I recently came across an interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett that fascinated me.
There was one segment that really stood out to me. It was how Bill Gates and Warren Buffett use their calendars.
I used to be like Bill. Almost every hour of the day was planned ahead and packed. Warren is the opposite. His calendar is completely empty.
If you can’t watch it, here’s a transcript of it:
Gates: I also remember Warren showing me his calendar. I had every minute packed and I thought that was the only way you could do things. The fact that he is so careful about his time. You know, he has days that there’s nothing on it.
Buffett (laughing): Absolutely, those are the best ones.
Rose (looking at the planner): This is a week of April, of which there are only three entries for a week.
Buffett (laughing): Yeah, there will be four maybe by April.
Gates (joking): Yeah, file tax return…
Rose: That taught you what? Not to crowd yourself too much? Give yourself time to read and think?
Gates: Right. That you control your time. And that sitting and thinking may be of much higher priority than a normal CEO who, you know, there’s all this demand, and you feel like you need to go and see all these people. It’s not a proxy of your seriousness that you’ve filled every minute in your schedule.
Buffett: People are going to want your time. That’s the only thing you can’t buy. I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time.
Rose: So to have time is the most precious thing you can have.
Buffett: It is. I better be careful with it. There’s no way I will be able to buy more time.
Over the years, I changed the way I manage my time to be more like Buffett. It’s not because I realized time is the valuable asset we have. I already knew that.
What Buffett doesn’t explicitly say in the interview is that he values his Thinking Time. That’s why his calendar is empty. He uses this time to think.
If you’ve ever closely studied him, you know how much he attributes his success to this. Moments later in the interview (full interview here), he even mentions that he just needs one good idea every year to make an impact.
Where does this idea come from?
From lots of thinking.
Ever since I’ve come across the concept of Thinking Time, I’ve changed the way I plan and manage my time.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been clearing my schedule. I went from planning every day as much as possible to having empty days for thinking time. The only days that are packed are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. That’s when I do a lot of writing and project work.
But my Thursdays and Fridays are essentially free and “unplanned” for the most part.
I say “unplanned” because on my calendar I have a timeblock scheduled on Thursday between 12pm and 5pm as “Strategy and Thinking Time”. For Friday I have it set from 1pm to 5pm.
Knowing myself…if I don’t put it on my calendar I won’t do it. I will allow distractions and emergencies dictate what I do in my free time. By having it on my calendar, it’s easy for me to say no and focus on my thinking time.
I now look forward to Thinking Time every week. It’s when I will leave all electronics at home. I only stuff my backpack with blank papers, my Montblanc pen, and a book. That’s it.
I’ll go to a nearby coffee to read and just sit there all afternoon to think.
When you first do this, it will feel strange and foreign. Especially when you’re a busy person and have to run a business. There’s always stuff to do. It kind of feels like when you first start meditating. You get millions of thoughts going through your head as you try to sit still and focus on your breathing.
It’s the same thing with Thinking Time. At first, it feels weird but the more you do it, the more creative you get. Some of my best ideas and strategies came from sitting at Starbucks and sipping iced green tea. A lot of Asian Efficiency’s success can be traced back to my afternoons at coffee shops.
With Thinking Time, I finally got to work “on my business”, not “in my business”. Not only that, it also gave me perspective on my personal life. You don’t need to have a business to benefit from Thinking Time. In one of the afternoons, I had a huge realization about where I wanted to take my personal life in the next few years. In another afternoon I realized a really bad habit I had for years (that I finally addressed).
I want to challenge you this week to carve out thinking time. You can start with just an hour. Leave your normal environment for an hour and only bring a book, pen, and paper with you. No phone, laptop or any other device.
Order your favorite beverage and just think. You’ll be amazed how powerful this is.
-Thanh & the Asian Efficiency team
P.S. I’m planning to do a whole podcast episode about the concept of Thinking Time. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast to stay up to date when it comes out. In the meantime… ask yourself: how can I make Thinking Time a ritual?