Looking out at a fresh, new year, it is easy to get overwhelmed by everything you want to get done this year—and that you don’t really have time to do everything on your list. And while that’s understandable, it isn’t necessarily true. When I feel overwhelmed and out of time, I try to remember a famous conversation between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
Buffett shared his calendar with Gates, revealing that it was almost entirely blank, with maybe a few entries in the span of months. Gates was understandably confused, and asked Buffett why his schedule was so barren. And to quote Mr. Buffett, “[Time is] the only thing you can’t buy. I mean, I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time.”
To which one of the richest men in the world replied, “You know, I had every minute packed and I thought that was the only way you could do things.” But to this day, Gates cites this as one of Buffett’s lessons to him: Give yourself time to think.
In my personal cycle, I often come around to finding myself doing thin work with fewer and fewer results, which makes me put even more time into my businesses. And it’s never long before I find my calendar looking a lot more like Gates’ than Buffett’s.
Without a doubt, Bill Gates has done pretty okay for himself by using his own time-tracking style. But still, when I find myself trying to fix everything at once, I can’t help but remember this conversation. And I’m reminded that my time is not infinite. I need to sleep, eat, and, ideally, be with my family. And sometimes that means that you don’t get to chase every opportunity.
A few times a year, I’ll make sure to schedule a day with no calls, no meetings, no anything. Just to sit and think, maybe with a white board and a marker. I think hard on the issues I’m trying to tackle, and more often than not, I find that doing one thing really well means that I don’t need to do the 10 other things on my list. Soon, I start to recognize the good opportunities instead of every opportunity.
Let’s be clear: Warren Buffett has the almost unique ability to pick exactly what he does with his time. Most of us will never get to that spot. But think of it as long-term advice, not a mantra for daily living. For all the execs out there, my advice to you is to try setting a day (or maybe an afternoon if that’s all you can spare) to just sit and think. See what you come up with. If you’re like me, I think you’ll surprise yourself with how much you can do with that free time.