How to Be Lazy: 30 Rules for High-Performance Loafing


Sleeping-on-the-grass1My friend John likes to wear pajama pants. I’m not talking just around his house, or in the morning. I’m talking all day long. At the grocery store. Driving carpool. I once saw him downhill skiing in pajama pants. What’s more, John is absolutely incredulous that the rest of us don’t do likewise.

“Why not?” he says. “They’re comfortable!”

Here’s the surprising thing: historically speaking, John is in good company. As Tom Hodgkinson’s wonderful book How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto demonstrates, many of history’s greatest achievers spent huge amounts of time in their actual or metaphorical pajama pants, taking long walks, daydreaming, day-drinking, and living lives of organized relaxation that we, in our hyper-busy, overconnected age, can barely imagine.

For example, check out Charles Darwin’s daily routine:

  • 7-8: short walk, breakfast
  • 8-9:30: work at desk
  • 9:30-10:30: read family letters, listen to wife Emma read novels aloud
  • 10:30-noon: work at desk; end workday by noon
  • 12-3: answer correspondence
  • 3-5:30: nap, cigarette, listen to Emma read aloud
  • 5:30-7: idleness, rest, novel-reading, cigarette
  • 7-8: family dinner
  • 8-10: two games of backgammon, more reading, relaxing on sofa while listening to Emma play piano, bedtime

The loafing program — or, to be more accurate, alternating intense efforts with spells of pure loafing — worked out pretty well, and not just for Darwin. After all, if it weren’t for daydreaming, we might not have Einstein’s theory of relativity, Mendeleyev’s periodic table, or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

So here’s a theory: Loafing is not a vice or a weakness, but an important and often-overlooked skill. High-quality loafing only looks like wasting time; in fact, it’s the opposite. Good loafing is restorative, and crucial to creativity and strategic thinking. It’s the time for reloading emotional fuel tanks, hatching plans, and making serendipitous connections. Bad loafing, on the other hand, leaves you more tired and distracted than before (I’m talking about you, Internet).

With that in mind, I’d like to offer the following rules for high-performance loafing, cobbled together from Hodgkinson and Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, as well as the suggestions of my pajama-fond friends and family.

1. Unplug from technology.

2. Take a long, slow walk outside.

4. Stare at an object you’ve never really considered before. The tree outside your window. A pencil. A leaf. A beetle. The smaller the better.

5. Listen to a favorite book read aloud

6. Take a long drive somewhere you’ve never been before

7. Get a massage

8. Gain altitude: go to the uppermost floors of a tall building, or atop the nearest hill

9. Take a train ride

10. Take a long nap (following the proper rules, of course)

11. Go out in the yard with your favorite book and a big glass of lemonade (from my daughter)

12. Spend all day in a robe or pajamas

13. Make tea

14. Avoid shopping, and shopping malls, and people who are shopping

15. Cook a grilled cheese

16. Go to the nearest body of water — ocean, river, pond — and gaze at it

17. Check Twitter constantly

18. Just kidding; ignore previous rule

19. Drink wine with lunch

20. Listen to a favorite album straight through

21. Go barefoot

22. Go to a museum (not barefoot), find one great painting, and stare at it

23: Go to nearest park

24: Feed the birds, the fish, or the squirrels

25. Take your pet for a long, slow walk (in 1830s Paris, it was considered fashionable to put a tortoise on a leash, and walk very slowly through the city.)

26. Eat an orange

27. Watch the sun go down

28. Eat dinner by candlelight

29. Play a card or board game

30. Lay on grass; look at stars

I asked my 17-year-old son if he had any ideas to add, and he said, “I’d tell you, but I’m way too relaxed.”

So I’ll ask you guys instead: What works for you? What else needs to be on this list?

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13 Responses to “How to Be Lazy: 30 Rules for High-Performance Loafing”

  1. ruhlman says:

    I’d like to stress nap.

    I’d like make pajama pants in public trendy.

    I’d like to do some day drinking right this minute.

  2. I’d like to make an improvement to #24. Feed squirrels an ear of corn, hung from a bungee. We’ve gotten more enjoyment, penny for penny, from this ten-dollar contraption than anything in the past twenty years — and I’m not kidding!

  3. john coyle says:

    My favorite loafing is to visit a new city and explore for hour by foot with a custom playlist of music designed for it, and two waterbottles: one full of water, the other full of red wine.

  4. djcoyle says:

    That is world-class technique, John. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. djcoyle says:

    Okay, we are doing that today, in our backyard. Thanks, Maureen.

    It reminds me of a Canadian hotel I visited as a kid. They took matchbook-size pieces of cardboard, folded them into a V, and put peanut butter in the center. The squirrels picked them up, and it looked exactly as if they were reading tiny squirrel books.

  6. Thanks for the great post, I really enjoyed it!

    I’d add: immerse yourself in water somehow: bath, ocean, tarn, river, waterfall, steam, long shower, whatever.

  7. Shawn Howell says:

    Go to park and just observe kids playing, try to think about what they are thinking and what you were thinking at that age. I have a 5 year old boy and a 3 year old girl, and it is hard sometimes to remember what it was like being a kid. It is funny how life becomes so much more complex as we age.

  8. Job van Bunge says:

    Good read and glad to hear that loafing is accepted in the area of high performance…

    I’d like to add the following: gazing at the stars at night for a while. I find that a very effective way of spending time…

  9. doc says:

    Add a loafing dog to all 30 points.

  10. Daniel says:

    I would add a low intensity bike ride either a)in a suburban area and make a point to discuss houses/points of interest with someone either during or after 2) out of the way of the hussle and bussle of the world and just soak it in…note low intensity for loafing…high intensity would be for exercise and would limit your ability to ‘soak’ it in. One of my favorite things to do is take a camera with me on rides and take pics of interesting views/things I see to share and discuss.

  11. Crystal says:

    Let a cat sit on you. Pet the cat. You cannot move – you’d disturb the cat! There’s nothing like the torpor of relaxing beneath a gently vibrating feline.

  12. Cathy says:

    I think this why I love our lake cabin so much. Sitting on the screen porch and watching the birds at the bird feeder and bird bath is so restful. Or, simply sitting on the dock and looking at the trees reflected in the water. Thanks for this wonderful blog!

  13. bootsgingrich says:

    This was all very entertaining and informative (favorites were squirl bunge and books) however way too much work.

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