One Last Chance to Be Lazy

Early afternoon, late summer. Humid, 83 degrees. The cicadas were whirring outside.

I closed my laptop, got up from the desk in my home office and went to the bedroom. I lay down and began flipping through “The Church of Baseball,” a book by the screenwriter and director Ron Shelton about the making of his 1988 movie, “Bull Durham.”

My eyelids grew heavy. Instead of fighting off sleep, I put the book aside and gave in to a nap.

These last weeks of summer, when the out-of-office replies pile up and even Wall Street takes a bit of a break from making money, might be the last time for people to be lazy, to loaf, to snooze — especially with return-to-office policies kicking in for many companies across the country.

Millions of Americans have already been called back to their desks. Now several firms whose employees have continued to work remotely, including Amazon, BlackRock and Meta, are cracking down.

Shortly before Labor Day, the Amazon chief executive Andy Jassy set the tone for fall by telling employees who had yet to return to the office that they had better start going in at least three days a week or, as he put it, “it’s probably not going to work out for you at Amazon.”

With the more flexible, less monitored work days of the pandemic era possibly coming to an end, many people are preparing to bid adieu to the small pleasures of sitting on a porch and looking at the yard, of lingering over a morning coffee. And that’s a shame, according to those who believe in the virtues of loafing.

“It’s good for you,” Tom Hodgkinson, the editor and publisher of the British magazine The Idler, said. “It’s when you’re idle that the ideas come.”

The good life?Credit…Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium, via Associated Press

Mr. Hodgkinson, 55, held up the example of Aldous Huxley, the British author and philosopher, who spent a lot of time motoring around France and Italy in a Bugatti with his wife. “Like every man of sense and good feeling,” Huxley once said, “I abominate work.”

Mr. Hodgkinson, whose books include “How to Be Idle,” added that he had just returned from a vacation in Italy, where he read a few books, lounged by the pool and enjoyed leisurely meals with family and friends. That schedule is not so different from his life back in London. He bicycles to his publication’s office, often arriving late. Two days a week, he knocks off after lunch to play tennis. He does not own a smartphone.

“There are these moments you can find during the day,” Mr. Hodgkinson said, “but we tend to fill them up with phone checking.”

Idleness is not the same as sloth, he clarified. “It’s about rediscovering your inner philosopher and leaving a bit of time to think and to take time out,” he said. “It’s really about freedom-seeking.”

Many thinkers have similarly embraced the benefits of time away from the grind. The British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, in a 1932 essay for Harper’s Magazine titled “In Praise of Idleness,” proposed a four-hour workday. “I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous,” he wrote.

More recently, Tom Lutz published a history of slackerdom, “Doing Nothing,” and Kate Northrup wrote a manifesto against being busy, “Do Less.” Both authors did not respond to a request to be interviewed — and good for them.

Lazy Butt Club, a California clothing brand that got its start in the 1980s and has had a resurgence, sells T-shirts and other apparel showing a cartoon duck lounging in a beach chair. The brand’s motto: “Encouraging laziness.”

Lazy Butt Club, a clothing company in California, has had a resurgence in recent years. Its motto: “Encouraging laziness.”Credit…Lazy Butt Club

“It’s a reminder to relax, and that’s OK,” said Daniel Jay, whose father, Michael, founded the brand. Citing the entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, an exemplar of hustle culture, Daniel Jay added, “In the world of ‘Gary Vee,’ we are the antidote to that.”

The notion of kicking back has lately taken off on social media. In March, Gabrielle Judge, a 26-year-old social media influencer from Fort Collins, Col., coined the hashtag #lazygirljob. The phrase — and the idea behind it — went viral.

Ms. Judge said she found herself working at a software company fresh out of college. She earned good money and gained experience, yet increasingly felt disillusioned. “What I realized very quickly was doing great work just meant doing more work,” she said. “My lazy girl ethos started to bloom. How can I find a job that still pays the same amount, but it’s not using as much of my mental load?”

Ms. Judge has a curious approach to laziness, however. In her time away from her day job, she started a content-creation business centered on the #lazygirljob idea. And now that she’s an entrepreneur and influencer, she said, “I don’t necessarily have the best work-life balance.”

Indeed, the original lazy girl has lately been busy gearing up for a TEDx talk and working on a book. But the ethos isn’t really about doing nothing, Ms. Judge explained, but having “agency” over how you spend your time. It’s something many people desire, apparently. “That’s why you’re seeing so much pushback to return to office,” she said.

When I woke up from my nap, I went back to Mr. Shelton’s book about the making of his baseball movie. I learned that he did his work in the mornings, from 9 a.m. to around noon, before calling it quits to shoot some hoops. That’s my idea of a #lazygirljob.

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