Laziness as Key to Creativity


A few weeks ago, I read an article on 99u in praise of being lazy. The view was refreshing, the article title provocative. And as I read along, I realized that another way of praising being lazy–at least according to this school of thought–is to encourage spending less time making one’s self available to discursive activities. The Internet, for all its power and perks, is certainly also a tool ripe with discursive potential. I find that even knowing I’m available via online chats or smartphone texts or messaging systems takes energy I’d prefer to save for my creative endeavors. This is why, Monday through Friday, I leave my cell phone in airplane mode and my computers turned off for the first several hours of each work morning. Unless my creative writing demands I research something online, I see no reason to be tempted by interruption–whether that’s harmless Facebook updates or texts that can be dealt with at a later time–why let them interrupt my flow in the now, if I really care about writing the best possible stories I can write?

This is not about depriving ourselves of entertainment, resources, inspiration, or community. This is about honoring the deep focus required to do our best work. Perhaps more so, about valuing presence of mind. If I’m writing my novel, what does Facebook care? The characters in my story are not going to be more richly imagined because I’m stopping every few minutes to scroll new notifications. I’d argue, in fact, they may be less richly imagined. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: The Internet will still be there when my morning writing session has ended. But that concrete image? That metaphor I was just on the cusp of writing? That new insight about a character? The causes and conditions that come together at any point in time to allow these things to come to life on the page will never be present again in exactly the same way as they are RIGHT NOW. There’s no replacing that.

Here’s one of my fave quotes in praise of this kind of “laziness,” and I hope you find that it affords you permission to step back from any tasks in your life that may be cutting into your creative prowess:

If you’re driven to produce things that matter, then you need to put deep work at the center of your professional life. To do so will probably require that you become lazier in the Feynman and Stephenson sense of the term: that is, you must treat with sluggish wariness efforts that keep you away from depth, regardless of how many small benefits they promise. Few people, of course, can completely eliminate shallow work from their professional lives, nor would they want to if they could. But shifting your general mindset toward one that embraces depth and shuns shallowness can make a big difference in the amount of value you produce. To put it another way: become hard to reach, avoid new tech tools, be slow to answer e-mails, become blissfully ignorant of memes, turn down coffee requests, refuse to “hop on” calls, and spend whole days outside working in a single idea—these are exactly the type of lazy behaviors that can change the world.

Don’t suffer from interruptions or discursiveness? Congrats! Get discursive and share this post with a friend (hah!), or post a comment here about your own best practices in laziness.

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