Bridge over ocean
1 November 2013 CFA Institute Journal Review

In Praise of Laziness (Digest Summary)

  1. Marla Howard, CFA

The business environment of meetings and e-mail communication is counterproductive, especially in areas where creativity and strategic thinking is expected.

What’s Inside?

The ethos of busyness, hard work, and constant communication may have made workers less creative and productive. The authors suggest that workers embrace the “leaning back” ethos by finding more time for thought and aiming for less stress and more innovation.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

Creative people may be most productive when they have big chunks of time with fewer interruptions. An excessive number of meetings (and meetings that run long), an overabundance of e-mails, and stress are enemies of productivity. Strategic thinking by top managers may be similarly hindered if they are overbooked, overburdened with e-mail and operational meetings, and too busy for reflection.

The authors argue that the generally accepted emphasis on “leaning in,” the conventional virtue of hard work and networking—and an inordinate amount of time spent on e-mails and in meetings—is counterproductive, especially when creativity is desired. They point to a recent study that demonstrates that creativity is higher on low-stress days. Another study found that IT workers concentrated on tasks for longer and with less stress when they were deprived of e-mails.

Reading e-mails at the dinner table, working long hours, attending extensive meetings, and similar behavior results in stress and reduced productivity. These work habits are especially prominent in the United States. The authors suggest that workers and managers learn to “lean back” for increased creativity and productivity.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

The following are some ideas to avoid the “treadmill of pointless activity”:

  • Go for a walk or take time to simply look out the window.
  • Form a “stop doing” list. Identify engagements you can miss, meetings you can cancel, messages you can move to the “unwanted” e-mail list.
  • Set a specific time each day for reading and sending e-mails.
  • Ensure that meetings have a purpose. Set a time limit.
  • Avoid having dinner or retiring at night with your cellphone or tablet.
  • Reduce activities that diminish your creative time.

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