How You Do Anything is NOT How You Do Everything


“You’re lazy.”

I heard this a lot growing up. My older brother, who was much more academically inclined, would constantly get on me about rushing through my school work and doing the bare minimum to get by. For example, in English class, thanks to my hatred of reading at the time, I’d regularly watch the film or comic book version of whatever literary classic we were supposed to be reading. I completed reading a whopping one book in it’s entirety throughout my high school English career. Combine that with my many hours of sitting on the couch playing video games or surfing this new thing called the Internet, and my brother kind of had a point. I was pretty lazy.

I was also running about 100 miles per week at the time.

In the performance world, you often hear the well-intentioned advice, How you do anything is how you do everything. It’s supposed to send the message that the little things matter. That if you’re late to a meeting, or sloppy on a small project, or skip out on reps in the weight room, that when it comes to game day, you’re just as likely to give up, not care, or cut corners. On the surface, it sounds good, but when you dig a little deeper, it is wholly inaccurate.

The truth is we all are selective. We pour time and energy into things that matter to us and interest us, and we put on the back burner things that don’t. We choose to be perfectionists when something matters to us and decide to save energy and willpower when it doesn’t. Some people think having an immaculate house is worthwhile, others pile laundry for weeks before getting to it. The laundry pilers of the world aren’t doomed to piled up work in their business life. Late laundry doesn’t equal late work. If anything, perhaps because they aren’t so focused doing their laundry on time their work product is more timely and better.

Here’s the problem: we almost always declare someone lazy, mean, boring, annoying, and so forth, as if it’s a reflection of the character of the person we’re describing. Occasionally, we do a little better, stating, “You’re being lazy,” in which at least we acknowledge it’s a temporary state. But we seldom take the final step, acknowledging the contextual influence, stating “You’re lazy when it comes to cleaning…” We have this strong tendency to think of these descriptors as traits that capture the entirety of the person standing in front of us. The reality is that people are complex. We’re capturing a small sliver of someone’s being when we see them fail to take out the trash or finish their homework.

This doesn’t mean that we should excuse away all behaviors, but it does mean we should be a little more thoughtful, a little more kind. Instead of striving for perfection in every aspect of your life, as if how you clean the dishes will reflect how you handle negotiations, let’s be realistic. Define what matters to you, prioritize it, and if you aren’t holding up to your end of the bargain in those areas, then it’s okay to ask why. On the flip side, if you are slacking in areas unimportant to you, go easy on yourself.

A close to home example: if you think this newsletter is nicely organized, clean, and fresh, and that makes you think Brad and my closets look the same, you’d be in for a rude awakening. (Just ask Caitlin and Hillary, who are constantly surprised anything we do is clean, fresh, and organized.)

How we do anything is not how we do everything. You can be lazy and driven at the same time. That’s called being human.


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  • Steve,
    What a great article! I agree that our laundry pile doesn’t necessarily reflect our work quality or completion. As an educator, I often encourage students to be ‘smart lazy’ or efficient about how they spend their time. They don’t love every subject, assignment, mode of learning- so I would encourage them to be strategic about where they put their time and energy.
    Your point about being careful about context is so important for labelling because our biases affect how we treat people and what information we collect about them- another important lesson I try to share with my students.
    Thank you for the important read- will share with other educators.

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