I'm busy. I've got my job. I've got a daughter in preschool and twins in cribs. I'm running three fantasy baseball teams. I don't have time to do in-depth research to find winning stocks -- to analyze management teams, earnings statements, and competitive advantages.

Still, despite my analytical lethargy, my portfolio has nearly doubled in the three or so years I've been buying individual stocks. My secret? I listen to smart people.

Learn to make money
Peter Lynch is fairly smart, and he also speaks to the lazy investor, making it clear that smart investing is not only for the hardworking types.

"Twenty years in this business convinces me that any normal person using the customary 3% of the brain can pick stocks just as well, if not better, than the average Wall Street expert," Lynch wrote in One Up on Wall Street. He adds, "All the math you need in the stock market ... you get in the fourth grade." Not exactly demanding. So listen to Lynch.

For me, I was a reader of Motley Fool Stock Advisor before I joined the Fool, and I came to trust and rely on David and Tom Gardner's picks. Did all of their recommendations move me? Nope. Back in 2003, TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) didn't have a strong moat around its technology, and David referred to it as "speculative" in his write-up. Not for me.

But a couple months earlier, he convinced me that Pixar would handsomely reward long-term owners. Its movies were poised to make millions, providing huge leverage in its negotiations with potential acquirers ... like Disney (NYSE:DIS), which eventually purchased Pixar. That pick is up more than 150% since David's initial recommendation. In that same issue, Tom re-recommended Quality Systems (NASDAQ:QSII), arguing that doctors would eventually go paperless, and that this company was the industry leader. That pick's up more than 770%.

The bottom line
I'm not entirely hands-off, but I'm happy to let others do the initial legwork. That said, Lynch and Stock Advisor have taught me how to do my own research. A recent issue detailed the various ways companies can make good use of their profits. They can:

  1. Repurchase shares
  2. Pay dividends
  3. Pay down debt
  4. Reinvest in the business

If a company is doing any one of these four things, that's usually good. But there are also pitfalls. A company can throw away money by repurchasing shares when they are overpriced. A company can also throw away money by paying too much out to shareholders when that money could earn a greater return by being reinvested in the business. Debt is usually great to pay down -- except when it's financed at a reasonable rate. And reinvesting in the business is usually a good idea for companies with strong growth prospects. But larger companies like Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), with lots of cash and fewer growth prospects, are probably better off paying dividends.

Profitable companies can reward shareholders in myriad ways. But when analyzing a stock, I've learned that it's best to make sure they're doing so intelligently.

That's one of the tips I've learned from Tom and Dave, and I can use it in the future to determine whether the investing case they present with their recommendations makes sense. If it does, I act accordingly and enjoy the profits.

Together, the Gardners are up 56% on average since the newsletter's inception, compared with the S&P 500's 17%. Take a trial, read some issues, learn some tips, check the scorecard, and see whether you trust them to do your legwork. If not, cancel. No obligation. No worries. Best of all, virtually no effort.

Or, at the very least, go get a copy of Lynch's masterpiece and put that 3% to work.

This article was originally published on Dec. 23, 2005. It has been updated.

Roger Friedman is the managing editor of newsletters and the author of Nipple Confusion, Uncoordinated Pooping and Spittle: The Life of a Newborn's Father . He owns shares of Quality Systems. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Kraft is an Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool has a fulldisclosure policy.