After almost two decades of being a contributing member of society, I feel like it’s finally time for me to come out and declare my lifelong secret: hi, I’m Susie, and I am a lazy bitch.
That’s right: I may be perceived by the untrained eye as an enthusiastic worker and keen employee and freelancer, but when no one is looking I am on a continuous pursuit to do less and less… because I like lazing. Loafing. Idling. I love it. My favourite thing to do when I have a day off is nothing. When my work is done, I plop down on my massive bean bag with a book or a TV series, and I am a happy woman. I don’t even want to walk the dog: I am a potato on my potato island and that makes me happy.
Now, hear me out: you may be thinking that I’m being facetious and modest, and perhaps to a degree I am. But the truth is that although I can and do work hard when it’s needed, I would also bet that I am considerably much lazier than my colleagues believe me to be.
I’ll explain: I built a career around arts finance: I work with charities, artists, and creatives by helping them set up their businesses’ financial and accounting structures. I help my clients understand the basics of bookkeeping, prepare their corporation and personal tax returns, and the bulk of my labour is supporting them in creating systems and procedures that will make their finance processes smoother and more efficient.
So you see, my work revolves around stuff that is cloudy to begin with, which makes it quite easy for people to think I’m smarter than I am. But also (and this is my big secret that I’ve cherished for years and years), my biggest motivation is finding more and better ways for me to work less.
I’ll say it once more: every day on the job I strive to reduce the time I have to work, without penalising quality (because I want to keep said job).
Accounting is perfect for those who are, like me, continuously striving towards efficiency: it allows you to build processes that are responsive to the kind of organisation and business that you are dealing with. You can continue to improve and tighten them until you are working a minimum amount of time, while having the maximum output in terms of quality and quantity.
So, let me share with you the principles I follow to trick people into thinking I’m clever when actually I’m lazy AF.
1. Hone your practice
This is something that you will have to build up with time and for which there is no shortcut: whatever your job is, you will need to know what you’re doing.
You can’t afford to be lazy if you are bad at your job.
As you can imagine, this is pretty important, because you want people to think you’re clever long-term. If you don’t have the expertise that it takes, you may be able to get around it and make everyone think that you’re super smart with some myopic deceit, such as pretending you are taking care of a job, when actually you’re delegating it to someone else. This is a short-sighted approach because sooner or later people will see through it (especially the person you are delegating everything to).
The full-proof, long-lasting way to build a “clever person” reputation is to truly know what a job well done looks like. This will allow you to identify as quickly as possible what problems you are setting out to solve.
2. Never think you’ve learned everything you need to learn
These first two points are very much connected: you can’t be a master of your practice without continuously learning about it. This means that if you encounter a problem you have never resolved before, you should focus your efforts on learning everything you can about it.
But Susie, I hear you saying, researching and learning about something isn’t exactly a lazy thing to do! Well, no, you’re right, it isn’t. You can only achieve the lazy lifestyle if you’re ready to invest your efforts strategically, educating yourself about what you need to make your life easier.
I’ll give you an example: a key skill I am continuously developing is the use of Excel. I am a pretty proficient user, but I know that there are mountains and mountains of formulae and functions that I have never touched before, which I set out to learn as and when I need them.
Learning smart formulae in Excel can be a frustrating and time-consuming exercise, especially if you continue to get the dreaded #REF of doom. But once you get it right, the hours of work you have invested at the beginning will vastly pay off, transforming a manual process into a lean and streamlined one. What may have taken hours before will now take minutes and everyone will think you are some sort of sorcerer of dark magic – but no, it’s just lil’ old you with a new formula in your back pocket.
Another great example is the preparation of management accounts, aka, the monthly report for managers to check how well they are doing against budget. For all of my clients, I try to set up the management accounts spreadsheet so that all I need to do is export the information from their accounting software and paste it on the Excel sheet, which then does all the work for me, picking up the data and showing it in tidy profit and loss reports.
Did it take HOURS to figure out? It did. Does it SAVE me hours now, which I can now spend doing nothing? Absolutely. The fake-clever hack lives on.
3. Identify issues and create new solutions
Mastering your own practice and continuously learning about it will allow you to affect positive change in whatever work environment you will find yourself in.
If you know what things should look like, and what the organisation should do to get there, all that is left to do is to guide it in that direction.
This isn’t always easy. In fact, most of the time it is the hardest part, as change is notoriously difficult even when it’s good. However, the best thing that you can do, no matter what your role is, is to pick up on the issues you observe, and do your best to raise them and get people on board to resolve them in the most appropriate way.
The key part to remember here is that if you are going to raise something as a problem, it will always work in your favour to also bring a plan for how, in your professional opinion, it should be resolved.
For procedural issues, this is always quite straightforward: you identify the points where things are getting stuck, and you think about what could resolve it.
An example: one of my clients was very slow in processing payable invoices. These were being sent and approved via email, and they’d easily get snowed under other correspondence, or bounced from department to department and lost along the way. As a solution, we started using a purchase invoice processing software that allowed the bookkeeper to create folders named after budget holders, which they could access to code and approve invoices.
I knew of this software because I learned about it on a webinar, and I was able to offer it as a solution that allowed everyone, including myself, to work less and better.
Using the software was a no-brainer: it is free and easy to use, and I am certainly not a genius for thinking of it. However, it did take me going to that webinar to know about it, and I did notice that the payable process was slow and lacked efficiency. I just put the two things together and set up a training plan for staff to learn the new process.
I have learned this one the hard way: when during the pandemic everyone was working remotely, it took me a while to really understand that working from home requires you to communicate twice as much as when you’re office-based. The first year of adapting to this new way of working was very hard, even in a small team: bits of information and context were missed on a daily, causing misunderstandings and overall low morale.
Even if now most of us are back out in the world, I still overcommunicate most of the time: partly because I still do a lot of remote work, but also because I have seen how influential it is to build rapport and trust within the team.
What is overcommunicating, you ask? Well, it probably looks different from person to person. I think of it this way: if there is something I’m not sure is relevant enough to be communicated, I will always make it a point to include it in my comms nonetheless.
For example, I have made it a habit to send weekly updates to my boss, my clients, and my team. This can be a run-down of my to-do list, a run-down of everything I have achieved in the week, or a run-down of my priorities. I use my common sense to identify the relevant information that those people should know about what I’m doing so that they have the context of how I am using my time at work.
I also make it a point to reply to all emails within a day or two, or if I know that it will take me longer, I send a ‘holding’ email where I let the person know when I’ll be able to reply.
One more example: if I spoke with someone over the phone or video-conference, I follow up with main takeaways and actions, so I can cover my butt in case I missed anything.
Of course, you will need to walk the line between usefulness and redundancy. I navigate that by just asking my collaborators if my emails are too much or too many. Most of the time, people tell me that too much is better than too little.
In general, overcommunicating is becoming more and more important as we share our working spaces less and less often, and the kind of information that you’d absorb by osmosis is not happening anymore. I absolutely believe in clarity and transparency, as they always end up making my work life 100% easier.
5. Break down concepts into atoms
A massive part of my work is explaining technical information about finance and accounting to people who have just started becoming aware of what budgeting is, and how accounting processes are implemented. Not only that: quite often, I also need to work on debunking the myth that finance is a big scary monster that will eat you up if you don’t watch your back.
I would never be able to explain these concepts to them in an effective way AND get them on board if I didn’t understand them deeply.
With time, I was able to gain the skill to break down my accounting knowledge into its most elementary parts, and explain it as simply as possible. This is something that isn’t that hard to do if you are confident with your own understanding of the subject, and if you’ve invested some time in transforming it into more easily digestible information for people that don’t have your technical competence.
This has become one of my strengths: bridging the knowledge gap between accounting and the arts, and people think that I’m super clever for it. I’m not: I just play Lego with information.
6. Use “I don’t know” a hell of a lot more
When we become more known in our fields, it may become harder to outwardly admit when we don’t know the answer to a question.
I’ve made it a point to flip this around: when I hold my workshops and training sessions, this is one of the first things I share: I probably won’t have an answer to all the questions people may throw at me. This releases me from the pressure of expectations, as accounting and taxation are fields so vast it is almost impossible to have knowledge so deep and so wide to cover all of it.
“I don’t know” is a fantastic phrase, especially if it is followed by: “I’ll make a note of your question and follow up with you separately.” Doesn’t that sound honest and helpful? It’s because it is. People will notice and they will remember it.
And there you have it: my secrets to having everyone think that I’m clever when actually I just want to work less and less. Some people call it “working smart”, but I think that’s an obnoxious way to think about it. For me, it is really all about having to do less work without letting go of my work ethic. Or being fired. If you, also, are a lazy bitch like yours truly, do leave a comment or get in touch, I want to hear all about how you’ve made things better for everyone so you can have more time for yourself.
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