Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Understanding Laziness

One of the benefits of studying human performance is that we develop insights into our everyday behavior too. This is a great example.

Laziness is more complicated than you may think. Instinctively, you may assume that laziness means doing a task in the way that takes the least amount of time. Or the least amount of physical effort. But its often not the case. A kind of effort that often trumps time and physical effort is mental effort. In other words, people often take the long way, which takes more time and more effort, to avoid thinking too hard. We get into ruts that we know are not efficient, but its better than thinking to find a quicker alternative.

Driving down a crowded highway, you could avoid traffic by finding a detour. But we rarely do this. One of the reasons GPS devices fail is that they don't convince you to follow alternate routes.

Software is frequently guilty of this. Most of us don't use 90% of the functionality of our office productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets) because we are too cognitively lazy to figure it out, even if it could save us a lot of time to use advanced functions and feature.

This morning, I had a choice of walking across my office to get a CD backup of a paper or going to the company network backup. I knew that the network was running slow, so it would take several minutes (compared to just a few seconds to walk across the room). But I couldn't build up the motivation to get up off my chair.

Of course, a few minutes later I needed some coffee. If I could have downloaded some, I would have. But unfortunately, I had to walk 20 feet. And then back again!!!