giving 110% to every single project, every single day. In other words, our bar for “good enough” is a lot higher than that of the Average Joe.

  28. “There are a lot of tasks out there for which good enough is truly sufficient.’

    My kids have realized this all to well. They find out what the requirement for the assignment is and deliver exactly as asked not an inch more. So, I find comments like “sloppy” but the grade received isn’t bad at all.

  29. Houston, I agree completely with what you said. But like other things, e.g. beauty, lazy is in the eyes of the beholder. We lazy+intelligent totebaggers all know how much more we can do, and sometimes/often we choose to conserve our energy. So we call ourselves lazy.

    Of course by “normal people” standards we are not lazy, if only because we always show up to work! (regardless of how we use our time once in the office).

  30. Houston – You are likely right. Good enough is also based on (1) your comfort level with your reputation being associated with that quality/quantity of work, (2) the expectation of the person receiving the work, and (3) how well it will stand up to peer scrutiny.

    An example – I spend 10 minutes yesterday formatting a document for a kid activity this weekend (added color, cute images, made all the text the same font). It was good enough because (1) it was way better than what I received (though if it had been a work document, I would have redone the whole thing because of the quirky initial formatting), (2) I knew it would exceed the organizer’s expectation and (3) no one else on the committee could have done it.

  31. So should schools grade students on effort? They do, and part of their rationale is that kids need to learn to work hard. Another part of their rationale is to reward/motivate students who might otherwise be “left behind”.

  32. I think when I read the OP, I was thinking in terms of paid work, so yes, probably still lazy. Would I be as lazy if my husband didn’t make more than enough to support us? Probably not. The first five years out of college I was probably in the hardworking/intelligent quadrant because I a. wanted to earn money and b. do a good job so I could move up and earn more money. People are lazy about different things but I don’t think most Totebaggers are lazy about everything. I was talking to a friend who works three days a week about quitting my job and she said, “But Atlanta Mom, then you’ll have to cook every night and clean the house, etc.” Well I already cook every night because I only work part time, but I get the impression that most women who work do a lot of takeout (which I get because I actually had to work until 5:00 one day last week and I caved and ordered pizza, which I still feel a bit guilty about).

  33. You have the terms unproductive and productive and then the terms lazy and hardworking – how is lazy different from unproductive and productive different from hardworking?

    Lazy and hard-working are the inputs (amount of effort) and unproductive and productive are the outputs.

  34. The General quoted was a brilliant and indolent German aristocrat and career officer who opposed Hitler and was involved in the plots against him. He was talking about the officer corps – he first joined the military in the days of the Kaiser – officers were drawn from the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, not the proletariat, and they were Germans(!), so when he refers to lazy, he is not talking about not showing up to work lazy. He is talking about people who are of similar social class to totebaggers in the modern US meritocracy. The word translated hardworking above can be translated as diligent, which makes it less pejorative.

  35. “I’m curious why hardworking is more valorized than productive.”

    Protestant work ethic. And the idea that plugging away = building resilience/grit, which we all now accept as gospel as the Path to Success.

    True story: my SIL is complaining that her son just isn’t very smart. I’m like, huh?, because the kid seems totally sharp. So she gives me an example: he and a friend decided to create a business drawing comic strips, which they’d sell to their friends. My nephew negotiated the division of labor: the friend will do the creating, drawing, writing, and copying; my nephew will make the sales and collect the money; and they will split the profits 50/50. My response: your son is freaking brilliant and will do very, very well in the real world.

    I am totally lazy and intelligent and only wish I worked for this general; too years feeling my Protest work ethic was seriously lacking (before I met Rhett’s $ per unit of effort standard, of course). ITA that this is not a good combination in BigLaw, where you are, literally, judged on the quantity of your effort more than the quality of the production. So I chose places with lower billable hour requirements, and worked hard enough not to get fired. The “intelligent” part got me to partnership, because the clients loved how cost-effective I was; the “lazy” part means that I get paid far less than I could, because I am not willing to plug away 2,000+/yr on boring drivel.

    On the plus side, my skill set is now actually useful to the firm, because I’ve taken over a part-time nonbillable role, so the fact that I do things in half the time (and delegate lots to cheaper people) actually saves us money for a change. I just spent the morning arguing with a guy who wanted to double the size of a required form (because more data is always good! We will be able to track x and y and z!) and pointing out how much extra time our attorneys will lose adding that detail over the course of the year, so he better be damn sure that the information he gets will be worth those lost hours. Before me, no one was paying attention to the incremental costs of decisions like that, and that’s part of the reason they wanted me for this role.

  36. “I caved and ordered pizza, which I still feel a bit guilty about”

    Why? Under the now-famous LfB principle, Papa John’s = grocery shopping.

  37. “I will take on the troll hat today and call bullsh*t on all of you.”

    I’ll take the opposite view and troll Houston’s comment-

    How much time does everyone spend on this site everyday? I’m not saying that everyone is being lazy while being on here, but you aren’t being productive at work. I would love to comment more, but I can’t keep up with the conversation most of the time, much less comment, follow up and (intelligently) comment some more.

  38. I am intelligent and hardworking, and this is what crushed my soul at my old company – it didn’t really matter how hard you worked, you were still paid the same, same benefits, same advancement or non-advancement. But by nature I’m unable to dial it back.* When I left with some colleagues and started our own business & then got to reap the rewards of the hard work — what a life change it has been. I feel like I am in the place I am meant to be. It was an important exercise in recognizing that by the time you get to age 40, you are who you are, and you’re better off finding an environment that rewards your strengths rather than trying to be someone else.

    *in terms of effort, not hours. Then, and now, I end my work day early enough to pick up kids from school, and I do not return to work until the following morning.

  39. To Nap, Fred and Houston’s point – it’s all relative.

    I’m lazy compared to colleagues, but hardworking compared to others outside my field. I’m intelligent compared to others on the outside, and sometimes downright stupid compared to my colleagues.

    I’m very surprised no one said they were hardworking… has everyone mastered Rhett’s metric?

  40. OK, one person has said hardworking. And I like Lark’s definition – not hours/availability, but what’s shoved into those hours. Which is also a metric of production… so there’s the fine line Rhett suggested.

  41. I used to think of myself as intelligent and hardworking. Then I realized that I didn’t really work much harder than most people (with notable exceptions in a few areas of my life); things just came to me a lot more easily. But it’s hard to say for sure, because who knows how hard the average person actually works? Effort depends so much on your own perception.

    I do think hard work and talent tend to be found together, whether in sports, academics, arts, or what not. The talented get lots of payoff and positive reinforcement from any work they do, which tends to drive them to try harder. Whereas when you’re the least coordinated kid on the basketball team, you probably don’t get a ton of enjoyment out of extra practice drills.

  42. DW is very hardworking for the amount of hours that she works. Other jobs, like mine, require that you be there for different meetings and face-to-face discussions and deliberations, but there’s ample opportunity for downtime. There’s a lot of YouTube watching and ESPN browsing.

  43. Some of my work days have built in downtime when I am waiting on other people. I get other things done but there is still an element of waiting. That’s why I have flexibility but there are days where I have to check in later in the evenings.

  44. I love getting Outlook reminders for meetings that are canceled, and the reminder says “Canceled – __ Meeting 15 minutes.”

    Speaking of staff officers, it reminds me of the captain in Catch-22 who was in charge of the pilot cadets and desperately wanted to have them perform a weekly dress parade. He could never get the colonel to go along with it, but he did find solace in posting weekly announcements that there would be NO dress parade on Friday afternoon.

  45. I agree with Nap; the diligent people aren’t in the habit of regularly commenting on a blog during working hours.

    And yes, I too am smart but lazy, with “lazy” defined in that Totebag way that still encompasses showing up to work on time and fulfilling commitments and making dinner and generally not having a ton of lounging-around time, but doing all of that at a meh-good-enough standard so as to preserve and hopefully increase the free time I do have.

  46. On the “is there a gender component” question: I don’t think there’s necessarily a significant difference by sex in the percentage of people who fit the smart-but-lazy paradigm, but I think there’s definitely a gender component in that the smart-but-lazy boy is a recognized type, whereas smart girls face more of an expectation that they should also be diligent (and organized and tidy and have nice handwriting). But since we all need to put on enough of a diligent and organized face to succeed in school and later professional life, I’m not sure that it’s really a big disadvantage for the smart-but-lazy girls to be pushed to get more organized.

    #1 son was reading the topic over my shoulder earlier this morning (I often take a look in the morning before the kids and I head out) and he recognized himself as the smart slacker, but was surprised when I mentioned that I was that type too and he came by that honestly. He was under the impression that I was organized. I explained that you have to get to a certain level of organization and timeliness to succeed in a professional job, but my strength is *not* the planning and project management. Drop me into a situation where I have an hour to learn a topic and then need to present it to 100 people, though, that’s an interesting challenge.

  47. Honolulu – off-topic but thanks for the mention of the Horrible History books a couple weeks ago. I ordered them for DS and they arrived last night. He’s looking forward to reading them.

  48. SSM — there are a lot of clips from the BBC tv show on YouTube too which he’d probably also enjoy.

  49. thanks – we’ll definitely check that out.

    And on topic – I’ll put myself in the smart and inclined to be lazy category. My job has been fairly demanding lately and not allowing me nearly enough time to spend on this site. So I wish I was lazier than I currently am right now.

    I was talking with a colleague who mentioned that she relaxes by doing stuff – gardening, home projects, etc. Not me – my favorite way to relax is to have a good book and not move for hours. Which explains why my garden looks like it does.

  50. “she relaxes by doing stuff – gardening, home projects, etc”

    This reminds me of watching the Rachel Ray cooking show where she always would say how the best way to relax after a hard day at work is to come home and cook dinner. Uh, not for me. The best way to relax would be to grab a bag of Cheetohs and a vodka and plop in front of the tv. I guess I lean toward lazy.

  51. Cooking dinner is stressful for me, not relaxing. I used to work late to hit the magic hour when I could bill a takeout dinner to the client, because I would rather do doc review than grocery shop.

    Right now I have a roast chicken in the fridge and 3 people (counting me) sort of willing to eat it for dinner, and 2 who refuse to touch our formerly feathered friend.

    If you would work to avoid housework, is that lazy or hardworking? :)

  52. Besides TV, one of my favorite relaxation activities is to sit on the couch on the porch, sometimes with a blanket at night, with my iPad linked to the Bose portable speaker, turned all the way up, and listen to old country music, switching between Pandora and YouTube, while reading the biographies of the artists.

    Here’s a gem from the 1950s:

  53. I love gardening and cooking. But these are not endeavors I like to do after work. I have a mad dash from leaving work until about 8pm. After that it’s TV, shower, bed. Usually gardening and cooking (relaxation style activities) are done on the weekends.

    I’m somewhere between lazy and hardworking. It really depends on my level of desire combined with deadlines. Like today – I have a draft report due tomorrow. It’s 90% done, but I don’t want to turn it in early when my boss said he doesn’t want it until tomorrow. So, I’m opting to play with some new software and create pretty figures for another report (while trying to figure out what I missed in the first draft of the report – are there any other avenues to pursue? Did I answer all the questions?)

    At this very moment I want to be stupid and lazy. My brain is mush, my anxiety is high, and my desire to be productive is nil.

  54. “The best way to relax would be to grab a bag of Cheetohs and a vodka and plop in front of the tv.”

    CoC, I’ve never felt closer to you. . . .

  55. I was very intelligently hardworking AND productive on Tuesday night. I organized our “life papers” by tossing out a lot of outdated stuff and keeping hardcopy only of only those things we do not have stored electronically somewhere. This while being available to help my kid with Trig. as he prepped for tomorrow’s (Friday’s unit test).

    Then, onto the couch to watch baseball. Since my team didn’t make it into the postseason, I’m watching as a baseball aficionado rather than a fan this year.

  56. “The best way to relax would be to grab a bag of Cheetohs and a vodka and plop in front of the tv.”

    Substitute a bowl of popcorn and a glass of red wine and that’s me.

    So here’s my question, for those who said they accomplished tasks in less time than it took their colleagues: how do you know that the colleagues weren’t just making it *look* like it took x hours? Maybe it actually took them y and they spent the other x-y binge-watching Netflix or something.

    I personally spent much of my day working on a project for a charity I’m involved with. I was at my desk and available to answer questions/put out fires, but spent very little time on anything my employer is actually paying me to do.

  57. Hoosier – I wonder that too, maybe a lot of people are just drawing tasks out while surfing the internet and then talking about how busy they are.

  58. I had a co-worker who couldn’t touch type. I was done every day at 5:02, he was there until 9. Some of that was fantasy football, and some of that was the typing :)

  59. Atl & Hoosier – absolutely that happens. all. the. time. It keeps people from getting new stuff piled on. My approach is to do the stuff I really like doing pdq in a effort to show how good I am at that in hopes of getting more of it. The boring, quarterly reports that no one really cares about anyway…somehow the cycle time on those is incredibly long.

  60. I do think I’m more hardworking than some of my colleagues (when I’m not here…). Some of them would stand at my cube and chat all day if I didn’t throw them out. Then they complain that they’re doing the work of three people. While some of my colleagues work in the evening, meeting with other time zones, these two people I’m thinking of have been clear they don’t work outside of office hours. I work hard during the day because I want my evening time to be free to do other things. As it is, I have to work a couple of evenings a week lately. I’m not going to listen to someone complain about work for an hour if that means making up the time in the evening. So to someone’s point, hardworking in support of more leisure time.

  61. Believe it or not, I actually have 2.5 to three times the amount of stuff to monitor/manage/analyze than my closest counterparts. I’m not getting paid any more than they are right now, and they, and some others are saying that there’s no way I can keep this going successfully, it’s too much, and I’m overburdened. I haven’t complained, but I also don’t see any reason to make it look any easier, either.

  62. This reminds me of something (wise, older) people say to medical students: Most everyone in medical school is a Type A personality. If fact, statistically, there are only two Type B in every medical school class.


    Yes, you and your best friend.

    I always thought I was the lazy one in my class. I graduated in the middle third (though it seems possible that half of our class was ranked as top third and half was ranked as middle third). My grades and mcat mismatch belie the truth: probably 10%ile grade wise for entering medical students, and 95%ile on the mcat. It got me into a very specific kind of top 10 school (and rejected from one of the easiest state schools in the country).

  63. Professionally, I think the night shift often attracts a certain kind of smart and lazy person. In most community hospitals, there is only one doc on at night, and they have adequate email time. In fact, I have scheduled post vacation email clean out time for my upcoming night shift.

    Not-smart tends to avoid the night shift, or at least not-confidentially smart does. There are many docs who are not comfortable being alone for several hours.

  64. I’m just stunned that Lark and Nap are the only people who admitted to being hardworking, at least that I saw in my skim of the comments. DH and I are both hardworking. Is all the “I’m so lazy!” sort of like the standard “I’m SO busy!” humblebrag? Do y’all REALLY think you are lazy?

  65. I thought I did say I was hardworking? :)

    Hoosier – when I had my first review ever in BigLaw, I saw the piles of paper work output in folders next to the attorney doing the reviewing. My pile of work output was easily 3x bigger than the others, and this was for a bunch of us (25?) who had started working at the same time on the same types of projects.

  66. HFN, I am hardworking during work hours. Where I think I am lazy is that I no longer have an interest in work hours extending past 5~ish. At the moment, I value time with family more than career prestige.

  67. I am both hard working and lazy, depending on what needs to be done. I am a “work first, play later” person, and DH is the opposite. This can lead to stress for me when he leaves something to the last minute and then wants me to help him out. I want to say to him that if he had started it earlier he wouldn’t be in this predicament, but I am usually able to bite my tongue.

    Relating this to cooking, I am a minimalist, and DH is not. He loves the little bowls that you put all the ingredients in, and I look at them as just more dishes to be washed. I would be happy having simple food, because fancy food takes too much time and doesn’t taste that much better to me. I love having complicated dishes when I go out to a restaurant, but I don’t want to bother with them at home. Part of this stems from past dinners where I put in a lot of effort, and got the “bleh” from the kids – so forget it.

    We were making dinner for about 18 this summer during a family reunion-type of vacation, and DH insisted that everything be made from scratch. DH, DD and I were working non-stop all afternoon. DD was all “this should be fun and enjoyable, why don’t you relax and just go-with-the-flow?” and because I was getting stressed my behavior translated to “I don’t like to cook.” If we hadn’t kept up a somewhat rushed pace the food/tables/drinks, etc. wouldn’t have been ready in time.

    Sometimes I want to scream at them, but I don’t because I love them! Luckily DS is happy with anything I make.

    Whew, sorry for the rant! I’m must catching up from all of the comments yesterday and today, so I am feeling a little chippy (when did that become a word describing football players?).

  68. I get it now, MBT – we are just alike. I was misunderstanding “lazy”. By the totebag definition, you and Paul Ryan and I are all lazy. I only work part time, but I work hard when I’m there. But goodness knows, career prestige has never been a thing for me. Maybe as a part-timer, I protest too much on the lazy moniker….

  69. Ordinary things, like folding laundry and cutting up produce for supper, take me just as long as anyone else. I spent today at work planning how to use our new equipment. My colleagues want to take things one step at a time, and when I planned it out, I discovered some gotchas that we should consider now. I’m a big picture person who likes to understand all the interactions and they are more linear thinkers.

    While I did that planning, which probably has a 15 year effect on our throughput, I admittedly interacted on this blog. I needed to consult four other people for estimates of things I didn’t know, which required a bit of waiting, and I had to do some spreadsheet iteration of “modeling the big factors” to get numbers that I was satisfied were sufficiently accurate.

    After I got home, I did 90 min of work for my small business and will make supper, start a load of laundry, supervise piano, review and sign off on homework, monitor approved TV time and nurse the baby. While doing my small business work, I interacted with Mr WCE about a possible trip to Germany next month and potential parent/teacher conference interactions and considered what dates might work for private lessons for my swimming-challenged sons.

    It’s hard to say what is “work” and what is “not work.”

  70. “There are a lot of tasks out there for which good enough is truly sufficient.’

    I have a lot of reports to write, forms to fill, and schedules to create (aka red tape) that have nothing to do with the end product. They are for the benefit of managers who have difficulty dealing with ambiguity and are comforted by these artifacts, even as they are often rendered moot, many times by decisions made by those same managers.

    For hoops like these, good enough is sufficient, leaving more bandwidth for important things like optimizing system designs or understanding all the interactions.

  71. “forms to fill”

    Perhaps because I was having lunch as I typed this, but that brought to mind Phil ITB, brother of Jack.

  72. “ITA that this is not a good combination in BigLaw, where you are, literally, judged on the quantity of your effort more than the quality of the production. ”

    DS has lately been watching a lot of Ally McBeal and How to Get Away with Murder, which probably gives me a distorted view of the legal profession, but I’m under the impression that consistently winning cases, which I’m assuming depends in large part on the “quality of the production,” is something on which lawyers are judged.

  73. Finn, it depends on whether you’re a litigator. Lots and lots of lawyers, even in BigLaw, are not litigators.

  74. I’m under the impression that consistently winning cases, which I’m assuming depends in large part on the “quality of the production,” is something on which lawyers are judged.

    My understanding is most lawyers don’t actually try cases.

  75. While I admittedly slacked on my “work work” while at work today, I actually did work very hard (and continue to do so since I’ve been home) on the project for my volunteer gig. I can go pretty hard when there are fires to be put out, but I’m perfectly happy to coast when all is well.

  76. ssk: You need to have excuses ready for your DH and other family members when they try and suck you into their last minute and overly complex projects. “Sorry hon, I’d love to help, but I have to do this last minute thing for work…” Then hang out here or watch cat videos on your computer.

    HFN: I, too, work hard. I’m not smart enough to put in 50% effort. I was the type of student that had to do the homework and show up in class. At work, I have people to delegate to, but I have to personally review everything that goes out the door, and there are always a few corrections to every document or project ….

  77. OK, I’ll admit to being hardworking, to the point of being a grind. I did well in school and college and law school, but that was because I worked really, really hard. I’m sort of amazed at those of you who were able to excel in school, and who are now able to excel professionally, without a great deal of effort. I wish I could be like you.

    I’m less of a grind than I used to be, though, because it gets harder for me to work hard as I get older. Part of this is because I have other priorities now besides work, but part of it is that I just get tired more easily than I used to. At this stage, if I try to work late at night, my work product is pretty much junk, so I don’t do it any more.

  78. ” I’m sort of amazed at those of you who were able to excel in school, and who are now able to excel professionally, without a great deal of effort. I wish I could be like you.”

    You are. It’s just that your job requires a different output, and probably a lot more original content that you have to produce. If you were doing something where you’re just a single cog of review/input, then you’d have more of an opportunity to be faster/slower.

  79. “DW is very hardworking for the amount of hours that she works. Other jobs, like mine, require that you be there for different meetings and face-to-face discussions and deliberations, but there’s ample opportunity for downtime.”

    This helps explain how many of you can comment here so frequently during the day. I’ve never had a job with lots of downtime, and neither have I worked in places where many others had those types of jobs.

    “maybe a lot of people are just drawing tasks out while surfing the internet and then talking about how busy they are.”

    OTOH, maybe I’ve never been smart enough to get my job done quickly so that I have time to loaf around at work.

    All this makes for speculation and uncertainty about how hard individual people actually work. Appearances can be deceiving, and often it’s difficult to measure output.

  80. Coc – for me some days are very busy and it is just trying to make deadlines but some days involve waiting for others to respond before I can proceed, researching questions that others have asked – those days are slower. There are really no typical days. Also, with computers at least I can step away after the business day, carry on with chores of my personal life and then check back in later for my colleagues responses. It would be very hard for me to continue working if I had to physically wait for responses, sitting at my desk in the office. This is the biggest change I have seen from early in my career vs. now. Many more people I know, now work exclusively from home, getting together with their teams in person maybe monthly or so.

  81. I think some of the “lazy” comments are not reallly that any of us are truely lazy but we are at a point in our careers where we’ve done the hard work and now are managing more than “working”. I’m at the point where I now manage a team that does the actual work and I do a lot of higher level planning or answering random questions. There is a lot of down time during the 9-5 hours (or time spent thinking about processes or planning for meetings-not producing a specific TPS report), but I still need to be here and available. Other than answering quick emails and extra hours during specific times of the year, I really limit the post 5 pm working.

  82. “for those who said they accomplished tasks in less time than it took their colleagues: how do you know that the colleagues weren’t just making it *look* like it took x hours?”

    Don’t know for sure, of course. But history would suggest it (I was not one of the kids who always had to go to class and study — and when I did the homework, it took way less time than others). I read and digest very quickly, and I think like WCE’s big-picture, which tends to get you to the point more quickly than when you have to think linearly.

    @Finn: We don’t try many cases. And you sure don’t try cases as an associate (which is what I was focusing on). The early years, you’re doing discovery and legal research memos — very much churn stuff that you can evaluate based on volume (well, consistently bad memos get you fired, but really awesome ones don’t put you ahead). By years 4-6, you’re writing briefs and arguing simple motions, so the quality/performance metrics come more into play. Years 6-7 are “make partner” pressure, so both volume and quality.

    @HfN: I don’t think he means “lazy” like the Steve Miller version (sit around the house, get high and watch the tube). I think he means lazy almost as in how I think of efficiency — figure out the stuff that really matters and focus your efforts there, and then figure out ways to spend little to no time on the gruntwork, drudgery, and all the stuff that has to get done but doesn’t really push anything forward. The perfect example was the DH discussed above who negotiated with his teachers to get out of doing his homework as long as he was pulling good grades on the tests. The “smart/diligent” quadrant will do everything well but will deploy an equal amount of effort to get everything done.

    And of course the stupid/diligent are the worst — they’re the ones who will return your TPS reports because you used a staple instead of a paper clip. They all go to work for the DMV and TSA.

    I am honestly not surprised that most of us veer toward the smart/lazy category, as most of us are in professions that give us a fair degree of autonomy and so reward that sort of behavior. We just call it “efficiency” and “prioritization.”

  83. On downtime at work: I largely post before I get going and then at lunch. But otherwise, you know, I’d love it if I had a continually-refilling plate, so I had a clearly-defined set of tasks that I could fill every minute with. But the work is streaky, and I go from 0 to bat outta hell and back, sometimes all over the course of a day. So when a call ends early and I don’t have anything else to fill the 10 minutes before my next call, I’ll check in. And, you know, I’m streaky, too; sometimes, I can fly through the work with immense focus, and other times I just can’t, and I can’t force it. So this is good for mental breaks, too.

    Which probably also goes back to why I don’t get paid as much as I could — the really awesome lawyers here will use that time to call a client just to check in, or have a conversation with an associate about life, or read a relevant article, or some other really useful thing. I don’t put as much effort into those other parts of the job, so I don’t earn their same results.

  84. So much of this depends on your job. Lawyers, at least at the associate and of counsel level (and junior partner, too) who bill by the hour either work hard or pad their time (or a third option, are forced to leave). I will just say that I would never, ever hire a lawyer by the hour.

    Other jobs reward only the product output, so I can see having a lot more down time in those types of jobs if you are smart at your job.

    Finn – in my 10+ years practicing law, the only time I was ever involved in a case was when I was a witness. Gratefully, I managed to avoid litigation.

  85. This TPS discussion sent me back to Terry Tate, Office Linebacker.
    “You KNOW you need a cover sheet on your TPS Report, Richard!”

  86. how do you know that the colleagues weren’t just making it *look* like it took x hours? Maybe it actually took them y and they spent the other x-y binge-watching Netflix or something

    My industry is project and deliverables/work product driven, so it’s pretty easy to measure productivity. From a combination of working hard and working efficiently, I was able to handle more projects than my peers, which in my old model was bad and my new model is great.

    On checking in here: I nearly always do it when waiting for a conference call to begin (as right now). I’ll have 5-10 minutes when I’ve set aside one piece of work, but can’t get immersed in something else because I’m waiting for a call.

  87. The nature of my job is that my day gets chopped into lots of little bits – teach a class, then 5 minutes in my office waiting for a student to show, then 5 minutes waiting for the next one, then 15 mintues to pull stuf together for the next class. Right now, I just finished grading a stack of designs, and I have 5 minutes to kill before I need to leave for class. I wish I could get bigger chunks of time. I was just reading that the secret to productivity is to focus on only one thing, in big chunks of time. I wish that were the reality in more jobs

  88. In jobs I’ve had, productivity did not always relate closely to input. Sales, for example, may be a factor of territory, other team members, or any number of other factors. I’m sure we can all relate to how this works. Now, a smarter employee might channel his energy into getting into a better territory or working with a better team or helping develop a better product. Or seeking a better position with another company. And part of it is just luck or randomness.

  89. “I will just say that I would never, ever hire a lawyer by the hour.”

    My recent experience was with a lawyer who billed by the hour. It was painful, but she did warn me not to call her unless it was really, really important. Apparently she has clients who like to vent, and it can turn out to be very costly. I don’t think my lawyer was inefficient, but those minutes can really add up.

  90. @Lark — wha? Describing how you know you work faster, in response to a question of “how do you know you work faster,” isn’t remotely pompous.

  91. I was a civil trial lawyer for 10 years. The few trials we had involved someone who was crazy or who had nothing to lose. That was probably 3 in 10 years.

  92. My first job out of library school when I was 23 was as an indexer. We assigned subject headings to articles in newspapers, popular magazines, trade journals, etc. The standard was 88 articles per day — 11 per hour. I could do 88 articles in 5 hours with excellent accuracy. Many folks needed all 8 hours. I got really pissy about the fact that there was no reward for doing more than your 88 articles. I could obviously have helped the company out by doing another three hours worth of work, but if they weren’t going to pay me more, screw ’em. I learned a lot about my own motivations at that job (I like money! That was a big one.) So I just sat around and read magazines and newspapers for my remaining three hours (this was before the Internet was widely available.) That would have been a great job to do from home, but of course that wasn’t allowed, partly because WFH wasn’t at all widespread in 1983, and partly because the Apple IIe computers we were working on were too expensive to risk sending home with staff.

  93. Rocky…perfect example of why (some) people are not as productive as they could be! Also points to one of many flaws in the way people are compensated. Just picking a number, if you were making $5.50/hour (which is what I was making as a paralegal fresh out of undergrad in the early 80s), that =’d $0.50 per unit for you at 11/hour. If they had actually said you’d make $0.50/unit they might have gotten 33 more units/day out of you with your same level of quality, right? But, perhaps, for others, the piece-meal rate would have served to increased the number of units, however with more defects.

  94. This discussion made me aware that I should probably pull back and read manuals for awhile at work. As a contractor working part-time, I will tick off my colleagues if I do too much work compared to what they do as full-time employees. I’m already known as a go-er who plows through work, but I need to only do that when it’s truly necessary. Certainly a slower-pace makes me less error prone, which is important given the nature of what I do.

  95. “I will just say that I would never, ever hire a lawyer by the hour. ”

    The one time we’ve hired a lawyer was for our wills/trusts, for which they had a standard rate schedule. I think most of that was done by a paralegal; once we had our initial interview with one of the lawyers who the firm is named after, all our interactions were with a staff paralegal.

    Thanks to all the lawyers who confirmed my suspicions that Ally McBeal and How to Get Away with Murder don’t accurately represent the typical work of a lawyer (the latter in particular).

  96. I watch How to Get Away with Murder, and I think I like the show. I just don’t understand what happened each week until I read the recaps.

    We watch Homeland, so I started to watch The Affair since the shows are on the same night. My husband has no interest in the Affair, so I usually watch it in pieces at the gym, or when I am cleaning. I think it is a great show.

Comments are closed.