The Secret Lifelong Habit Of Warren Buffett You Need To Know

I remember the first time I heard that Warren Buffett spends 80 percent of his time reading and thinking, and has done so for his entire career.

I was even more surprised by how Buffett’s long-term business partner describes his weekly schedule:

You look at his schedule sometimes and there’s a haircut.

Tuesday, haircut day.

That’s what created one of the world’s most successful business records in history. He has a lot of time to think.

“WTF?!” I thought myself. “That makes no sense.”

“How can the CEO of a company with hundreds of thousands of employees have so much free time while my schedule is packed?”

“What is the smartest investor in history seeing that I’m not?” I wondered.

After years of watching nearly every Buffett interview, reading his annual Letters to Shareholders, reading multiple biographies, and applying the lessons to my life, I think I finally have the answer to why and how Buffett has adopted this schedule.

This article shares that answer.

By the end of it, you’ll have a clear path to adopting the 5-Hour Rule(deliberately learning for at least five hours per week) and moving much closer to Buffett’s more intensive Learner’s Lifestyle (making deliberate learning your No. 1 competitive advantage and getting essentially paid to learn).

But, first, let’s uncover what Buffett sees about knowledge work that most of us don’t.

The Case For The Learner’s Lifestyle

The Secret Lifelong Habit Of Warren Buffett You Need To Know

“Knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.”—Peter Drucker

In short, all that Buffett research made me realize two things…

First, in a knowledge economy, learning and thinking are the single best long-term investments you can make in your career. Learning and thinking determine our decisions. Then, decisions determine our results.

Second, Buffett’s schedule is a harbinger of a new class of knowledge workers (especially investors, entrepreneurs, designers, developers, coaches, consultants, thought leaders, etc.) who realize that learning and thinking, not just doing, are the keys to their long-term success.

Let’s go a level deeper.

In 2009, Paul Graham, wrote an iconic article called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. Graham is the founder of YCombinator, the most successful startup accelerator in history — backer of AirBnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and Reddit. In the article, he spells out the difference between two types of schedules in a knowledge economy:

Manager Schedule: The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

Maker’s Schedule: But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

Buffett’s contribution is a third category — the Learner’s Lifestyle.

In short, The Learner’s Lifestyle optimizes for insight over coordination and output. Whereas the manager’s schedule is primarily about coordination and the maker’s schedule is about output, the Learner’s Lifestyle is primarily about insight.

This distinction is simple yet profound.

When we design our life for insight, we organize our schedule completely differently:

  • We optimize for free time over busy-ness. Whereas managers must ALWAYS be tuned in and turned on so they can be responsive, thinkers create big blocks of free time to go above the noise and gain perspective.
  • We work in environments that lead to more creativity. 
  • We invest dramatically more in learning, experimenting, and thinking, because they are the fundamental building blocks of insight. Learning is about acquiring diverse, rare, and valuable chunks of knowledge through People, Information, & Experiences (what I call P.I.E.). Thinking is about synthesizing those chunks into rare and valuable combinations. Experimenting is about seeing how those combinations actually perform in the real world.
  • We measure our success by the quality of insights we have, not by how quickly we finish our to do list. In other words, our measure of success moves away from efficiency toward effectiveness.
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