quote analysis: laziness (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on march 21, 2020

If you know me, you probably know that I love Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. I've quoted it a few times already in my posts, and I finally decided that it needs a quote analysis.

Now, The Phantom Tollbooth has so much good stuff in it that I can analyze, but I'm just going to focus on one thing: its views on laziness, slacking, and generally avoiding work in any way.

To begin, I have to take a look at Milo's visit to the Doldrums, a land where thinking and laughing are against the law (smiling is permitted on alternate Thursdays). In the Doldrums live the Lethargarians, tiny creatures who can't finish a sentence without dropping off to sleep. Here's what they have to say about their schedule:

"'At 8 o'clock we get up, and then we spend

'From 8 to 9 daydreaming.

'From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.

'From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.

'From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.

'From 11:30 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.

'From 1:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter.

'From 2:00 to 2:30 we take our early afternoon nap.

'From 2:30 to 3:30 we put off for tomorrow what we could have done today.

'From 3:30 to 4:00 we take our early late afternoon nap.

'From 4:00 to 5:00 we loaf and lounge until dinner.

'From 6:00 to 7:00 we dillydally.

'From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time.

'As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done.'

'You mean you'd never get anything done,' corrected Milo.

'We don't want to get anything done,' snapped another angrily; 'we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help.'" - Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

Now, this is all very comical, but how much of it applies to our own lives? Removing everything about napping (well, except for a few of us who are more honest than me), much of this is applicable. How much of your life do you spend dawdling and delaying, biding your time, loafing and lounging, and dillydallying?

Our new age of technology makes this more achievable than ever. People can sit for hours on a couch or bed, doing nothing, and still end up feeling like something has been accomplished.

Before I move on, I need to add in a little gem from right after the passage above:

"'You see,' continued another in a more conciliatory tone, 'it's really quite strenuous doing nothing all day, so once a week we take a holiday and go nowhere, which was just where we were going when you came along. Would you care to join us?'" - Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

This, too, is applicable. After our hours of doing nothing, we feel entitled to a break and go off to do more nothings.

After speaking to the Lethargarians, Milo meets Tock, a watchdog (no, really, he's a dog with a giant alarm clock as a body) who, needless to say, feels very strongly about time.

"'You see,' he continued, beginning to feel better, 'once there was no time at all, and people found it very inconvenient. They never knew whether they were eating lunch or dinner, and they were always missing trains. So time was invented to help them keep track of the day and get places when they should. When they began to count all the time that was available, what with 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year, it seemed as if there was much more than could ever be used. "If there's so much of it, it couldn't be very valuable," was the general opinion, and it soon fell into disrepute. People wasted it and even gave it away. Then we were given the job of seeing that no one wasted time again,' he said, sitting up proudly. 'It's hard work but a noble calling. For you see'—and now he was standing on the seat, one foot on the windshield, shouting with his arms outstretched—'it is our most valuable possession, more precious than diamonds. It marches on, it and tide wait for no man, and—'

At that point in the speech the car hit a bump in the road and the watchdog collapsed in a heap on the front seat with his alarm again ringing furiously.

'Are you all right?' shouted Milo.

'Umphh,' grunted Tock. 'Sorry to get carried away, but I think you get the point.'" - Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

How much of this quote is applicable? Have you ever felt like there was so much time you could afford to waste a little? This ideology is the root of procrastination.

One last quote. In Chapter 17 ("Unwelcoming Committee"), Milo and his friends meet the Terrible Trivium, "demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit."

"If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing[.]" - Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

This is one of the most potent forms of procrastination. In my post, The Power of Procrastination, I advocated for a method of "Productive Procrastination," where you complete smaller tasks while you put off the larger job until later. However, this quote does point out two potential issues with this method.

First, make sure that your "smaller tasks" are actually tasks that need to get done. Doing "useless jobs" won't help you be productive.

Second, the large task still does need to get done at some point, so make sure that you save enough time for that.

Well, with all of these quotes, you should have some good advice to deal with laziness or unproductivity.

In fact, if you're looking for something to do in your spare time, I'd suggest you take a little while to read The Phantom Tollbooth.

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