Learning from Laziness

Career Advice for Project Managers

I’ve had younger project managers ask me about what it takes to lead really large projects and programs.  You can imagine their shock when I suggest they should consider laziness.

Admittedly I’m having a little bit of fun with the word lazy, but in all seriousness there’s a kernel of truth in this advice. 

If you look up the opposite meaning of laziness in any thesaurus you’ll see words like; hard-working, earnest, persistent, and tireless.  These words accurately describe the vast majority of project managers I know.  On pretty much any initiative it’s safe to assume that you’ll find the project manager in the thick of things.  They are are putting in long hours, fixing problems, leading meetings, stepping in to pick up the slack, and generally ensuring all the work gets done – even if they have to do it themselves.  In short, project managers are horrible at being lazy. It’s just not in our DNA.

That’s an important insight.  Sometimes our strengths can become a weakness.  And I believe this very insight is at the epicenter of what holds many project managers back from advancing to higher levels in their careers.

You see, as the scope of projects gets bigger and bigger, it becomes more and more difficult for a single project manager to fill in all the gaps.  There’s only so many hours in a day.  Simply put, the roll-up your sleeves and “get’r done” approach falls apart when there’s too much work to be done.  When project managers keep trying to do everything themselves they either burn out or the project fails.

Making the transition from doing all the work yourself, to motivating others to do the work, is one of the hardest transitions a project manager can make.  And – that’s where learning from laziness can help.

The Laziness Lesson

Learning from laziness doesn’t mean sitting around all day and doing nothing.  It means staying attuned to the little voice in your head that occasionally says things like “Do I really have to do that?”, “I’ve got better things to do”, or “I need a break.”  These subtle cues, that many busy project managers often ignore, can be a guide to help elevate the quality and impact of your work. 

Practice being actively aware of these signals from your “inner-laziness” voice. Once you become aware, the next step is to determine when and how to take positive action.  Here are some common actions to consider:

  • Delegate the task or action to others.
  • Let people own issues – even if it means letting them fail or missing a minor deadline.  This can be instructive and prevent similar issues from re-occurring.      
  • Ask for more resources when you need them.
  • Avoid doing other people’s work for them, and don’t be afraid to tactfully call out missed deadlines or commitments.
  • Schedule time to step out of daily project activities to think and work strategically.
  • Remember it’s OK to take time to take a break and re-charge. A little rest and relaxation can help you stay on top of your game and minimize the risk of burning out.

The Leadership Lesson

Even when I’ve shared these suggestions, I’ve often had people respond with comments like, “Sure, I’d like to delegate more, but the other team members can’t do things as good as me.”  To which I say – you have to let go!  People will never do something as good, or even better than you, if you don’t give them the chance.  Remember that leadership isn’t about you. It’s about developing the ability of those around you.  I guarantee that 9 times out of 10 you’ll be amazed at what others can do when you give them the genuine ownership, coaching, and encouragement to be successful.   

So go ahead and let just a little bit of laziness into your life!  It will bring more sanity to your day, and allow you the time necessary to elevate your work and your career.