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Laborious Laziness

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"Have you ever seen anyone work so hard at being so lazy?"
Jon Arbuckle, Garfield

Alice has just been asked by her mother to refill the dog's food and water bowls. She doesn't really want to do it; after all, that sort of chore would take time and effort that could be better spent lounging on the sofa and playing video games.

But Alice is an inventive little devil, so she spends an hour or so putting together a Rube Goldberg Device involving an air pump, a length of drainpipe, and a plastic flamingo that will automatically fill both bowls when she steps on a foot pedal. After doing just that, she then returns to her lounging, satisfied that she accomplished her task the easy way.

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But hang on. Just getting up and filling the bowls by hand would've taken less than ten minutes and a lot less effort. When you put it in perspective she hardly did it the "easy" way.

You see a lot of this in fiction (and sometimes outside of it). In pursuit of a lazier way to do a task, a character will wind up spending magnitudes more time and effort developing and executing that lazier way than it would have taken to do it the normal way. This is often a trait of the Professional Slacker and Ridiculous Procrastinator.

A frequent variation (and method of communicating An Aesop that 'laziness never pays off') is that the character's efforts to avoid work just end up causing them a whole heap of trouble, misery and and pain (physical and / or emotional) which could have been avoided entirely had they just sucked it up and done what they were supposed to do in the first place. For example, in constructing the Rube Goldberg Device Alice might kickstart a chain of events which results in the kitchen flooding due to a busted tap, the bag of dog food exploding all over the house, a broken window, a plastic flamingo lodged into the wall, Alice falling off a ladder in the chaos only to break her leg and her mother ending up very, very angry with her.

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Note that situations where investing some time and energy now will genuinely save effort in the long run (for example, if Alice builds an automatic dog feeder that she could use every day from then on) are not examples of this trope.

Related to Short Cuts Make Long Delays. See also Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat. May or may not overlap with Duct Tape for Everything. A Professional Slacker may end up doing this, or think of a better idea.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Shiromi Kosegawa in Saki, mainly in "Saki Biyori". In the first Miyamori chapter of Saki Biyori, she pulls a hand cart to bring a kotatsu to school, wanting to rest under it but knowing that she won't be able to get out once she does. In the second Miyamori chapter, she rests in various places around the mall, under the pretense of doing things such as waiting for a friend or trying on shoes, but ends up moving around the mall quite a bit, as Sae points out.
  • Bleach: While Shiba is 10th Division captain, there is a constant battle between him and his lieutenant, Rangiku, to push work onto the other to avoid doing any themselves. Shiba goes to enormous lengths to find new places around Soul Society to hide, while Rangiku goes to even greater lengths to track him down, drag him back to the office and make him do the work. In the time it takes them to do all this, the work gets completed by Third Seat Hitsugaya, while the effort to avoid it leaves Shiba and Rangiku tired, bruised and sweaty.
    Shiba: All this running around and looking for me has made your boobs glisten so nicely!
  • Hana in My Heavenly Hockey Club studied hard to get into a top-tier high school just because it was the school closest to her home and hence would let her sleep the longest amount of time possible in the morning before classes.

    Comedy 
  • Bill Cosby once had this trope as part of a comedy skit. His wife would wake him up, early, pre-dawn, threatening him with a bucket of literally ice-cold water, and order him to make breakfast for the kids before sending them to school. Not being completely awake, nor wanting to be in the kitchen anyway, Bill Cosby serves the kids chocolate cake because cakes are made with milk, eggs and flour, healthy right? The kids were noted to be rejoicing at this. "Our daddy is great, he feeds us chocolate cake!" Until the wife showed up, had a "conniption" that sounds like some kind of demonic possession, the kids turned on him "we asked for juice, eggs and bacon, and he made us eat this!" wherein she angrily sends him back to the bedroom, where he wanted to be in the first place!

    Comic Strips 
  • As noted in the page quote, Garfield is prone to this sort of thing. In the comic quoted, the lazy cat nails the TV to the ceiling above his cat bed so he can watch it without getting up. Think about how much effort it would've taken to hoist that television up there and then keep it in place while he nailed it there, and then think about how much effort it would've taken simply to get up and walk over to where the TV was.
    • In another occasion, Garfield, Jon and Liz were watching TV together when the remote control stopped working. Jon and Garfield went to a shop to buy new batteries. When they came back, Liz pointed out the set was five feet away. Garfield commented "Girls".
  • In FoxTrot, Peter tells his friend Steve about all the job leads his father is sharing with him, and his persistence in doing so.
    Steve: So you're going to spend the summer hiding from your dad?
    Peter: I only wish my not working didn't require so much work.
  • In Dilbert Wally has been shown to be very active in his efforts to not do any work, and is largely successful. He was based on a former co-worker of the creator, Scott Adams, who realized that the severance package was more beneficial than working, so he became fiercely dedicated to being extremely unproductive. To quote Wally:
    Wally: I'm not lazy, I'm useless. There's a difference.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In one series, Calvin built a time machine to travel two hours into the future and get a copy of his homework from himself after it was already finished. The time machine works; the homework-getting doesn't.
      6:30 Calvin: Well, since we're you from the past, I suppose you know why we're here. Did you do the homework?
      8:30 Calvin: Me?? No.
      6:30 Calvin: No?! Why not??
      8:30 Calvin: Because two hours ago, I went to the future to get it.
      6:30 Calvin: Yeah, and here I am! So where is it?!
      8:30 Calvin: That's what I said two hours ago!
    • In another series, Calvin didn't want to make his bed, so he and Hobbes spent all afternoon trying to build a robot to do it for him. They couldn't get the robot to work, but since they spent so long on it, the bed never got made. Mission accomplished!
    • This is a recurring gag through most of the strip's run. Calvin is perfectly willing to work hard as long as no-one forces him to, so he'll often end up spending more energy on avoiding something than it'd take to actually do it. For instance, he once wanted to have his Mom bring him to the library to do research on snakes, though he had to stop and ask why he'd want to learn during his summer break. To which Hobbes said:
      Hobbes: "If you do it and nobody makes you do it, it's fun."
  • Sometimes the title character from Beetle Bailey. According to him, when it comes to slacking, no effort is wasted.
    • An example is when he refuses to go through the obstacle course and tries to hide from Sarge. Sarge discovers him and ends up chasing him through the very same obstacle course.
    • That is nowhere near the only case — he's also been known to unfold a sleeping-bag, change into his pajamas, brush his teeth, fluff his pillow, and finally tuck himself into bed... while slacking off for five minutes on the job. Quoth Plato: "No-one puts more effort into slacking off than Beetle."
    • Another strip features an extremely long chase-sequence where Sarge pursued Beetle through a huge variety of environments — up cliffs, through forests and swamps and across rooftops, with brief interludes of searching when Beetle found a temporary hiding-spot in a trashcan or at the bottom of a pond with a reed... but in the end, Sarge catches up with him and drags him home by one leg, even as he digs his fingers into the ground to resist. What was he trying to get away from so ardently? The Escape and Avoidance Course, naturally....
  • A cartoon from the National Enquirer depicts a man driving with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the dog's leash while two women on the sidewalk watch.
    Woman: You win — your husband is lazier than mine.
  • Taken to a ridiculous extreme in one Over the Hedge arc where Verne is trying to convince RJ to learn to read, but RJ is too lazy to do so. Verne finally wins RJ over by pointing out that by learning to read, he could read the closed captions on television shows, freeing up his ears to listen to music or the radio. In short, RJ could be even lazier than he already is, or, in RJ's words:
    RJ: I can multi-slack!

    Fan Works 
  • In With a Forked Tongue I Lie in Wait (Taming Snakes) Harry and the Weasley twins fake a kappa infestation to support a lie he told about a missing Transfiguration essay. McGonagall gives him two points for being the first person in twenty years to pull the wool over her eyes.
    McGonagall: It would have been more, but it is somewhat less impressive since you're spending so much more time and effort on getting out of the homework than it would actually take to sit down and do it like you're supposed to.
  • In Harry the Hufflepuff Harry's aunt calls him lazy so many times that he decides to run his life on this trope. Being sorted into Hufflepuff, the House of hard work and loyalty, does little or nothing to change this.

    Literature 
  • Discworld:
    • Victor Tugelbend in Moving Pictures is the master of this trope (which the narrator acknowledges). Thanks to a trust fund from a relative supporting him while he's in school, he much prefers the life of a Wizarding School student vs. an actual wizard, Victor studies extensively to keep his grade just low enough to not pass, but high enough that he doesn't lose his trust fund to failing grades. He also exercises regularly because being thin means less weight to drag around, and physical activity is less effort if you're in good shape. It's a kind of enlightened laziness.
    • In Making Money, Moist is told that "a certain kind of man will scheme for two days to earn what he could have made by honest work in one." Subverted by Moist reflecting that honest work may be more efficient, but scheming is more fun.
    • Equal Rites has an aside pointing out how much work bandits have to do to set up a decent ambush with falling rocks etc., and how much easier it would be to just get a job.
    • One past student at Unseen University, seeking an easier way to copy out lines when issued this common school punishment, developed a whole series of increasingly-complex mechanisms that would write multiple pages at once. Not only did the development of these gadgets take up more time and effort than simply writing the lines would have, but eventually a malfunction in one high-tension prototype catapulted its inventor out a window to his death.
  • This is the premise of The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes, a 1950 picture book. The man in the story cooks himself several large meals and doesn't wash his dishes. He ends up going to greater and greater lengths just to find dishes, then substitutes for them once he runs out, and even has trouble getting into his house because of all the dishes piled up. He can't even find the sink, so he gets the idea to wash them in the rain, then exhausts himself so much putting them back that he vows to never allow this to happen again by resolving to wash his dishes after every meal. And he does.
  • Inverted by Ivan Xav Vorpatril of the Vorkosigan Saga. It's specifically noted that he is very efficient at his job precisely because he realized long ago that doing the job efficiently meant he didn't actually have to work very hard at it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Married... with Children: Al Bundy even tried to walk over to the TV but eventually grew tired of it and agreed to have sex with Peggy for the remote.
  • Jeff of Community will go to absurd lengths to get out of work — in the pilot alone, he tries to bribe/blackmail a teacher into giving him not just the test scores for his upcoming test, but every single test he'd ever have in his studies, goes along with a study group he hates as part of a plan to have sex with Britta, and spins a master plan manipulating six different people he's just met into having a screaming match with each other. As one of them pointed out, this is all to avoid doing the work for what is basically a simple Spanish test that would take him, at most, half an hour to study for the normal way. By the end of season three, he's mostly grown out of it. Lampshaded in "Documentary Filmmaking Redux" where he proudly boasts, apparently without noticing the irony, that he's "always willing to go the extra mile to avoid doing something."
  • George Costanza of Seinfeld is perhaps the Ur-Example of this trope. In nearly every episode he goes to great lengths to avoid work, effort, or even discomfort. He puts so much effort and scheming into being lazy that one wonders if it wouldn't just be easier to to the original task in the first place.
  • The one-time Don Ramón from El Chavo del ocho decided by himself to go look for a job was after he read a phrase "The thing that takes the most work is not having a job".
  • LazyTown: Robbie Rotten prides himself on being lazy, and schemes to make the rest of the town as lazy as he is, but due to these elaborate schemes, he's easily one of the most active people in the entire town.
  • In Home Improvement, when he isn't trying to add his trademark "MORE POWER" to common tools, Tim is usually trying to come up with some convoluted gadget to make easy, mundane tasks even easier, which usually causes him more trouble than it's worth. We say usually, because one of his few successes came from this: he built his wife an all-in-one washer/dryer machine that worked completely automatically, even adding in detergent and softener in the correct amounts. Said washer/dryer remained a fixture of the Taylor household until the end of the series.

    Video Games 
  • For Love of Digby involves trying to come up with a convoluted way for the main character, whose remote is broken, to change the channel in time for his umpteenth viewing of Digby the Biggest Dog in the World without ever leaving his recliner.
  • The title character of Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island has this as her motivation for doing anything, as she hopes that by working hard, she will marry a rich man and be set for life, never having to work again.
  • Sans in Undertale is a self-professed slacker, to the point where he avoids doing his actual job (border patrol) by doing a different job (hot-dog sales). Two jobs means twice as many legally allowed breaks!
  • The Engineer in Team Fortress 2 has the Rancho Relaxo, a taunt where he takes out a mechanical lawn chair and sits in it while drinking beer. More trolly players will often activate the taunt and then stay that way for the whole game, in full view of everyone - but since it makes the Engineer helpless, they frequently have to take the effort to set up a base, find isolated places, exploit mobility methods to get out of reach... in short, it's not much different effort than it'd take to actually win the game.

    Web Comics 
  • xkcd: Sometimes optimizing efficiency, automating a task, or figuring out the best approach takes more time and effort than plowing ahead.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
    • 2010-01-22: A man spent six hours making a chart proving that it's not his turn to do the dishes.
    • 2010-10-30: When an engineer hears that water is free in his new apartment but electricity isn't, he gets all excited about using the shower to power a dynamo. The landlord lampshades how it's this trope applied to saving a small amount of money.
    • In "Batocrat", Batman reveals that he does the superheroing as part of an effort to keep the proletariat from questioning how his alter ego draws a billion dollar salary from a company he inherited and which he puts no labour into. So actually he's putting quite a lot of work into maintaining this state of affairs.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • Bart and Lisa have been tasked to clean the back yard but they're too lazy to do so.
      Bart: Man, look at all this stuff... pull weeds, mow lawn, scoop and bag dog business. There's gotta be a way out of this. Lisa! Chop off my hands!
      Lisa: No! Then who'd chop off my hands?
      Bart: All right, you chop my hands halfway off, and then, I'll still have enough strength to chop—
      Marge: Get to work!
    • In another episode, Apu is showering his wife, Manjula, with elaborate gifts everyday leading up to Valentine's Day. Homer and a few of the other guys start to get annoyed because their wives wish to be treated that way as well, so they end up spending the day trying to follow him around and see what he's up to, and try to put a stop to it. Flanders eventually lampshades this, noting that instead of spending a whole day trying to stalk and sabotage Apu's plans, they could be trying to put that effort into actually doing something nice for their wives. He gets thrown out of the car for that.
    • One episode has Homer lose the remote, and rather than walking across the room to the TV set to change the channel, he starts tearing apart the couch looking for the remote. (It was eaten by the family dog.)
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Richard is a master of this. Just watch this episode (the second one on the page).
    • Also, in one episode, Gumball travels back in time to avoid changing the title of an email. Granted, it was in his imagination, but he was planning to do it for real.
  • Teen Titans: Cyborg took Raven's suggestion of walking over to the TV for a tasteless joke.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter's father finds the idea of walking over to the TV so horrible he doesn't have the courage to tell Dexter people used to do it before the remote control was invented. (He thought Dexter was screaming because the remote was missing, he was actually screaming because he was wearing a pair of x-ray specs and had just watched his father sit spreadlegged in his recliner
  • In Dan Vs. "The Boss", Dan goes to great lengths to avoid doing any real work on his first day at the office and doesn't understand why he's so tired. Chris tells him that looking busy is usually harder than actually being busy, and suggests that maybe Dan should just do his job.
  • In the PBS Kids version of The Berenstain Bears, both "By the Sea" and "Up and Down" exemplify this, with Brother/Sister and Papa respectively trying to avoid work but ending up doing about twice as much in the process until they learn their lesson.
  • "Franklin's Day Off" from Franklin has An Aesop of sorts about this. Franklin spends most of the episode dealing with problems he wouldn't have had if he had just done the work was supposed to do instead of putting it off, such as needing a rake that was holding up the Blanket Fort he didn't take down in order to rake up leaves which have buried a bicycle pump that he wouldn't have had trouble finding if he had put it away properly in the first place.
  • Legends of Chamberlain Heights has Malik admonish his older brother Montell about how much effort he puts into being a lazy stoner, such as making a nest of snacks next to the couch before he gets high.
  • In the Unikitty! episode "R & Arr," Unikitty and Puppycorn go to absurd lengths to stay on the couch so "Lazy Sunday" won't end. Richard even points out that all the effort they're putting into avoid doing their chores could have just been used to do the chores.
  • The Futurama episode "Benderama" starts with Bender furious that he's been asked to fold two sweaters, because that's "two things." He uses Farnsworth's replicator to make two copies of himself to do it for him, both of which are equally unwilling to do the job and equally willing to duplicate themselves, resulting in a near-apocalypse. By the end of the episode, he's the only one who can save the planet, which he refuses to do until Fry offers to fold the sweaters for him.
    Bender: Both of them? You mean you'll do two things, and I only have to do one thing?
    Fry: Yeah. Just save the world.
    Bender: Heh heh heh. Sucker.

    Real Life 
  • Many TV viewers have torn their room apart looking for a missing TV remote control when they could just walk over to the TV and change the channel that way. Though, on a lot of newer TVs you can't really do that if you're watching anything but local broadcasts. Same goes for disc players without the buttons necessary to navigate the menus on a movie. That said, in many cases it does reach the point where it would be easier and less time-consuming to just go out and buy a universal remote control (which usually will work with most devices) than keep searching.
  • A recurring story from many educators is the at-times ridiculous lengths that some students will go to in order to cheat their way through an assessment piece or to pass a test without doing the "work", to the point where it would probably be both easier and less time-consuming to simply study properly and receive an honest grade for it.
  • This is an occupational hazard for many programmers. Quite often for simple tasks they'll end up spending longer writing the code to have the computer do something for them than if they'd just done it manually. Sometimes this ends up being justified later if that code turns out to be reusable/adaptable for something else. In fact, the creator of the modern computer Konrad Zuse claimed that he created the computer to do math because "he felt too lazy to do the computing himself." In other words, programmers engaging in this trope are actually honoring his spirit.
  • On a related note, back in the '90s British gaming mag PC Zone once reviewed a piece of software that created crossword puzzles through Procedural Generation, providing an endless supply of low-key entertainment without leaving the comfort of your Hacker Cave. Cool idea, but unfortunately, it turned out to take over half an hour to generate each puzzlenote  By which time, as the reviewer wryly noted, you could have walked to the newsagent's and back to get a book of crossword puzzles and likely finished a couple of them.

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