Stop being so busy: The psychology behind why being lazy is good for your brain

CNBC, Published Tue, May 19 202011:57 AM EDT

Chris Bailey, Contributor@CHRIS_BAILEY

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I’m a big fan of being lazy. Instead of planning a trip to some far-flung destination, my idea of the perfect vacation is snacking on the couch while playing Animal Crossing. People are always shocked when I tell them this, because my job is researching, teaching and writing books aboutproductivity. But laziness is what originally got me interested in productivity; getting more done in a less amount of time means more opportunity to relax.

These days, though, it may seem impossible to relax. The coronavirus pandemic has caused an insurmountable amount of stress. Many might even feel like they’re on the brink of madness, partly because they’re worried they’re not doing as much as they think they should be. But research has shown that giving yourself permission to be lazy might just be the perfect antidote.

A productivity mindset isn’t always healthy

Most people are bad at being lazy. And when I say “lazy,” I’m not talking about occupying your time with mindless distractions; I’m talking about proper idleness — or choosing to do nothing.

For much of the day, our goal is to remain focused so we can keep checking things off our to-do list. That’s a good thing when, for example, we’re in the office. It helps us develop a productivity mindset and accomplish more.

A productivity mindset at home turns our personal lives into a running checklist, rather than something that should be enjoyed.

During the pandemic, however, a productivity mindset can be a bad thing. That’s because our brains are wired to selectively focus on things we find both novel and threatening. It explains why we do things like check the news (or social media) every 10 minutes or dwell on worrisome emails we received three weeks ago.

Being stuck indoors makes things even worse. A productivity mindset at home turns our personal lives into a running checklist, rather than something that should be enjoyed. We try to cram even more tasks into the day, thus eschewing slower (and healthier) activities that make us happy, such as taking a walk or reading a good book.

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