How does a lazy person win a Nobel Prize?

Daniel Kahneman observed that the single most important feature that made his friend Richard Thaler particularly special was his laziness. Yes, his laziness. Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Laureate, insists that this is a compliment, reasoning that Thaler refused to do anything that was unimportant. Thaler, also a Nobel Laureate, proudly mentions this anecdote in his recent book, Misbehaving.

Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, Big Short and a dozen other best sellers, also attributes his success to his laziness. He claims that his laziness provides the filter for him to qualify the tasks that deserve his attention. Lewis puts it this way: “Something has to be really good before I will decide to work on it.”

While we can chuckle skeptically about these overachievers proclaiming themselves to be lazy, one admirable fact is that they have a clear sense of what is important and what is not.  How many of us can claim that with confidence? If we accomplish the most important things, then the rest may no longer really matter. The problem is that most of us have a hard time drawing boundaries around our critical priorities in life and at work. We take on more than we should, and end up working harder, enduring stress and feeling overwhelmed.

If individuals are so fragmented in their focus, imagine the impact on large organizations made up of thousands of people with tens of thousands of often conflicting priorities. Is there any wonder that over 60% of strategic initiatives in large organizations fail? It’s a real challenge to concentrate on what really matters.

So how do we achieve focus? Choose the few things that will yield the greatest value at any given time and focus on these above all else.  Commit to spending a good portion of our capacity on these. The reward will be increased effectiveness, greater success and more importantly, reduced stress and increased well-being.

Now we can better understand Thaler’s so called “laziness” as the ability to identify and focus on what matters most.

Wouldn’t it be impactful if more leaders practiced laziness?