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Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

One of my favourite cartoons shows a spouse asking her retired husband what he’s doing today. “Nothing.”

“You did that yesterday,” she says, and he replies, “I haven’t finished yet.”

In retirement, I have spent some time researching how to manage things and how to get as comfortable as the man in the cartoon with my new lifestyle. I have had some success and would like to share some advice for those in a similar situation.

If you have a partner at home, you have to get used to having a new boss. Chances are your spouse will have a different management style to your former boss in the workplace. To my knowledge, there are no training courses to deal with this new regime. Much of your partner’s goal is to stamp out laziness, and so I would like to step into this management vacuum to illustrate how I combat this unfair strike against the condition. It is one of the qualities of which I am now most proud. It takes vigilance and effort to feel comfortable – even proud – of having “lazy” thrown at you as an insult.

My wife and I, during most of our lives, looked down on laziness as a severe character flaw. We were brought up with the good old Victorian ethic of hard work being necessary for salvation; the brainwashing was, and is, effective.

After I retired, it took me some time to get used to not being gainfully employed. I slowly realized that far from laziness being a sin, it could be my best friend. Part of the assumption is a lack of motivation. However, in my case, it is not a lack of motivation but rather a different view of what is important. I know what I want to do – not much, in fact – and have begun to use laziness as a shield to avoid what I don’t want. For example, while once a social gadfly, I have little interest now in social gatherings; this avoidance has been facilitated by COVID-19. Also, I rarely answer the phone on the assumption that no friend of mine would call me.

A first tool and friend of laziness is a well-developed skill to “not do things right.” For example, I can’t be trusted to do any serious shopping as I’ve been known to forget items and, worse, pick up the wrong things entirely. In my own interest, however, I have adjusted how I make the coffee run. I now ask my wife to write down her request, these four or five words that make no sense to me, when handed to a barista are understood perfectly. This way, if the end product is wrong, I cannot be blamed.

My wife and I were born in a time and place where women did all the cooking. She long since realized the inequity of this and taught our three sons to cook, but she never got around to me. One of the reasons I never learned to cook was not entirely conventional laziness. While I like food, I see it as a functional necessity rather than something to be worshipped and I have successfully resisted the temptation to get interested. I am allowed, however, to manage the dishwasher and clean the pots and pans, although I’m told I sometimes don’t clean them properly.

Another enhancement to the laziness strategy is a willingness to execute the “shortcut.” I developed this skill while I was still working. There were many situations where a project was expected to take so many hours; I never felt guilty if I found a way to shave off time using a shortcut. Sometimes the shortcut result was not quite as elegant but I had long since realized the evils of perfectionism. The shortcut is an important asset in the portfolio. There is every chance your new boss will shoot down shortcut work and thus judge you unsuitable for similar tasks.

Also, taking initiative outside of instructions has a high chance of being shot down. Taking the initiative when shopping, for example, has a high chance of being shot down both as “not doing the right thing” and “not doing things right.” This inevitably leads to you being relieved of the task in the future.

I do take care of some chores, like taking out the garbage, plunging the toilets, replacing light bulbs and so on. I have already dispensed with the grass so there is no more cutting in that department. Our last dog was not replaced and so that is another project finished off. It has not escaped my notice that my traditional tasks are fairly menial and have little scope for “not doing the things right” My proviso is that I accept these responsibilities so long as I can do them in my own time and my own way. There is nothing more annoying than to be interrupted in the middle of the important task of reading the newspaper with a request to get some avocados and an expectation that I go to the store immediately.

This summer, at short notice, I was asked to take the grandchildren swimming. Was I going to go to the bedroom and put on my swimsuit? No, too much trouble! I decided I’d use my underpants instead. When my wife decided at the last minute to come along, I feared a critique of my sartorial choice. I’d thought the underpants in a patterned blue were a design that could also be interpreted as swimwear. When I came out of the pool, however, she told me I displayed a nice wedgie, my backside was transparent and the Joe Fresh tag on the outside advertised my trunks’s true function to the gathered citizenry. So, my point, is that you will also need a thick skin when following the chosen path of laziness.

In summary, sloth is a high art form that needs constant burnishing. It thrives on “not doing the things right,” which in turn is helped by using shortcuts and initiative and is wrapped up with a healthy disdain for perfectionism. I am working to ensure my skills for several activities remain deficient. It is one thing to be perceived as mediocre now and again but sustained mediocrity is an art form and a pinnacle reached by only a few. One of my last steps to combat the anti-laziness movement is to embrace that what other people think about me is none of my business.

Bill Jermyn lives in Toronto.

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