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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