🇸🇪 Lagom and Stress-Free Productivity

Vera Pashnina∙ Oct, 2021

“Lagom är bäst” says a Swedish proverb — “the right amount is always better.”

Lagom means practically the same as Finnish “Sopivasti” — “just right,” and Norwegian “Passelig” — “suitable, appropriate”.

Lagom is the Swedish concept of life, a philosophy of moderation. It rejects perfectionism in favor of a stress-free life, the ability to live one’s life accepting all of its imperfections and focusing on moments of joy.

“Julia,” a seven-meter artwork made of cast iron outside the Umeå University Art Campus / author: Jaume Plensa (Madrid)

Back in the day, when the Vikings passed a cup around, each person tried to drink according to the rule “laget om” (around the team) so that everyone would get the same amount. That’s how lagom, which means “enough” and “just right” was born.

For some people, lagom sounds a lot like minimalism, and to some extent the two are interconnected. However, lagom is more about moderation: in things, in views, in food, and in self-expression. It is moderation not only in the number of possessions, but also in things we do.

Lagom implies a balance between work and leisure so that work doesn’t affect the quality of life. It’s all about getting rid of unnecessary things that distract our attention.

It’s about the inner and outer harmony that many of us are looking for.

Lagom in action

The ability to live with a minimum of things without feeling attached to them, the desire to get rid of the habit of burdening myself with a large number of tasks (not always important) has long been my dream, the ideal way of life.

Having recently moved to Sweden, to Umeå, I realized that this was the right time to learn lagom, and to learn from the Swedes their philosophy of an unhurried and moderate life combined with efficiency in business.


Umeå is a small provincial Swedish town, tucked away in forests and natural abundance. Its population is only 115,000 people, about a third of whom are students. It was there that I discovered the philosophy of lagom.

For the Swedes, lagom is the ideal state of balancing needs and desires. They know how to manage their own time effectively and they also respect other people’s time.

That’s why it’s so important to follow the rules here in Sweden — it means showing respect.In short, the Swedes try to avoid anything that brings imbalance and disruption to their lives.

As one of the happiest nations in the world (Sweden ranked the 6th happiest country in 2020), the Swedes not only work efficiently but also find the time to relax, even during working hours.

This is why the traditional fika break (a kind of coffee break every two hours, for no more than 15 minutes) does not affect their productivity at work. And interestingly enough, the Swedes rarely work overtime.

Fika! cafe

To get close to the Swedish lifestyle and experience it for yourself, you need to visit the places they like to go to and plan your time properly — the way they do it.

Umeå is a university city and there are many places that inspire productivity and learning. Students themselves have adapted those spaces for the purpose. I personally visited several of them.

Umeå universitetsbibliotek (Umeå university library) is where students take their seats from 8 a.m. and work on projects while sipping coffee.

Umeå universitetsbibliotek

There are quite a few workspaces with Internet access for successful work and study.

Also, there is a cafe on the ground floor of the city library with a telltale name — Fika! that invites you to take a coffee break.

All this made me look at my usual way of life differently. Indeed, in today’s world we are often busy achieving goals, forgetting about ourselves.

We always have tasks and everyone copes with them as best they can. Some of us solve them gradually, while others are rushing around, not knowing what to do first.

On top of all that, many people multitask. As a result, there are lots of things to get done at the same time.

Is multitasking all that effective?

There is still no evidence that being able to do more things at once is better than working on a single task.

Moreover, scientists consider multitasking to be a “mythical activity” and a “deliberate distraction”.

Multitasking ≠ productivity

“People misperceive the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They don’t work more productively — they just feel more emotionally satisfied with their work,” states Zhen Wang, a researcher and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.

Sometimes we feel that we spent the day very productively, even though we actually managed to do a large number of things during the day. But quantity does not always mean quality, nor does it mean that everything was done efficiently.“

Forced to respond to multiple stimuli simultaneously, our brain wastes precious time switching between tasks and deciding what to do first,” concludes fMRI-based research by René Marois, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State.

Simply put, by taking on several things at once, we waste time not knowing what to do first, and we scatter our attention.

Marois discovered that bottlenecks in the human brain are responsible for the decision-making process. These areas limit the brain’s bandwidth: what we perceive and how we act in a multitasking environment.

Dual-task vs Single-task

The chart clearly shows how much our reaction time increases in the case of performing two tasks simultaneously (Dual-task) compared to when there was only one task (Single-task).

The experiment consisted of two parts. In the first part, participants were given the following tasks:

Audial-vocal (AV) — one of three auditory stimuli was presented, each requiring a vocal response at a different rate.

Visual-manual (VM) — one of three faces was presented, each requiring a different manual response rate.

In the second part of the experiment, the tests included two tasks where participants performed the two tasks simultaneously.

Thus, scientists concluded: “Multitasking ≠ productivity,” or simply put, “less is more.”

I know that many people drop something halfway through and take on the next task. And then they feel anxious because of the unfinished work. They blame themselves for weak willpower.

But is it worth taking on several things at once?

Big to-do lists definitely don’t produce results but only make you feel confused. Personally, I would like to live by the lagom, concentrating on doing important things without losing mental harmony.

The rules of lagom life

Elisabeth Carlsson, the author of The Lagom Life: A Swedish Way of Living, teaches how to find inner harmony:

  • Take a detached look at your life. Think about what will help you to get rid of unnecessary stress and make you happier. Add more positive things to your life and, if possible, get rid of any negativity
  • Change the way you think. Instead of striving for perfection, ask yourself: “Is what I already have enough to make me happy?”
  • Try to find joyful moments in the little things: your favorite music, spending time with friends, a good meal, a nature walk.
  • Free your space from unnecessary things and make informed purchases. Only buy things you’ll really love and make sure they’re useful and pleasing to the eye.
  • Be sure to take breaks. Both fika and a walk are ideal for this purpose.
  • Help others. Take an active part in community life, do good deeds and share your happiness with others. By helping others, we feel more confident, stop focusing on our problems, and see the bigger picture.

These tips will definitely help to bring order to your mind and, ultimately, bring order in life and affairs.

Plan without stress or what lagom teaches us

Applying these rules will free up more space and time for the important things in life. Properly prioritized things streamline everything, leaving room for some personal time.

The main points to learn from the philosophy of lagom:All of this ultimately helps to achieve efficiency in problem-solving and, most importantly, to improve quality of life and reduce stress.

  • Don’t rush. It is important to stop and assess a problem to give yourself time. For example, my colleague does not rush to make a decision right away when something doesn’t require immediate action. He takes time to think about them and then he comes up with an answer, the brain itself suggests the best solution.
  • Highlight the important stuff. I find it helpful to write out ideas or tasks on a piece of paper and then have the notes in front of me to assess what is really worth paying attention to.
  • Maintain the work-rest balance. Rest as best you can: sleep, exercise, enjoy hobbies, meet with friends — these are the things that give energy, recharge your batteries and relieve stress. All this has a positive effect on productivity.

Lagom can definitely help you to become happier and find peace. It is not without reason that there is a wise saying, “Happiness is not a destination, it is a way of life.”

The Tweek Calendar team and I relate to the philosophy of lagom. We too love the similarities in simplicity, minimalism, moderation and stress-free to-do planning. That’s exactly why we decided to tell you about lagom.