Who wouldn’t want to be a couch potato for a living? Imaging, the overstuffed cushions, and piles of blankets and pillows. The softness of the sweatpants. The collection of remote controls arrayed around the empty bottles and bags of chips on the coffee table right in front of you.
As fun as it may sound on the surface, some people would have a hard time enjoying this lifestyle for long periods of time. Yet the description above certainly checks all the boxes for the Hollywood definition of the word “lazy”.
This image is highly contradictory against the backdrop of a busy office and the flurry of activity around a hardworking and focused Engineer. These two images could not be further apart in terms of activity levels, but the people at the center of these two scenes have a lot of things in common.
The best Engineers excel at being efficient. They achieve massive amounts of work in small time spans and seem to get things right the first time more often than not. This is not due to luck or chance. The lazy couch potato expends enormous amounts of energy to prepare for not having to move for interminable periods of time while binge watching the latest season of some new show in the most comfort possible.
Both the Engineer and the couch potato excel in reaching their objectives. Both take the time to consider and plan out a project before embarking upon the execution of the project objectives. This planning and consideration is critical towards achieving success for the goals in front of them.
I’m lazy. But it’s the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn’t like walking or carrying things.
Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Wałęsa
We must ask the question: Why wouldn’t the best Engineers also be the laziest of the bunch?
There is even science backing this theory.
In one research paper published in the Journal of Health Psychology: “The overall findings showed that low-need-for-cognition individuals were more physically active, but this difference was most pronounced during the 5-day work week and lessened during the weekend.“
Therefore, according to research, people that enjoy thinking result in less physical activity over time. Scientists call this a Need for Cognition. In other words, they basically state that people who like thinking and puzzles are lazier because they think more and move less.
Is that true? Sitting and thinking is now an excuse to sit around and be a sloth?
This does not feel right to me. The definition of lazy states: “averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion; indolent.“
Thinking through complex problems while not moving as much as people considering simpler problems does not strike me as lazy. It would probably be fairly easy to argue that if there were a measurable and quantifiable method to measure output that the “lazy” person in this context is actually doing more work.
Or, in other words, the opposite of the textbook definition of the term.
Laziness for Engineers has nothing to do with the output of their efforts, whether that be mental or physical output.
In my opinion, laziness for Engineers is wholly focused on efficiency.
In this way I am redefining lazy to reflect achieving the most efficient solution possible with the lowest amount of physical effort to reach that solution.
This definition, on purpose, ignores the mental exertions needed to achieve that solution. It is very easy to understand how someone could look at an Engineer who is solving major world-defining problems while barely moving a muscle over lengthy periods of time and conclude that they are lazy.
My laziness serves as a filter, Something has to be really good before I’ll decide to work on it.
Michael Lewis via ‘Moneyball’ author Michael Lewis says being lazy is the key to success
So if you want to become a better Engineer, start building some lazy habits like these:
Practice 360 Degree Solutions
No, this is not advocating spinning around in the air during physical exertion on a skateboard or basketball court. Performing a 360 degree evaluation of a solution attempts to look at the problem from all sides and angles.
It is an effort to look for extreme edge cases and unique circumstances that may affect the viability of the solution. This is a very thought-consuming task, but is a skill that requires cultivation and practice to become good at it.
Reuse and Recycle
The most efficient solution possible is one where you don’t have to put in any effort whatsoever. To reuse solutions to products, they must be created in a way that makes them available to use as a resolution for other circumstances.
This takes some planning when creating the initial answer, but can pay big dividends when one solution provides answers multiple problems.
Remember The 1:10 Ratio
Planning is the most important part of any project. It has been estimated that one hour spent in planning can save 10 hours of effort in execution during project development.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little more time in the planning phase and to take an extra hour or two to ensure that the project plan is solid and closes any open gaps. This will save a lot of rework time downstream and prevent a lot of headaches.
It doesn’t matter if coding, designing, writing technical documentation, or wiring up simple circuits. A messy work area makes things harder to find and brings down overall efficiency. Keeping tools, code, and other key notes organized and readily accessible helps keep the work velocity on the project smooth and fast.
In conclusion, the best Engineers are also lazy, as long as that definition focuses on achieving maximum benefit from minimum effort.
However, common definitions correlate laziness with sloth. So I don’t recommend broadcasting to the uninitiated your extreme level of laziness until you are sure that your audience understands just how smart, efficient, and resourceful that skill makes you.
Thanks for reading!
Originally published at kevinwanke.com on March 9, 2020. Kevin’s blog focuses on advice for new Engineers and for Engineering Managers.