The Surprising Reason Why Staying Busy Actually Makes You Lazy

Written by on 14 Oct 2014

I have a confession to make.


I have always considered myself to be…


A lazy person.


I realize this might be shocking to some.


Maybe you’re amazed that I’m admitting my flaws to you. We’re all supposed to be perfect, right?


Maybe you’re concerned that someone purporting to give advice could also be in need of some personal development. We’re supposed to have it all figured out, right?


But I bet if you’ve read any of my work so far, you’re confused because you don’t believe me. I mean, by most popular standards, my life has been full of hard work and accomplishments. Yet, despite all I’ve been able to achieve thus far, sometimes I still feel like a bum.




Like a lazy, lazy bum.


This notion became wildly apparent to me nearly four years ago when I started my job on Wall Street. In was knee deep in my usual method of self-discovery—doing something incredibly embarrassing—when this knowledge fell into my lap.




It is this embarrassing story that I would like to share with you today, to try and teach you the error of my ways. So grab some popcorn and get ready to make your awkward, uncomfortable face. Here we go!


In the winter of 2010, I was just starting out on the trading floor at a global investment bank


This was my first big-girl job out of college, so I had quite a bit to learn.


Industry standard went something like this. Most banks hired recent grads into what’s commonly referred to as an “analyst program.” At the outset, the program didn't really provide you with a specific job, role or function. Rather, it was a system in which you are given time to learn about the bank itself, explore all of the different products the bank sells, meet the various teams on the floor, and eventually choose which “desk” you’d like to join for the next two years.


It’s a med-school-esque matching program disguised as a job.


Thankfully, it paid like a real job.


After the matching process ended, you got matched with a desk. I was lucky enough to find myself on the high yield and distressed credit desk.


Now, if you don’t know what that is, please don’t waste your time googling it. Seriously. It’s inconsequential to you and the rest of your life unless you want to be chained to a chair, staring at 4 computer screens, swearing a lot, and trying to convince 50-year-old-men with 30 years of experience that XYZ random dying company is a good investment for their 6 billion dollar fund.




But if you’re like me and that last paragraph just made you extra, super, duper curious, just read this article by Tyler Durden on ZeroHedge called Everything You Wanted to Know About Credit Trading But Were Afraid to Ask. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll wonder why the financial markets didn’t crash sooner.


Enjoy the rabbit hole. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


Anyway, trading “credit” basically means you trade the bonds and loans that finance the existence of other companies. In order to do that, you need to spend some time learning how companies work—namely, how their finances are structured, how things could go right for them, and most importantly, how things could go wrong for them. In order to do that, you have to spend some time as a credit “analyst.”


I know you don’t know me that well, but here’s one thing you should know:


“Analysis” could not have been lower on my list of interests. I’m a people person, not a research person. I need conversations and companions, not spreadsheets and screens. So I had to figure out a way to weasel out of this analysis requirement as fast as humanly possible.


Thus began my scheme to get to the sales desk.


I quickly realized that there were really only three functions on a credit trading desk: research, trading, and sales. Researchers studied companies and their debt for potential investment. Traders made the capital decisions around which companies will be chosen for investment. Sales people managed the relationships between the bank and the money managers who would be making those investments.


Pretty straightforward process once you move all the egos and dollar signs out of the way.


Once I defined these roles, I did some not-so-subtle recon to see where I wanted to go. I quickly learned that I didn’t want to stare at spreadsheets for 12 hours a day (research) nor did I want to develop a necessary-Ny-Quil-before-bed habit (trading), so sales seemed like the best option for me.


I negotiated a way to spend half of my days working with analysts and the other half shadowing the sales team. This was no easy task, but I’ve found that often in life, the best way to get what you want is just to ask. I've written about this as well. You just never know.


So there I was, living in transition. Everyday I would literally run back and forth between sales and research, which were surprisingly not all that close to each other. It was during this period of transition—the physical movement of my body between desks—that I embarrassed the crap out of myself and had my true laziness confirmed.


During these journeys between desks, I would carry the following (necessary) items:


  • One Black and Red notebook (these are the bomb, btw)
  • One small flip notepad
  • One stack of Post-it’s
  • One pen
  • One pencil
  • One cup of water
  • One cup of coffee
  • One personal cell phone
  • One professional cell phone
  • One very necessary sweater (it was freakin’ freezing in there… always)


And, of course, one me—with (you guessed it) only two hands.


Yet, despite my inability to use my feet to carry things or to ever ask for help, I tried to get myself and all my stuff to-and-from each desk, in one trip, every time.


Multiple times a day.


Every single day.


I piled my arms high, put my head down, and tempted fate.


As you can imagine, I was that kid who tried to carry in all the grocery bags on one arm, dropped them all, and broke the eggs.


But did I learn? No.


So, as Murphy would have it, this habit came back to bite me in the butt.


On one of my trips between desks, disaster struck. With hands full, I managed to trip over an errant chair, spill my entire cup of water on my sweater, my entire coffee on one of my notebooks, and lose both my pen and pencil.




Now, to understand why I was so mortified by this scene, you must know a few things. First of all, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—I Hate. Spilling. There are three things in this world that I hate the most—breaking stuff, falling down, and spilling things. But the greatest of these, is spilling things.


I. Freaking. Hate it.


You lose whatever you had made. You have to clean it up. Then you have to make it all over again.




To add insult to spillage injury, I was in the middle of a 900 person trading floor (900!), populated mostly by men who make a living by making fun of other people.


I was an injured zebra among lions.


Fresh meat.


Thankfully, though, my coworker Glen felt a little sympathy for my plight. That, or pity. He looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Lazy man’s load. Gotta work on that, champ.”


Hmm… I thought. Lazy man’s load? An idiom I hadn’t heard, yet?!


Must Google.


The Lazy Man’s Load is a shorthand term for a very common paradox—it describes how, to save themselves the trouble of making two trips, lazy people will frequently pick up more than they can carry.


Basically, they do something that looks hard to avoid something that actually takes more effort.


This behavior, my friends, is the epitome of laziness. It is just cleverly disguised as efficiency. But don’t be fooled!


It’s crazy lazy.


From grocery bags to business materials, I was a lazy, lazy bum.


One year later, I found myself in another similar predicament. Except this time around, I wasn’t carrying something heavy in my hands. I was carrying it in my heart and in my head.


One year on the desk had passed, and I was miserable. Yet, while I thought I was trying to make changes to make things better, I was really just spinning my wheels.


I was in a cycle of unhappiness.

I was working 12 hours a day.

I was doing crossfit every single day.

I was anxiously scouring LinkedIn ads.

I was applying for jobs I knew I didn’t want.

I was going out—a lot.


I was crazy busy.


But really, I was being crazy lazy.


As Tim Ferriss once wrote, “Being busy is a form of laziness—lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”


My lazy thinking—not mindfully discerning what I wanted to do with my life and distracting myself with kettle bells and shots of Jameson.


My indiscriminate action—applying for random jobs I didn’t care about and pretending like I was trying hard to change my life.


I was living under the guise of hard work, when in reality, I was spending an inordinate amount of time doing things that were easy—things like staying in a job I hated, drinking more than I should, and going out whenever possible.


My life had become a Lazy Man’s Load.


It wasn’t until I made a vital shift—to start taking meaningful, difficult steps toward creating a future and a life that I wanted—that this load lightened significantly.


I started doing the hard things first.


I did some major personal inventory to figure out my innate strengths and interests. I quit my job. I took a leap of faith and traveled around the world. I worked with international entrepreneurs along the way. I spent even more time engaging with others. I tried to find out what people really needed and how I could serve them.


I did more “hard work” in six months than I had done in the previous two-and-a-half years.


You can do this too, if you try.


There will be times when you will be tempted to carry a heavy load in life to make it look like you’re moving forward. Just remember—this is the lazy man’s way out!


Slow down, take a step back, put everything down, and re-evaluate.

If you’re going to carry something heavy, make it count.

Do the hard work, first.

Pick up what serves you moving forward.

Put down the rest.




In what area of your life are you pretending to work hard, but really taking the easy way out? Who can you engage with to make the real, hard changes that you need?


Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.


Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own?


I believe that stories unite us. These stories can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.


If you do believe this, then share it with your friends! Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.

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