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Is there a word or phrase to describe someone who is willing to do extra work in the short term to avoid work in the long run? I have seen "lazy" used for this, but I'd like to know if there's a more precise term.

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    Efficient, calculating, far-seeing? How about just intelligent? Feb 6, 2012 at 3:49
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    Forward-thinking?
    – Urbycoz
    Feb 6, 2012 at 8:34
  • 'laid back'. Oh...and extra work up front? That's not lazy at all, or lazy with a lot of qualification.
    – Mitch
    Aug 18, 2016 at 2:50
  • I don't think there are enough of them to warrant a word. Wily might do.
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 18, 2016 at 4:21

9 Answers 9

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Well, that's what software engineering/architecture/development is all about. And it's not about laziness, its about efficiency. Maintenance costs grow exponentially (in time, effort and money) when the base is poorly designed. The more money or effort you spend on the early stages of any development project, the more money squared you save in maintenance costs. I've seen tons of software projects to turn unprofitable because of lousy architectures, just because the project started as a quick fix after quick fix. It gets to a point where the project needs to be blown up and started from scratch, or be prepared to waste lots of money on maintenance.

As for a term for this concept, maybe long-term laziness (kind of a humorous term) (good design, low maintenance costs) compared to short-term laziness (poor design, extremely high maintenance costs).

I'm personally very lazy in nature, and that's why I work so hard when programming. I don't like to do things twice, and that's why I try to do them right from the beginning, even if it implies much more effort. I know that extra work will eventually pay off, and will let me lay on my back afterwards, or at least do the required work with minimum effort. Maybe plain oldsmartness, being smart, being time-smart or being effort-smart would do the trick.

Long-term effort minimization strategies in any given activity would be another good and general alternative to describe these kind of situations.

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    Code Complete uses the term "long-term laziness," and I think that's about as good an endorsement as I'm gonna find.
    – Ian Henry
    Feb 6, 2012 at 16:02
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    Reminds me of the saying, "There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over." Feb 10, 2012 at 23:17
  • Long-term effort minimization strategy → LTEMS!
    – martineau
    Mar 28, 2021 at 7:20
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The word Tom Sawyer comes to mind

see also Time Leverage and Time Arbitrage & How to become a Time Arbitraguer

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The closest I can think of is LANGUOR, defined (also) as 'a relaxed comfortable feeling'. I also do not think LAZY is altogether a negative word, having regularly come across 'lazy elegance' to describe Inzamam ul-Haq (Pak cricketer).

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  • Reminds me of the book title "Leisure: The Basis of Culture". Feb 10, 2012 at 23:18
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It's a cliche that conjures up images of Dilbert's pointy-haired manager, but you could say that somebody works smarter, not harder.

Edit: Efficient is a broader term than what you describe, but in the right context would meet your needs. Perhaps efficiency gained through foresight?

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Lazy isn't necessarily a derogatory term. Those of us who practice the behaviour you mention often refer to ourselves as lazy, and mean it in a positive way. "If you want a job done right, give it to a lazy man", someone once told me! :)

You might be looking for a word like "pragmatic", though that's not really related to lazy at all -- it just fits well in the sense of "he has a very pragmatic approach", which can imply that he doesn't do a sloppy job now that would require re-work later. That's not the real meaning of pragmatic, either, but it could be used that way.

"Thoughtfully precise" is probably too verbose, but gives the right idea.

In writing, you might say someone was "concise." I'm not sure if that applies to actions. "He is a very concise programmer"...? Maybe.

If you're just trying to convey the idea, it might be best to spell out exactly what you mean. "He is very good at getting to the core of the problem and focusing on only that which needs to be done. He doesn't try to slop-together half a solution, thus generating more work for his future self."

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@CR Drost recently posted the following question, which was just closed as a duplicate: How can I more aptly describe acceptable laziness?

Given its close connection to your question, I'm going to answer the question posted by @CR Drost here and in the process respond to your question.

My response to question posted by @CR Drost:

"Neutral laziness" involves actions taken for the sake of convenience.

Merriam-Webster: convenience -- something conducive to comfort or ease.

"Positive laziness" involves actions taken for the sake of expediency.

Merriam-Webster: expediency -- the quality or state of being suited to the end in view.

My response to your question:

Expediency, which is not mentioned above, may be the word you were looking for.

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A colleague of mine, who was the documentation manager in an engineering firm, was the most ruthlessly organised person I have ever encountered. He sat at his desk on a swivel chair with castors, and at his back was a row of filing cabinets arranged in an arc. It must have taken a lot of effort to set up, but he could quickly lay his hand on any document, usually without getting out of his chair.

His term for it was "constructive idleness".

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I used to be a basketball referee, and a phrase that was used for similar things was

Run smarter, not harder

It was often said somewhat sarcastically by the older, more experienced, but definitely less fit referees.

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The phrase "a stitch in time saves nine" describes the idea that it is better to do a small amount of work immediately than it is to wait until it becomes a bigger problem down the road:

The phrase basically means it's better to solve a problem right away, to stop it becoming a much bigger one.

It's first recorded in a book way back in 1723 and it's a sewing reference.

The idea is that sewing up a small rip with one stitch means the tear is less likely to get bigger, and need more - or, well, nine - stitches later on.

The above-linked article is from the BBC, explaining the usage of the phrase after then-prime-minister Boris Johnson used it in a September 2020 speech announcing new coronavirus restrictions:

The point Boris Johnson was going for was that asking bars and restaurants to shut earlier now (the stitch) will hopefully mean there's not a huge wave of coronavirus cases in a month or so (a bigger rip) and a tougher lockdown (nine stitches) won't be needed.

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