How to Manage Your Time like Warren Buffett, in 3 Steps
“I can buy anything I want, basically. But I can’t buy time. I better be careful with it.”
What does one of the wealthiest men in the world have in his calendar? Almost nothing.
In the oft-shared Charlie Rose interview, Bill Gates expressed his shock when Warren Buffett first showed him his old-school, pocket-sized (!) calendar. Gates’ calendar (electronic, of course) was packed to the gills, every moment allocated.
Buffett’s calendar was, and remains, notoriously empty. Rose paged through it, looking for appointments. “Warren, you have 3 things for this entire week of April,” he remarked.
Whatever your opinion of them, these two executive leaders have exactly the same amount of time per day that we all do. 168 hours in a week—no more, no less.
If your calendar looks more like Gates’ than Buffett’s, you want to consider if you’re falling prey to one of the 7 Deadly Time Thieves™: Over-committing.
STEP 1 - CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE (AND MINDSET)
If you’re like most people, your current mantra is probably something like this:
“I’m SO busy.” This might be accompanied by “OMG” or some variation of exclamation, but these 3 words have become a weird kind of badge of honor. As if being overwhelmed and exhausted must mean you’re really important … or at least all the things you’re doing are.
I’m going to call bullsh*t on that.
So much so that I’m writing my next book on this idea of “busy.”
At least here in the US, we live in a culture obsessed with being busy. Where people seem to get “points” for filling every moment and the more demanding the task, the better—while anyone who doesn’t choose to live this way must be a lazy slacker deadbeat.
In Aesop’s classic tale, the industrious ant is revered, while the grasshopper who spent the summer making music deserves to starve through the winter. Although the “plan well” lesson is one I can totally get behind, the underlying moral judgment is a bit suspect.
The ant and the grasshopper have become synonymous with hard worker and lazy bum. Work = good. Time spent not working = bad. End of story.
“No rest for the wicked” once referred to evil-doers’ eternal damnation; now it means that one’s work never ceases. So don’t rest until it’s all done…? Except that it’s NEVER all done.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is an all-too-common (and impossible) rationalization for a cavalier (and somewhat shame-based) attitude toward self-care, rest and even pleasure—the ironic bit being that the less sleep you get, the faster you could be dead.
And if you’re in a leadership role, there’s added scrutiny as well as potential guilt and judgment should you appear less busy than your team or colleagues. Misery does indeed love company—so don’t look too happy or like you have time to spare because somebody might find something else for you to do.
We’ve got to learn to drop the guilt and belief that busy = worth. If that were really true, we’d all get to the end of a day running on that hamster wheel and feel completely fulfilled ... rather than exhausted and a little curious about where the time went.
The truth is, at the end of the day—at the end of your life—your biggest regret may be that you kept deferring those big dreams, accomplishments and experiences, assuming an endless stream of tomorrow’s only to find out that you ran out of time.
There’s another adage that says, we are more likely to regret the things we haven’t done than the things we have done. I’ve always viewed that as an invitation to examine both the things I am afraid of doing as well as how wisely I’m using my time.
The result of the emphasis on busyness is that we spend our days doing as much stuff as possible—quantity over quality—instead of considering the best and most harmonious use of time. (Another potential trap is the oxymoron work-life balance, an impossible pursuit.)
So ask yourself: what might you be avoiding or delaying with that overstuffed calendar? Our cluttered calendars sometime help us avoid things we don’t want to face ... like conflict, intimacy, money, mortality, or just being, including being still, to name a few.
Buffett has been credited with saying, “Busy is the new stupid.”
And I like to spice it up a bit by saying: “Busy is bullsh*t.”
Take your pick— one’s a bit sharp and the other’s a bit salty.
Either way, say it out loud and see how that feels.
Does it feel refreshing or threatening?
Like liberation is actually possible or only available for other people?
If you’ve got enough time to read this article, then you, too, have the ability to be less busy.
So the next time someone asks you how you’re feeling or doing and you are about to reply, “I’m so busy…,“ see if instead you can pause, remember that busy is either stupid or bullsh*t, and give them a more considered response.
Let’s reprogram an old story that may never have been true, but definitely no longer works. Mindset first, always. Now you’re ready for step 2.
STEP 2 - JUST SAY NO
Boundaries always get a bad rap from people who like to bash right through them.
People who don’t have any resent you for sticking to yours. They'll even try to shame you and call you selfish for taking care of yourself.
And because you aren’t selfish, that will often feel like a jab at your heart as you consider if it IS being selfish.
Because if you really were selfish, you wouldn’t even take a minute to check in and confirm that, no, you’re not being selfish, you’re simply doing the next right thing for yourself.
And yet, so many of us struggle when we have to say NO to a request.
There will always be people who demand your time— some you care about, and some you won’t.
Either way you, and only you, get to decide how you spend and invest your time.
The antidote to overcommitting is simple, if not (yet) easy: learn how to say no appropriately:
- Don’t wait. Rip the band-aid off quickly. The only thing better than good news is bad news, fast. Make no excuses or whine— both just undermine the “no.”
- Say no without disclaimer. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you choose to use your personal time. No is a complete sentence. At work, you may need to defend your prioritization so be prepared to share how you reached your conclusion. Doing this demonstrates your analytical ability and sound judgment.
- If the answer is really “not now,” let them know that you can’t do it now but offer a specific time when you can.
Remember: Saying no to something is saying YES to something you value more.
Bonus hack: Practice saying no, in different ways. Start with small, easy “no”s to strengthen your refusal muscles. Then work your way up. And consider who you’re refusing. The language you use with your boss will be different from the language you use with your life partner, children or friends.
STEP 3 - RESERVE BLOCKS OF TIME… FOR NOTHING
The idea is, rather than being buffeted about—see what I did there?—armed with nothing but a to-do list, you split your day into “blocks,” allocating specific projects or tasks to each block.
Here, we take it a step further to purposely leave some of those blocks of time empty and unstructured. For “nothing.”
Nothing-not-nothing: these are non-negotiable time blocks reserved for the sole purpose of protecting your time, energy, and mental space.
All the other guidelines for time-blocking apply. This is not the time to check email, DM your VA on Slack, or leave your door open for walk-in interruptions (another Deadly Time Thief.)
As Buffett points out, as a leader you need time to ponder. To think through decisions. To strategize.
I would add: You need space in your calendar for rest.
To think of no thing, clear your mind, and meditate. To breathe. To go outside and look at the sky, put your feet on the ground, move your limbs. To stretch. Anything that would restore and nourish you.
The culture of busyness drives us to depletion. Your best work, however, happens not when staring down a deadline but when you have plenty of room to be thoughtful and considerate. And to revise and refine.
The more committed you are to self-care and finding work-life harmony, every day—every moment, even—the better your performance and happiness. Strive for harmony, not balance, which implies an impossible, static ideal of equal parts everything: work, rest, play, people time, alone time.
By baking periods of rest and reflection into your calendar, you allow for the natural ebb and flow of your focus and energy, and both the magic of inspiration as well as the quiet of anticipation.
You can use this time for whatever you want: something as physically and mentally vigorous as a 90-minute yoga session mid-week, or a whole day blocked off for thinking about your next offering or upcoming rebrand.
It’s important that these blocks of time are not just before and after your workday, not just when on vacation, and not just on weekends. (THOSE times are baseline standard “times off.”)
When you’re well-rested, when your day is spacious, when you’re not running from task to task, you can bring your best self—your whole nourished brain and heart—to your work. This is when you’re most creative and productive.
The Bottom Line
You, too, can manage your time like a billionaire—in work and life. The three steps are simple:
- Change your mindset by adopting a new mantra—and retiring “I’m busy!”
- Establish boundaries by saying no appropriately.
- Protect your time by blocking out periods of rest and contemplation.
How easy those steps are is up to you.
Now that you’ve cleared your calendar like Warren, leverage the tools and team you have to save even more time and maximize your company’s productivity: Check out our 90-minute masterclass on time management, Calling BS on Busy.