Life After Full-time Work Blog

Learn about preparing for life after full-time work through posts from Don's upcoming book.

#116 Lazy? Or Smart?

We waste so much time doing unproductive things, Ernie Zelinski reminds us.


You may remember the name Ernie Zelinski. Alex Mazer and I interviewed him [] in our podcast series; and in my book Life Two one of the walks (#9: Answering The Important Question: What Will I Do?) is based on Ernie’s 2009 book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. Since I discovered him I have got to know and like Ernie very much, though I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting him.

A few weeks ago Ernie very kindly sent me a copy of his latest book The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success [ ]. I have now read it in several different ways, and recommend it to you. This blog post will tell you why.


Here’s how the book is described, on its back cover:

“Attain success by working less and enjoying life more! Even in today’s workaholic world, you can slow your life down and still be highly successful. In The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success, international best-selling author Ernie Zelinski shows readers that the key to attaining freedom, happiness, and peace of mind is to work less and think more.”

I found it gave me so much more than what that blurb promises! In fact, I now think of Ernie as a wonderful philosopher, full of wisdom.

The book is, strangely, written as two books. The right-hand pages contain the main text, in six chapters. The left-hand pages are “for the truly lazy” and contain pithy summaries of the main text as well as quotations from all sorts of sources, some well-known and many totally unfamiliar to me.

I found it irresistible to read the left-hand pages first! I enjoyed them so much that I then read the right-hand pages. More wisdom, in greater depth. I then went back to the left-hand pages and checked off the summaries and quotes that appealed to me most, wearing my happiness hat. And finally, after putting the book down for a little while, my subconscious told me that I had somehow come up with a coherent subset of Ernie’s wise philosophy, if only I rearranged and reassembled my checked items.

This took a while, but I did it, and here’s my rearranged and reassembled subset. No doubt if you look at the book through a different lens, you’ll assemble the wisdom relevant to that lens. So I don’t suggest that this is a summary of Ernie’s philosophy – it’s just the bits that appealed most to me, thinking about happiness.

I asked Ernie for permission to write this up, and he very kindly granted it. His words that follow are in regular print, with my observations in italics. If his stuff occasionally seems disconnected in the way I render it, remember that each sentence of his is a stand-alone summary of something, and I’m trying to make it look like continuous writing.


Here’s the first theme I assembled, relating to the book’s title.

In Western society, the most important factor keeping many people from being successful is that they don’t work hard enough. For even more people, however, the most important factor keeping them from true success is that they work much too hard.

Hard work is simply hard work. It has nothing to do with the quality of your results and how much you will accomplish in life.

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.

If you work more than eight hours a day, you are in the wrong job. Either that – or you are doing it wrong.

Never lose sight of the 80-20 rule: The first 80 percent of your results come from the first 20 percent of your time and effort and the remaining 20 percent of your results require a whopping 80 percent of your time and effort. Be willing to do without the last 20 percent of results if they aren’t that important. Apply this rule not just in your work, but in your personal life as well, and you will have mastered being a lazy but highly intelligent and productive human being.

Laziness is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just efficiency, the proper use of resources.

Being lazy is minimizing the time spent on things you don’t like doing and maximizing the time spent on things you enjoy doing.

Aha! Yes, I think “lazy” is Ernie’s attention-grabbing way to tell us to be smart and efficient!


So then, let’s think about success.

It’s wise to define success on your own terms and not on someone else’s.

Success is doing what you like and making a living at it.

Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for it.

Ensure that you place your efforts where they matter most. Stick to the tasks that you are good at and that you truly enjoy.

Regardless of how much you like your work, it’s dangerous to have your occupation become your life. If your identity is your work, you will have no identity at all when you lose your job or retire. Not a great result, is it?

You will know when you have the right job or career. Overall, it won’t seem like work to you. It, instead, will be enjoyment for which you get well paid. You would gladly do the work for free – even pay handsomely to do it – if you didn’t have to earn a living.

Be certain of this law of the Universe: Success will elude you as long as you are doing what’s wrong for you; and needless to say, success will come easily when you are doing what’s right for you.


You have to work for success.

Never adopt the excuse that you weren’t born as talented or fortunate as others. The hand that you were dealt at birth isn’t as important as what you do with it.

Don’t believe that you have to travel far and wide to discover opportunities. The best opportunities will always be found in your own backyard, not halfway around the world in someone else’s backyard. You have to look for them, however.

God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.

Opportunity without creative action is like a brand new Ferrari without an engine. You possess something valuable, but it won’t get you anywhere.


Don’t confuse success with happiness. (Given my own book on happiness, you can see why this angle appealed to me.)

The one thing that can be more disappointing than failure is success itself, because success doesn’t always bring us what we thought it would.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

The biggest problem isn’t so much that we can’t get what we think we want. The biggest problem is that when we get what we think we want, it isn’t what we want.


And another favorite angle of mine, that there’s more to life than money (as Ed Jacobson, the subject of Post # 113 [ ], pointed out).

If you believe that money can buy happiness, then why don’t you try selling some of yours?

Don’t make your life goal to make the most money that you can. Instead, make your life goal to make the most you can out of life, regardless of how much money you make.

Priceless things that are the foundations of happiness cannot be bought. These include peace of mind, satisfaction, and self-worth. So why are you trying to acquire a lot of wealth in the hope of buying these things?

Living just to get by is not enough. Just like the butterfly, an adventurous soul needs a varied and enchanting life – green grass and happy skies, freedom to go where it pleases, and joys that await it.

If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can’t buy.

The less happiness you expect to get from money, the more benefit you will be able to get from it.

No matter how rich you become, how famous or powerful, when you die the size of your funeral will still pretty much depend on the weather.


I found a few stand-alone words of wisdom left over.

Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.

He who buys what he does not need steals from himself.

You can’t earn more time, no matter how hard you work. And you can’t buy it, no matter how much money you have. So spend it wisely, much more so than money.

And finally, the one that got to me the most!

Imagine that you are in control of your life.

The question is:

Why do you have to imagine this?



A small sampling of inspiration from a wise philosopher. Thank you, Ernie.



I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.

4 Responses to “#116 Lazy? Or Smart?”

  1. arvind rajan says:

    Just an awesome post Don. Not a wasted word!

  2. Ted Harris says:

    For any reader who wonders if it works, I’m here to tell you it does.

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